Being fired was a blessing in disguise. The birth of my personal brand.

This week, I got an email from LinkedIn with a few updates from my network. Some of my contacts had new jobs, some updated their profiles, and shared articles. This is all normal for LinkedIn emails, and it's generally how I keep up with what's going on in my network. This particular day in the "people you know" area of the email, I saw a former boss (see image above). The first person to ever fire me. I dropped a few four letter words at the screen, and wondered why of all people, would LinkedIn suggest this person as a possible connection. I don't have this particular role on my profile as it was many years ago, it was random. I looked at her profile, she's been successful, and had a nice career trajectory. She has no clue, how she impacted my life.

I sat and thought about it for a while, and mentally returned to January 2002. 

I'm a public guy. I love to share. Some things I am very public about, and others, I am extremely private about. My wife had never heard this story until I told her after I read the email from LinkedIn. I had compartmentalized this era of my life as it was painful, and lead to a long early to upper 20s for me.

When I took the job, I was 21,  I was married, was the proud father a super active baby boy, and another one would come later down the line. I was in school, I had a good job, my wife didn't need to work. I had solid credit, my IRA balance was way ahead of everyone else in my circle. I worked for an apartment community, so my rent was 50% off in a pretty uppity area of Ann Arbor- I had more money to save. Growing up, I had great role model and examples. My dad was a banker, and instilled the values of saving money, building credit, so I was well-versed in financial literacy. Life was sweet. 

I began this job as leasing agent, and was quickly promoted, skipping the leasing manager position, to Assistant Property Manager. I split my time between two properties, which wasn't the norm for someone in my role, but gave me so much experience in working both the middle and high rental rate communities. I was known at the headquarters by name, and often called to float to different properties to help in times of need.

For whatever reason, I think my ambition and desire to climb the company ranks, I found myself out of favor with my manager. We never had any real issues, just some mentions of me needing to work on and a few things here and there-nothing major. One day my manager was gone on vacation and assigned a floater property manager to work with me. I had a great relationship with this manager, or so I thought. 

Our standard operating procedure was to have a property manager sign off on move-in application packets, there was no way around this. I signed my areas as APM stating the process checklist had been completed, and I told the floater to sign hers. Apparently, she approved the file without completing her due diligence as PM, she never got everything she needed from the renters. We had taken their money, they were moved in. The manager never signed the application after discovering her error- she instead forged my signature, and told my manager, I signed off on it and she had never seen it before. Someone asking why I would pick this day, of all days to begin signing in the PM area, was never a question to the floater's mind.

Because of my title, this was a terminable offense. I was blindsided when my manager told me I was being terminated because of this oversight beyond my control. I pleaded my case, but remember, I was out of favor with her. She made up a few infractions she never spoke to me about, I had never been verbally reprimanded nor written up, ever. She had tears in her eyes as she politely told me I was fired, asked me for my master keys, and handed me a notice stating that due to separation of employment, my rental rate was going up to market rate, which meant 100% more than I had been paying. 

At the age of 22, I had just been fired, my rent was going up 100%, I had to drop out of school for the time being, and my second son was due in 60 days. My appeals to reverse the termination were denied. I spoke to lawyers, no one would touch the case without a ridiculous retainer. As a grown man, I was no longer able to provide for my family- we had to move back to Detroit, and in with family while I tried to turn my life around. I'm forever grateful for my support system to this day. It could have been a lot worse.

I couldn't find a job, unemployment was a joke. I tried hard not to touch my retirement savings, but ended up having to withdraw half, and eventually all to survive. This sent my life into a spiral, that took many years to correct. My credit went to hell, my savings were gone, retirement account was being depleted, and I couldn't find a job. I had been paying my car note on my Jeep so inconsistently, I became familiar with the sounds of diesel engines at night- I feared every truck was a tow truck, coming to repossess it. The icing on the cake, 4 years later, I ended up getting a divorce. Out. Of. Control.

In 2005, I launched my business with Erik Stephens and Quinne Lowe, Crush Media Group.  I made a pact with myself, that as long as I have a creative skill, I would never be broke again. Our company did well, everyone knew about it. We had developed a brand. I was developing the Kevin Davis Brand, and didn't know it. 

In summary, I learned a few things from that experience back in 2002. 1) Coworkers aren't your friends. 2) Never leave your eggs in one basket. 3) If you have a creative skill, you should never be broke. 4) Never get so lost in your job, that it defines who you are, and without it you are nothing. 5) Always invest in yourself FIRST. When you know your value, and invest in yourself, you are more of an asset and folks know it. 6) Always have a plan B, and a possible plan C. Most importantly, 7) Stay prayerful, thankful, and patient. Never let your circumstances define you and deter you from your goals in life. Keep pushing, the time will pass anyway.

Why do I work so hard, why am I always talking about personal branding, why am I always talking about life goals, why am I always on the heads of young folks, why am I always talking about finances, why do I love my family and network so much- I have a story, let me tell it so others don't have to live it. 

I'm from Detroit, nothing stops Detroit.

Be Dope.

-Kevin

Rebranding The Chicago Urban League's Golden Fellowship Dinner

I began woking with the Chicago Urban League (CUL) back in 2014, photographing their annual Christmas event for the community. Earlier this year, I began designing marketing materials for them. The highlight of this partnership thus far, has been working on the 54th Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner. This event is huge for the CUL, and draws about 1,600+ guests from the mayor of Chicago, on down to community leaders and corporate executives. It's a bit of a who's who of Chicago type event.

The event is a big deal. Below is an excerpt from the CUL's website about the event.

On Saturday, November 7, 2015, more than 1,600 of Chicago’s most notable corporate, civic and elected leaders committed to building a better Chicago will convene for the Chicago Urban League’s 54th Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner at the Hilton Chicago. Themed: Inspiration for the Next Generation, we will celebrate our dedication to inspiring the next generation of leaders by giving them access to the skills, training, and technology necessary to make lasting change and meaningful progress.

I love giving back to the community, but I often don't have time to really commit to meaningful initiatives. So, I give back the way I know best, through design. I've been doing this in organizations to which I am a member, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., 100 Black Men of Chicago for years, as well as the Boy Scouts of America.

 

I received the design brief from the CUL to create a look that would be different from the previous years, but not too far from the visual aesthetic to cause confusion about the event. I will share a few of the designs from the creative process and end with the final look and feel. I will even toss in photos of myself, wife, and friends. :-D

 

The original concept I had was to incorporate photos from the previous year right on the cover of the booklets.

The original concept I had was to incorporate photos from the previous year right on the cover of the booklets.

I wanted to make use of the equal sign inside of the "54", which is a part of the Urban League's logo. In hopes to escape the traditional fancy type, I used "arial black" and "futura fixed" fonts to give a clean updated look.

I wanted to make use of the equal sign inside of the "54", which is a part of the Urban League's logo. In hopes to escape the traditional fancy type, I used "arial black" and "futura fixed" fonts to give a clean updated look.

The next version kept everything the same, but went with a damask texture background to add a bit of luxury to the design.

The next version kept everything the same, but went with a damask texture background to add a bit of luxury to the design.

Eureka. The type and arrangement was set, the last change was to make sure the color was more of a maroon or burgundy. Boom. The look and feel was locked down.

Eureka. The type and arrangement was set, the last change was to make sure the color was more of a maroon or burgundy. Boom. The look and feel was locked down.

Proudly standing next to one of the light boxes along the red carpet as guests entered the event. The creative direction I gave was carried out by the internal CUL design team flawlessly. 

Proudly standing next to one of the light boxes along the red carpet as guests entered the event. The creative direction I gave was carried out by the internal CUL design team flawlessly. 

My clients, the development team at the CUL. These ladies definitely make sure their projects have the Kevin Davis Brand on it. (L-R, Erika Soria- Development Officer,  myself, Melanie Sillas- Development Officer, and Tawanna Streater- Vice President & Chief Development Officer.)

My clients, the development team at the CUL. These ladies definitely make sure their projects have the Kevin Davis Brand on it. (L-R, Erika Soria- Development Officer,  myself, Melanie Sillas- Development Officer, and Tawanna Streater- Vice President & Chief Development Officer.)

My lovely wife (far right), Ruth Davis, of www.ruthdavisbeauty.com, provided makeup artistry to the ladies of CUL development.

My lovely wife (far right), Ruth Davis, of www.ruthdavisbeauty.com, provided makeup artistry to the ladies of CUL development.

With my better half, Ruth.

With my better half, Ruth.

32 South State Street: Jordan Brand Store

 

Footaction and Nike's Jordan Brand teamed up to open a new store in Chicago, known as 32 South State Street, and held its grand opening last week. I first saw announcements for the store's opening all over Facebook a few weeks ago, and was immediately intrigued. The videos and teaser photos did as they were intended, made me eagerly await the opening of the store. Everyone knows I am a big fan of both the Nike and Jumpman brands, not because I am a sneakerhead or athlete, but because I am obsessed with mega brands and their cult followings. I like to see what they do to stay competitive, how well they adapt to market shifts, competition, embrace technology, and how well they attract new customers as well as retain old customers.

Nike is my preferred brand of choice when it comes to athletic gear (when I buy it). It's crazy how a swoosh or the silhouette of a leaping Micheal Jordan, or Jumpman can create such buzz and hype, but I love it.


Being a native Detroiter, I've been a lifelong Nike fan, but I hated Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Of course I would have loved for him to be a Detroit Piston, but that wasn't in the cards. With that said, I've never owned a pair of Jordan shoes, although I wanted one particular model, the Air Jordan VI. Who knows, one day I may grab a pair.

Fast Forward to 2015, I haven't been a Detroit Pistons fan in who knows how long, and now I live in Chicago. Isn't it funny how life works out? I have since come to appreciate the accomplishments of MJ and his contributions to the game, not only on the court but off the court as well. I am surrounded daily by the fruits of MJ's labor and the love folks have for him in this city.

When my brand grows up, I want it to be like the Jordan Brand- an asset itself, but can be a powerhouse with the right partnerships and collaborations. I want Kevin Davis Brand to be that brand to be affiliated with, and have the same dignity of simplicity and consistent execution as the Jordan Brand.

I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man! - Jay-Z on Kanye West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”

 

2015 has been a pretty big year for Nike and Jordan Brand fans. Back home (unless you're a Michigan State Fan), you were pretty geeked up about this partnership coming back home to Ann Arbor. The internet sort of went nuts as the University of Michigan announced they were reestablishing their partnership with Nike Team Sports, and that Jumpman would be providing uniforms and equipment for their football team.

The excitement behind this partnership goes back to when Michigan's basketball team was dope in the 90s, and made waves in the NCAA. This blessed union between Nike and Michigan gave us the Air Flight Huarache shoes, the signature long basketball shorts, and  low black socks adorned with the Nike swoosh- which were all unheard of in that era. So for us Michigan fans, this is a return to the golden era of Michigan Athletics, not just on the basketball court. You know, connecting product and/or brand with a life experience- all that marketing stuff, right?

So, as you see was quite excited to see this type of partnership come to life less than three miles from my home after the Michigan announcement.

 

The other big announcement sandwiched between the Michigan/Nike/Jumpman and the 32 South State Street  announcements,  was the collaboration between the Jordan Brand and Supreme. Supreme is known primarily as a skateboard culture company specializing in apparel, which has it's own cult following, to which my teenage sons are within that number- unless they aren't anymore, their brand loyalty is as consistent as midwest weather most of the time.

After seeing tons of videos and posts from the Jordan Brand Facebook page, I decided to head downtown after a meeting to check out the new store. You can't miss this store, which is in the middle of one of the busiest shopping districts in Chicago. Amidst all of the skyscrapers and glossy storefronts, you are greeted by a simple white facade with horizontal lines and a Jumpman logo with a glowing outline. It almost looks like an art gallery, which isn't that far off once you go inside.

Footaction and Nike wanted to make sure this venture was truly "From Chicago, For Chicago", which is the consistent message through out the store and is on display before you enter the it.  In the front window, there are two sculptures designed by Chicago artist, Hebru Brantley, who is known for his playful characters sporting goggles appearing in many areas of the city.

The figures, one black and one white, are his interpretation of the iconic Jumpman logo.

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On the left wall as soon as you enter the store, another Hebru Brantley original can't be missed. He painted Micheal Jordan with his signature goggles you find on many of his art works.

Along with Hebru Brantley, another Chicago artist has work on display in the store, TrashHand. TrashHand is a dope photographer I began following on Instagram a few years back. It's cool to see him go from social media photographer, to doing iPhone photography course at the Apple Store. Many of his shots are lining the walls of the new store, and special edition shirts were also available for sale during the grand opening featuring his photos.

Jordan artifacts line the display case beneath the huge Hebru Brantley mural.

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On the other side of the wall is the Footaction store, which was unlike any I have seen before. There are many special and limited release items in the store, again you can't miss the connection to the city in the store. 

During my visit to the store, I was able to meet one of the sales associates, Caleb, who happened to be a marketing student at University of Illinois at Chicago (also known as my day job). He gave his school a shout out after seeing the logo on my jacket (I'm always representing something when I walk out the house). Being a brand geek, I stopped and talked to Caleb about the new store and what it meant to him. He said the already loves working there and that Nike has taught him so much about marketing, placement, and positioning as it related to appealing to the buying signals and senses of customers. 

Overall Thoughts

I think the store is dope and I plan on returning one day after work, when the crowd is smaller and I can truly explore it. I do wish I could have gone upstairs and seen the indoor basketball court and training facility, also known as "Station 23" . Those areas are not open to the public daily.

If you are a Nikehead or sneakerhead, or just someone who appreciates dope things, it's worth the trip down to 32 South State Street and taking it all in. if you are into the sneaker culture, you already know the price points inside of the store LOL.

I'm a fan because of the marketing campaign, the branding, and the commitment to making this a local thing. 

My Epic Lupus Awareness Month In pictures

As many of you know, this year I decided to do more than put on purple for Lupus Awareness month in honor of my mom who passed from the disease. To save time/space, click here to read my story on my mom and lupus.

On May 3rd, I woke up and looked up lupus related events for Chicago, I figured I may as well get active in the lupus community. I tried to get active years back, but the timing wasn't right and many opportunities didn't come through on behalf of the two main lupus foundations in Chicago. I saw there was a walk scheduled for the 31st of the month and I checked my calendar to make sure I'd be in town. I set up my walk page, kinda typed through a few tears as I filled out the "Why I am walking" section of the team page. I designed a couple of quick graphics to help promote the walk and my quest to raise funds. I set my goal rather low, as I've never been a fundraiser- I set it at $500. By the time I went to bed, I had about $375 donated toward my walk.

That next morning, I get a couple of back to back phone calls from numbers I don't know, and sent them to voicemail. I check the phone and it's Joan Pendleton, Senior Walk Manager of the Lupus Foundation of America. I gave her a call back and she spoke about how touching my story was and how quickly I raised funds in a very short period of time, which was about 4-5 hours. As we talked, I told her I really wanted to do more than walk and raise funds. I felt I owed to my mother as well as my cousin and friends who are battling lupus each day. We set up a meeting for the following week to discuss the inaugural Chicago walk and beyond.

The rest is in the photos below...

"Show me who your friends are and I'll show you who you are"

That's the first quote to come to mind when I got home from the walk. I have dope friends who are supportive, thoughtful, reliable, and giving. This wasn't about raising money, recognition, etc. It was about my friends supporting me in honoring my mother's memory by doing something for someone else.

The goal of all of this was, to do as much as I could, with what I had, when I could- for someone else. My mother may be gone, but my hope isn't gone for a cure or a continued quality of life for others. 

I've only received one other award in my life, and receiving this lupus warrior medal- as insignificant as it may seem to others, means a lot to me. I'm sure my mother is proud of me, it's the least I could do.

I'm not done, the walk was just the beginning. Lupus awareness is lacking in our communities, and I'm committed. I don't care if you get sick of seeing my face, the word lupus, nor the color purple... The cause speeds on.

THANK YOU!

For mom, and everyone else in the battle against lupus.

For mom, and everyone else in the battle against lupus.