Antwanye Ford | Crain's Washington D.C.

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Antwanye Ford

Background:  

Antwanye Ford is the president and CEO of Enlightened Inc., an information-technology and management-consulting firm. Ford has more than 20 years of experience in government IT and cybersecurity. He is an alumnus of The George Washington University, where he earned both his bachelor’s and his master’s degrees.

The Mistake:

I didn’t value relationships enough early in my career.

I don’t think people — particularly entrepreneurs — understand how valuable relationships are in business. Early on, I was smart and good at what I did, and I thought the world centered around me.

I thought I made other people better just by my very existence because I was able to deliver. 

I didn’t value relationships at first, and I got pigeonholed into being thought of as someone you called on when you wanted something special done — but I was not thought of as someone who would be a great teammate to help others. I was almost known as a diva.

Initially, at Enlightened, I assumed incorrectly that everyone had my same passions.

As an entrepreneur, you never arrive. You just evolve and grow.

The Lesson:

I learned something I wish someone had told me earlier: that my talent alone couldn’t get me where I wanted to go. As an entrepreneur, you never arrive. You just evolve and grow.

As I moved up the corporate ladder, I realized that [what’s important is] how you make other people better. 

You find out in your career, both on the corporate side and as an entrepreneur, that [cultivating strong] relationships is the only way you bring value to an organization.

Your mentorship of people in your organization is more important than finding someone who has all the talent without the character. 

Early on at Enlightened, we were getting the people with all the talent, skills and ability, but they weren't teachable.

I needed to be told to find someone who would grow with the company, as opposed to someone who knows how to do something but who isn’t flexible.

My biggest advice for entrepreneurs is to look around every now and then and determine whether the decisions they're making are the right ones.

Today when we consult with clients, it isn’t about making sure Enlightened is out in front; it’s about making sure my customers get what they need. It’s about being a king-maker, not a king.

Sometimes the same thing that can make an entrepreneur great is what can make us fail: We absolutely believe in ourselves. 

You have to believe in yourself to say, "I'm going to make something from nothing." But you have to have someone in your life who will help you look at things objectively. 

It's important to have an advisory board or someone else in your life who will tell you the truth regardless of how much it hurts. 

Antwanye Ford is on Twitter: @AFORD1248, and so is Enlightened Inc.: @Enlightened_Inc.

Photo courtesy of Enlightened Inc.