One day during a break from his shift at J.Crew Bridal, Kevin Storey took a stroll down Madison Avenue in New York City. As he approached 59th Street, he unexpectedly bumped into music industry mogul L.A. Reid, current chairman and CEO of Epic Records. Storey, who was 23 at the time, recalled making eye contact and silently saluting Reid, who returned the gesture. It would be in fate’s hands that just two years later, after that accidental brush with Reid, Storey would work just a few elevator stops down in the infamous Sony Building. Storey shares the remarkable story of how he carved his path to do exactly what he wanted with EBONY.com.
EBONY: At only 25 and you’ve made phenomenal strides with a few odds against you. Who inspired you to work as hard as you have?
Kevin Storey: Growing up in Bed-Stuy, I always looked up to Jay-Z. He’s from Marcy Projects, and when I was younger I didn’t live too far away. I used to play in the parks he hustled in. Jay-Z was that symbol and face of success for outside of the neighborhood. It was like, if this dude walked the same streets I walked, I could make it too.
My father is also a huge inspiration. He had a lot of setbacks early in his life, but he still became successful. My dad dropped out of middle school, but he’s the smartest guy I know. He instilled in me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. Those two components really inspired me to get on the path and do right. Sometimes that’s tough, especially growing up in my area.
EBONY: Take us on your journey from Bed-Stuy to your position as brand manager for Epic Records.
KS: I went to Temple University, and I ended up becoming the “party guy.” I was throwing successful parties on campus. I eventually got this opportunity to promote the Stomp the Yard Step Show at Temple, which had partnered with Radio One’s WPH1. After that, I realized that I wanted to be in entertainment. So after the show, I called the guy who branded the production and asked for an internship with the Stomp the Yard Step Show. He in turn, asked me to promote the next step show he was putting together. I worked hard to get things done for him. The producer took notice and offered me an internship afterwards. But my ego was so filled with air, I called back and said, “An internship? I can’t really do an internship, but can we work out a paid gig?” And they set me straight; I didn't deserve to get paid yet.
EBONY: After they brought you back down to earth, what happened?
KS: I ended up taking the internship with Stomp the Yard, and from that, I met Brock from Heat Holders Promotions. Knowing my work, he gave me the blueprint to his business, and within two months, I was running his whole operation. I interned for him for about a year, and realized that if I wanted to do more, I would have to leave Philly and move back to New York.
So Brock called Chris Green from Capitol Records and put in a good word for me. I ended up moving back to NYC for this gig, thinking I had a job at Capital Records, but it turned out to be another internship. I worked in the Urban Promotions department for a year, but I needed money. So I had to leave Capitol and found a job at J.Crew. But after a few months there, I got a call back from Capitol saying they had an opportunity for me to work a consulting gig, which was paid. So I left J.Crew and went back to Capitol, where I met and worked with Dan Smalls.
But then, Dan asked me to come over to Epic Records with him. The catch was that I wasn’t going to get paid at Epic. There was no security, but I went. I was just bustin’ my ass until February 2012, when they offered me a position to be an assistant, and of course I took it. That was my first real job with health benefits. And this past February, I was promoted to brand manager. Essentially, my job is to connect Epic Records to influential people in the brand marketplace. That’s how I got here. A lot of internships, and a lot of hard work.
EBONY: What would you say is the biggest professional mistake that you’ve made thus far, and how did you go about fixing it?
KS: When I first got hired at Epic Records, I had a month of f-ups. For example, we had an artist in town and he couldn’t do anything without smoking [marijuana]. So me, being a problem solver, took him somewhere to smoke. Needless to say, it was inside a very high executive’s office. Security rolled right up on us. They ran an investigation on me and everything. It got squashed and I’m in good graces now, but that was a mistake that I made early on. My boss gave me great words of advice: don’t do anything that could get me in trouble. The rarest thing in business is common sense; a lot of people lack that. That was one moment where I didn’t use my common sense. I’m happy that it happened early in my career and not later, and the fire was put out pretty fast.
EBONY: How would you define our generation? What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about us?
KS: I think our generation are forward-thinkers. We utilize our resources very well. The biggest misconception about our generation is that we’re crazy. Older generations may have a hard time understanding us, but we understand ourselves. We’re learning everyday who we are. There are still lessons that we can only learn through living, but I think we have a good idea of what we want.
EBONY: What is the biggest obstacle we face as young adults, in terms of “making it” and becoming successful?
KS: Our entitlement. Because we have so many resources that are readily available to us, our expectations are so high, and sometimes people just don’t want to put in that grind to get to that level of success. I think that because things happen so fast for us—especially with social media—we don’t really develop our ideas, which is necessary to really solidify our career. I don’t think we’re disciplined.
EBONY: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
KS: Hopefully, I’ll be on the 32nd floor of the building. That’s the floor the CEO and chairman’s office reside. Right now, I’m on the 21st floor. Go big, or go home, right? I want to be recognized as one of the people who put our culture on a forefront, helped preserve our culture and show it in a positive light. I want the type of influence that Diddy, L.A. Reid and Jay-Z have. I think it’s attainable. I see myself there. I’m just fortunate enough to learn from the mentors I have.
EBONY: What is one piece of advice that you’ll carry with you forever? Who gave it to you?
KS: My dad gave me the most important advice that I’ve ever received in my life. He told me to respect everyone, no matter who they are, no matter what they do. Working in this industry, it’s really easy to get an inflated ego. And I’ve seen people come in, have meetings and not even acknowledge me because of my title or rank, and I never want to be that dude.
I’m here by the grace of God and because I’m blessed. I’ve accomplished a lot, but the real truth is that I can lose everything at a moment’s notice. We don’t know what may happen. I just try to go out my way and really, genuinely have respect for everyone. I think more people in this industry need to do that. All that stuff goes a long way, yo. In this industry, it’s the administrative assistant who becomes president in a few years. That happens a lot. You don’t want to burn bridges. That’s my philosophy.