No matter the industry, breaking into a career path with no connections can be extremely challenging and frustrating. If you have the hustle and drive to achieve your goals, you will always be successful. This is a lesson that Chief Brand Officer of Combs Enterprises Deon Graham knows all too well. Overseeing the brand alignment across Sean "Diddy" Combs's portfolio of unique endeavors, the South Florida native has the distinct opportunity of developing and fine-tuning their strategy and visibility.
Below, Graham chats with EBONY about his experience working at Combs Enterprises and offers tips to young Black executives who want to succeed in the biz.
EBONY: You are fresh off the success of the REVOLT Summit, which returned for another great year. What went into the curation of the event?
Deon Graham: The vision behind the Summit is obviously led by Puff, and his dream has just been for Black culture to come through. I think the Summit thrives at the intersection of culture and education. The big thing for me is the access to opportunities in real time. Attendees can submit resumes, but they can also be hired on the spot or connect with an executive who can help change their career path. And it's all rooted in hip-hop. Hip-hop has always been this driving force in our culture that teaches us about entrepreneurship, ownership, evolving, and opening up our business minds. So, at REVOLT, we want to ensure that as we put together something like the Summit, we stay rooted in hip-hop culture.
What has your experience been as a young executive at Combs Enterprises?
I grew up in South Florida, a typical story of a young Black man trying to go to college, hustle, make money and figure out what my path in life would be. During that time, I realized there was a gaping hole in covering how our culture showed up at these different parties through going to clubs. We were always the driver of bottle sales and music played in the establishments but never the focal point of the marketing or who the clubs liked to associate with. So, I started a platform called City Never Sleeps. Within the first year of creating that website, I got many different partnerships with the clubs in South Florida and across the country. I quickly gained the attention of Blue Flame, Puffy's former marketing company. They wanted to put Cîroc ads on the site, which is how my relationship with him started. I've always looked up to him. I grew up listening to his music and following his evolution as a mogul, so I made the most of the opportunity. From those websites being placed on my site, every opportunity was for me to be in a meeting, help with a website development project, or help with the marketing campaign. I was trying to provide value in any way possible, which led me up the ladder.
What have been some highlights of your career thus far?
I reflect on this all the time. One of the biggest highlights of this role is the REVOLT Summit and what we can do for the community. Given that I don't have traditional education, someone went out of their way to give me an opportunity. So it's a big deal to pay that forward through this event. I take a lot of pride in the REVOLT Summit.
As for my day-to-day role as Chief Brand Officer at Combs Enterprises, I'm consistently looking across the portfolio of brands we manage such as Deleón Tequila, Cîroc, Sean John, Aqua Hydrate, REVOLT, Bad Boy, our new R&B label Love Records, Capital Prep and then a bunch of different investments that aren't so public-facing like the above, as well as Puff's personal brand. It's exciting for me to work on all of those projects.
Mentorship and having a solid support system are integral to achieving great heights. Who are some people who have championed you on your career trajectory ?
I would start with Tarik Brooks, the president of Combs Enterprises. From the first day I met him, he's always just provided me guidance on the executive level and for life. He's been a significant mentor to me as well as Dia Simms and Erin Harris. They are two former rockstar executives from Combs Enterprises that I still have a strong relationship with. They've always just looked out for me. I have had many mentors, but those are just a few.
If you could sum up some of the greatest lessons you've learned in your career, what are some tips that you'd share with young Black executives on the rise?
Be consistent in whatever you do. Consistency is one of the essential things attributed to success. Secondly, ensure you're always providing value to those you work with. Thirdly, treat all you do like you own it. When you do that, the experience lends itself to all the different skill sets and mindsets you need to be successful. Lastly, just be you. I think that a lot of times, people try to conform to what they believe people deem to be successful in that job. If you spend too much time trying to be something you're not, you're putting up a shield, pushing yourself, and blocking yourself from opportunity.