Jeremie Kubicek started his career looking for whom he wanted to work with – not where he wanted to work. This approach landed the fully Czechoslovakian kid at a company focused on selling hair care products to Black women. The lessons he’d learned still shape him today.
In 1996, I had the privilege of joining an amazing local company, Jack’s Merchandising. Kent Humphreys, the CEO, and Lance Humphreys, his son, remain the best leaders for whom I have ever worked. They were liberators — freedom fighters for so many people around the United States.
I had just moved back from Moscow, where a group of graduates from OBU banded together to help start the Moscow Economic School. Companies in the mid-90s didn’t know what to do with internationally minded young 20-somethings, and so I struggled to find the career that matched my aspirations. It was at that point that my dad spoke gold over me. He said, “Son, in your 20s, it’s not what you do, but who you work for that matters.” That is how I made it Jack’s — I wanted to work for the Humphreys. I didn’t really care what they did.
This is where it gets humorous: Jack’s was one the largest merchandising suppliers of African American hair care suppliers in the nation. I am full-on Czechoslovakian. As soon as I joined, I began the process of understanding the products, which would take me on a journey of understanding the customer, mostly African American women.
My mentor and dear friend, Lance Humphreys, challenged me to learn. To do that, I needed to spend time in stores and beauty salons to fully understand who our market was. From Philadelphia to Houston and Los Angeles to Milwaukee, I began meeting, observing and — most importantly — asking questions. That is when I began to learn about the difficulties of leading families inside urban centers, why Black women spend twice as much on hair care products, and the male/female dynamics of culture.
I spoke at a number of conferences and customer events (HEB, Fred Meyer, Kroger, etc.) on the trends of African American hair care in the United States. I even began to use the products (Let’s Jam hair pudding, for those wondering) and eventually ended up starting an African American hair care dot com business called Ethnic Source, which was the first dot com focused on ethnic women. I met some amazing people and still have lasting connections. In fact, it has helped me relate to the current cultural discussions and communicate to others who may not understand fully because of their upbringing or race. And I think they have learned a lot from me too.
Here is the truth that I have lived by: When you fight for the highest possible good of all people, then they will know that you are for them, not against them. They will feel the love you have for them, and walls will drop as in influence rises and trust will be established. Trust is the currency of business and relationship. We simply need more of it.
I started on a journey to find the people I wanted to work for, and I ended that season valuing people at levels I never knew were possible. Take some time to learn. Listen to others and appreciate the perspective of life that they have.