A Discussion on Entrepreneurialism, Work-Marriage Dynamics, and The Hustle Toward Success
I first met Christian a few years ago when I worked downtown. I was immediately partial to her because at the time she was dating the older brother of one of my best friends from college (it’s a great story…they met on Twitter). Hailing from Detroit, Christian brought her vivaciousness to San Antonio, Texas, and she has firmly planted her roots here. She’s magnetic: sassy, silly, confident, and always in command. Christian has one of those personalities that makes everyone around her happy. Her smile lights up not just a room, but a whole ballroom. She’s the person I always hope is at my table when I walk into a gala or business function, because if she’s there I know I’m having a good time. Her positive energy is contagious, and I leave every encounter with her lifted and laughing.
I’ve watched Christian and her now husband Uche work as a team to build their PR and management consulting business, BethanyEast PR, from dreams to reality over the past few years. They wake up, they grind, they sleep and they repeat. They are a local power couple machine: Christian is CEO and her husband / business partner Uche is her COO. Ying and yang, they use each other’s skill sets to stand on, hurling each other over every obstacle that young entrepreneurs face. As a result of their passion, skill, and can-do attitude, they have managed to add heavy hitter organizations and businesses to their client roster in only four years operating. The part I’m most proud of as a cheerleading bystander? Christian just won the prestigious San Antonio Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 recognition, and I can’t wait to watch her use this acknowledgement to continue soaring.
You were born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. What brought you to San Antonio and what kept you here?
My parents relocated to San Antonio about 3 years before I did. During the economic downturn, I was laid off by Blue Cross Blue Shield. It was the most horrifying experience to one day have the security of a great position with a great company to being completely out in the cold (literally… it was December in Detroit). My sister had already made the move to San Antonio and began running her small business. She was constantly telling me about the many opportunities San Antonio had to offer, so I came to “visit” and never went back.
What was the dream career you envisioned for yourself when you were in high school?
High school came easily to me – I credit my years in home school for that. I was voted most likely to succeed my senior year and thought I’d go on to be an attorney.
What was your first job out of college, and did it give you any telltale signs that you would end up owning a business?
I’ve always loved working, and I’ve been really blessed to have had great jobs since I was 15 years old. My parents introduced me to everything from construction clerical to community development. When I graduated from University of Michigan I applied for jobs all over Detroit and landed an Entry-Level Contract Assistant position with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan – quite possibly the most boring job I’ve ever had. I read and filed contracts all day and made the decision then that I did not want to be an attorney. What I learned was that there were small businesses completing services for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michican (and getting paid major bucks to do it), which was my first introduction to consulting. As I earned promotion after promotion I fell in love with what the procurement process meant for a hustler like myself. When I started BethanyEast PR I took this knowledge and created opportunities for my business to become “employed” by larger organizations.
At what point in your professional journey did you decide to start BethanyEast PR?
I was only at BCBSM for 5 years before I was laid off – so I still had a crazy amount of optimism despite feeling like the floor beneath me had disappeared. I had been preparing myself to use my PR degree by taking on small marketing and media gigs for area concert and event promoters. Looking back, I think I was ready to leave long before I got notice that I didn’t have a position anymore. When I relocated to San Antonio, not long after I met Uche, I threw caution to the wind and went to work creating a very detailed business plan. In the meantime, before we landed our first client I worked two sales positions at the Gap in the Quarry and Nordstrom Rack at the Rim.
What has been the most profound lesson of self-discovery that you have learned on your journey so far as a CEO who is married to her COO?
I’ve learned that we don’t have to think alike, but we do have to think together. And in all instances we remember to stay considerate of each other’s opinions and processes. Uche is an engineer, so he’s a problem solver. I’m a dreamer, and I have a hustle in me that screams “nothing is impossible.” It’s safe to say we depend deeply on each other to be realistically different.
What do you find most rewarding about representing San Antonio’s diverse organizations in your consulting work, such as the MLK commission and San Antonio Growth on the Eastside (SAGE)?
It took a while for these organizations to align with our work. To be honest, we are both outsiders because we aren’t from San Antonio, so we definitely had to prove ourselves as a team who understood the many facets of our city’s culture. It has been fantastic working with SAGE – helping to introduce their goals to diverse audiences beyond “the loops”. At the same time, we are striving to ensure that new urban audiences aren’t alienated by San Antonio’s more historic areas, including the Eastside. Seeing different types of people mix, foster great relationships, and influence commerce and business growth has been the most rewarding part of our work with these organizations.
What has been a challenge you have faced as a female entrepreneur in this community, and how have you worked to overcome it and lead by example?
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that as a woman I struggle with making sure my voice is heard. A lot of times, especially as a black woman, I must organize my words to convey my plans and expertise, versus my emotions and feelings. Everyone makes snap judgements, and I challenge myself to not pass blame when I am put into a box, but to show through my actions and work ethic that I can offer exemplary services across audience and industry lines.
What is one piece of advice you can offer young women aspiring toward careers who currently feel lost in trying to find their sense of purpose?
Keep track of everything you learn, and work so hard that you become irreplaceable. Use new skills you acquire as often as possible and don’t be afraid to share what you know with others.
What are your main sources of inner strength and what keeps you positive?
My trust in the good Lord Jesus Christ keeps me positive. I’m a firm believer of letting go and letting God guide my steps and decisions…and when I struggle with prayers I usually call my mom, who’s been an entrepreneur for 40+ years, to give me a good pep talk.
What excites you most about your career path when you think about the next five years, now that you’ve won the esteemed San Antonio Business Journal’s 40 under 40 award?
Honestly, I’ve only been in San Antonio for five years so to be given this honor this early is beyond anything I could imagine. But I know that my work ethic is what has driven me to gain success in acquiring great clients, being regarded as a full-service PR firm, introducing corporate event planning services, and being a representative for up-and-coming urban entrepreneurs. I wouldn’t change anything; in fact, I plan on doing everything over and over again, that’s my inspiration.
Describe a power suit / outfit currently hanging in your closet and why you wear it.
I love texture and color, and mixing them in crazy ways that may push an envelope (or three). My favorite power suit right now is a blue paisley Banana Republic short set I got on sale a few weeks ago. It’s eye-catching, the shorts are just short enough to stop traffic, and even when I separate the pieces they still command. I wear it because I’m from Detroit – we’re known for being comfortably flashy, and we don’t apologize for our fashion choices.
If you could have lunch with any woman in the world, (living or deceased) who would it be and why?
Michelle Obama – I don’t think this needs explanation. She’s honestly the most powerful woman in the world … or in my world. I’ve learned so much from her already. I want to hear stories about how she and President Obama managed working together, and her influence in circles where black women haven’t regularly had access.
Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison.
You can follow all of Christian’s successes and the growth of BethanyEast PR on social media: Instagram @mrsogba, Twitter @mrsogba, and Facebook @b.eastpr.