Name: Leonard M. Edwards II (“Leo”)
Profession: Sports and Entertainment Marketing Executive; Senior Director, Corporate Partnerships for the Prudential Center, New Jersey Devils and Team Dignitas
One Word That Describes You: Peculiar
How HE Ordinarily Impacts: Philanthropy begins at home and Leonard M. Edwards II’s need to give is based upon his early beginnings on the South Side of Chicago. Through higher education and an illustrious career in the sports world, Edwards continue to represent Chi-Town with scholarship and integrity to ensure the next generation of Chicagoans are the next generation of visionaries, dreamers, and doers.
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
I am thoroughly humbled and grateful to be a part of the BE Modern Man of Distinction list for 2017. When I learned of this honor, I was shocked, wowed, and excited. It really means a great deal to me. To be honored with a number of outstanding back men who are excelling in their respective careers and in the community is truly humbling. Thank you.
What are you doing as a BEMM to help support black male achievement now or in the future?
In 2011, I created a scholarship for seniors at my alma mater, Percy L. Julian High School in Chicago. I named the scholarship after the community I grew up in—Roseland. For six years, I have given four figure awards to two students annually who have excelled and shown great improvement in the classroom over four years. They have proven with hard work and belief they can achieve despite the circumstances they have been faced with. Although females have been the majority of the scholarship applications, I have committed to giving one scholarship to a black male annually. In 2016, I awarded seven students (two of them men), with scholarships commemorating the 5th year of The Roseland Community Scholarship.
I believe in returning all calls, answering all texts and emails, taking the time out, and God will give it back to you on the back end of life. With that said, I am always open to having conversations with black men who are interested in getting into the sports industry. I provide advice, feedback, and level set what they can expect from the industry. I know what it is like to reach out to people and they never take the time out with their busy schedules to help or lift someone up. It is my goal to always give back in that manner.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. I didn’t think I would live to see the age of 21. I witnessed a lot of friends and associates transition out of this life or get locked up behind bars before the age of 18. I woke up on my 21st birthday and gave God a vow: I would change my life around and make the best of it. There were no more excuses. I began to write my goals down and truly put my dreams into action.
Sports have always been my passion and safe haven. When my life wasn’t going well, I watched sports. When I was depressed, I watched sports. I truly believe had I not played three sports in high school, or football in college, my life could have wound up the way others from my community turned out. This passion led me to pursuing a career in the sports industry. I completed four internships with the Chicago Bears, Chicago White Sox, Sports International and WFLD-TV FOX Sports. During my fourth internship, I simultaneously went to grad school full time. This led to earning an M.B.A. in Marketing. I still had challenges getting hired full time in the industry. A good industry friend told me if I wanted to be in the sports industry bad enough, I would go anywhere. I was invited to the NBA job fair in downtown Chicago in March of 2003. There were 19 of 29 teams present. By the end of the weekend, I received 11 job offers.
I moved to Florida to join the Orlando Magic staff with just shy of $300 to my name. I had absolutely nothing but drive and a willingness to do whatever it took to succeed. I finally received that “big break”, which has led to an amazing career working for the Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers, International Speedway Corporation (NASCAR), NHRA, Arizona Coyotes, and now in my current role. I could not have envisioned this for myself growing up.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
I look for genuine people who are passionate about life and their craft. They work hard, are loyal, and do not let adversity dictate their circumstances. They truly want to become the best in everything they do in life.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
1. I am getting prepared to have a successful 2017 NHL season with the Devils beginning in October. I am also working on building the sponsorship base for Team Dignitas, an eSports team ownership acquired in September of 2016.
2. I just announced The 2017 Roseland Community Scholarship winners. I am working on making sure their universities receive the scholarship checks and am extending an invitation to the winners for me to be used as a personal resource as they matriculate through college and into the real world. #Jaguar4Life
3. I am currently taking graduate level classes at Harvard University pursuing a Master’s Degree in Finance.
4. Working on finishing 8 books this summer in the areas of business and personal development.
What is the best advice you ever received?
So many people have touched my life with their words of wisdom. Below are examples of the best advice I have received: The Late Theresa O. Smith (Grandmother) – Learn from other people’s mistakes; Carol Edwards (Mom) – Don’t ever forget about God; Chief Michael E. Smith (Uncle) – Go along with the program; Dr. J. W. Smith (Uncle) – Find a way, whatever it takes; Professor Kenneth Schaefle – Defer gratification and you’ll always be successful in business and life; and Pastor James T. Meeks – Are you praying big prayers?
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Dare to be different. Don’t allow someone’s perception of you become your reality. Reach out to people you don’t know and ask them for guidance. Find a mentor. You are never too old to achieve your dreams. It’s OK to not know the answer. Ask questions. Everyone makes mistakes. If you make one, disclose it so it can be fixed, instead of covering it up and making it worse. Be genuine and don’t compare your path to someone else’s. Your time is coming. Trust the process and believe in your abilities. Your story will be told through your drive, work ethic, and determination. There is enough out here for all of us to be successful. No Quit!
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
I conduct a lot of research before the meeting to ensure I am knowledgeable of my audience. I spend a lot of time preparing the words and thoughts I would like to convey during the meeting. I always, always, play a few songs the morning of the meeting: “Grateful” by Hezekiah Walker, “He Saw The Best in Me” by Marvin Sapp, “Live Through It” by James Fortune, and I finish off with Jay Z and Pharrell’s “So Ambitious.” As I am getting dressed, I am thinking about how far I have come, the people who are cheering for me, and I always wear an orange tie in honor of my alma mater, Percy L. Julian High School; the South Side of Chicago and my alma mater are always close to me in my heart. I finish by asking my boss and others I value for their thoughts, then I go have some fun and allow my smile, passion, and attitude lead me through.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation?
The sports industry has truly blessed me in ways I could not have imagined. Growing up, I could not see or think beyond the radius of the South Side of Chicago. I have been fortunate to live in places like Orlando, Cleveland, Charlotte, Miami, Phoenix, New York, and New Jersey, and to frequent some amazing places such as London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Brazil, Florence, Venice, Colombia, etc. One of my favorite vacations took place in the summer of 2016. I went to Barcelona for the third time and was fortunate to see someone I have admired in the sports industry since I was an intern. We spent time conversing and catching up on what was going on in our lives and careers. I am so happy we were able to reunite in another country.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
There are a few places that come to mind. Cape Verde is one place I would love to travel to. It’s an island located on the coast of West Africa. I wouldn’t mind living in Africa and since I have lived in tropical weather the majority of my career, this would be fun and adventurous. Zürich, Switzerland, is another place I would love to live, which is the home of FIFA World Cup. To have an opportunity to work on a global stage such as the World Cup would be a dream and an opportunity of a lifetime. Lastly, I am a Chicagoan at heart for life. I love my city. Although I have not lived there in nearly 15 years, it would be joyous to one day live as an adult in my hometown. I never had the desire to leave, however, when you are faced with an opportunity to better you and your family, it’s time to go.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I hope Black Enterprise continues to honor black men around the globe that are succeeding in their endeavors. We can change the perception as we continue to change us. This honor is a culmination of many people who never gave up on me and stuck through some good and rough times in my life. Thank you for being there and challenging me to be a better man. Suffer with class. Faith keeps those who keep the faith. Never forget where you come from. Send the elevator back down and pay it forward. I hope my Dad is happy with what I am doing with his name.
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Come celebrate the BE Modern Man 100 Men of Distinction at the first-ever Black Men XCEL Summit, Aug. 30 – Sept. 3, at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.