Black@LEK invited notable Black L.E.K. alumni to a panel to discuss their experience navigating L.E.K. and corporate America more broadly. L.E.K. Alumni and panelist Nkem Oghedo tells us more about her career journey to becoming the founder of Adá, a marketplace and community to shop & experience global Black food culture, and provides insightful wisdom on career growth and the importance of feeling community at work. 

Tell us a bit about your background and your career journey to where you are now as the founder of Adá?
I’m a native New Yorker and grew up in Queens. I studied Chemical Engineering in college at Yale and received my MBA from Harvard. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset and knew that long term I wanted to start my own company. I studied Chemical Engineering because I wanted to create beauty products for Black and brown people. However, after I received my MBA, I knew I needed to think more about what I wanted to do. Consulting felt like a great industry to land as I built up my vision and skillset. I joined L.E.K. in 2017 as a consultant and gained tactical problem-solving and strategic skills during my time there. After L.E.K., I joined a health startup called Care/of as their Chief of Staff which gave me close access to what it takes to build a business from the ground up.  My experiences at L.E.K. and Care/of gave me the courage to start my own thing, which led to the founding of Adá, a marketplace to book team bonding events with Black chefs & culinary creators. 

How did L.E.K. contribute to getting you to the successful place you are now? 
I always say, consulting teaches you extremely transferable skills. The consultant role at LEK is particularly powerful. When I became Chief of Staff at Care/of after L.E.K., I was basically in charge of providing structure to the business -- from establishing and running leadership meetings, to creating methods and norms for cross-team collaboration, to setting the company roadmap and goals. All of this required being able to gather diverse insights, influence decisions, and manage people -- up, down, and sideways! 

You created Mosaic, L.E.K.’s Affinity group for racial and ethnic minorities at L.E.K., which is still very much active today. Why did you decide to create this group? 
Throughout my life, since kindergarten, I’ve always been in predominately white spaces – either in school or my professional life. I found it helpful to have a safe space or community that can understand what you might be going through as a minority and to know who you can talk to feel more comfortable. I’ve led a lot of groups in my life, whether it’s a Women’s group, Black folks, even engineers - it comes naturally to me. And let’s face it, consulting can be a high-stress job sometimes. The least we can do is create space for people to come together, chill, and meet with like-minded folks to talk about things unrelated to your case. 

One of our panelists said that you personally helped create a safe space for them during their time working with you. In what ways were you able to do that and how do you create this type of space at Ade?
I give people space to feel their feelings and validate them. It’s okay to name the behaviors or “cultural norms” that might make you feel crazy. It’s easy for people to say, “Oh suck it up” and not acknowledge where they are coming from when they are sincerely expressing themselves. Validating people’s feelings can work miracles in social and professional environments. It’s all about making people feel heard, seen, and validated.

What advice do you have for people who want to grow in their professional careers?
You have to be clear about what you want. You don’t need to know all the details, but it’s important to visualize the life you want to live and the ways your work fits into your life. Are you living every day pushing yourself closer to your goal, or are you running other people’s races? It’s all about self-reflection and honesty with yourself.  Ask yourself if what you’re doing is bringing you closer or further to what you want. If closer, what specifically are you getting out of this? Some wisdom I took from a podcast recently was sometimes you can be so focused on climbing the ladder, you don’t realize you’re on the wrong ladder until you reach the top.