Raleigh tech CEO on driving diversity: ‘You’ve got to win with cards you’ve been dealt’

RALEIGH – Donald Thompson is big on giving back.

That’s why the CEO of Walk West, one of the fastest growing digital marketing agencies in the Triangle, is sharing some of his hard-earned advice – for free.

“There’s plenty of times when you come to me and I spend an hour of my time, I’ve got an invoice for you. But this isn’t one of them,” the 47-year-old told WRAL TechWire ahead of the launch.

“I’m getting a little bit older now. I’m thankful for the opportunities that I’ve been given and for the people that have helped me along the way, and I need to share.”

In his first ebook, A Business Leader’s Guide to Driving Diversity Inclusion in the Workplace — which he produced with the help of his sister, Amie Thompson, CEO of Creative Allies — Thompson tackles what diversity actually means in the modern workplace. The second ebook, All Hats On Deck, is scheduled for release later this year.

As an African American with more than 25 years in the industry and no college degree, it’s fair to say that he has a unique perspective.

“There’s two perspectives,” he clarifies. “There is what a company can do to be more inclusive, but what you do as an individual – as a woman, a person of color – to make sure your voice is heard and keep moving forward in spite of some of the challenges that you might face.”

His main takeaway, however, might surprise some.

“You can’t change the status quo. You’ve got to focus on changing who you are, and create the environment where you can win in spite of things that are wrong.”

Sure, he’d like things like racism and bigotry to be completely obsolete. But right now in 2019, that’s not happening and you’ve got to make do.

“You’ve got to win with the cards that you’ve been dealt,” he argues.

COMING UP THE RANKS
Thompson knows this firsthand.

Back in the 90s, he dropped out of college to start up his first business as a retail space owner. He also did a lot of “dead-end” jobs. “I was a store manager at Dollar General. I was a security guard, a clerk at a fast gas station. I was a telemarketer.”

During that time, he learned an important lesson: performance superceded anything else in business. If you’re a high performer and you’re driving the bottom-line, people want to know who you are.

Another talking point: As an African American, he didn’t walk around with a “chip on his shoulder.”

“I knew that I had to have people of all different persuasions to help me succeed. So I was open to mentorship from anyone who would provide it to me.”

It paid off. Eventually, he rose to the top as CEO and president of tech company I-Cubed, growing it from 16 to 140 employees – and 30 percent annual revenue growth year on year. KPIT acquired it in 2014, the first of several successful exits under Thompson’s watch. Others include iciDigital and InspectionXpert (as an advisor).

These days, Thompson is heading up Walk West and is on a similar growth trajectory. He’s also a popular fixture on the talking circuit, and serves on numerous boards for tech firms such as Inn-Flow and SpokeHub. He ‘s also a mentor for Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange: Black Founders and recently acted as a judge for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund OFC Hackathon pitch competition.

For the moment, he says he’s having fun. But when the time comes, he’ll move onto the next challenge. “When somebody at Walk West rises and I become less and less necessary, I’ve got plenty of other things to do. That’s kind of my M.O. (modus operandi).”

by Chantal Allam of WRAL TechWire.