From Perfect Victim to Perfecting Leadership

A journey from the projects to the boardroom

A single mother with an eighth-grade education cleaning motel rooms to provide for her four young sons — on her own, while living in the projects of Indianapolis. Often, sadly, it’s a story that does not end well.

Steven A. White was the oldest of those four sons. “It was the perfect case for me to be a victim,” he told Advisors Magazine in a recent interview, “but certainly my mother had a clearly different vision for her four little boys.”

Today, White serves as president and special counsel at Comcast. In his current role, he works with Comcast Cable leadership and the company on a number of important initiatives, including Diversity, Equality & Inclusion (DE&I), leadership programming and development, and the advancement of digital equity in the areas of accessibility and affordability. He previously served as president of Comcast’s West Division.

Steve’s mother understood that while she was unlikely to realize all her own personal dreams, her goal was to ensure that her sons did. She would often take the boys to her motel cleaning jobs because she could not afford a babysitter.

“At the time, I didn’t realize the lessons I was learning,” White said. “Clearly her skillset was much greater than a motel cleaner, but she approached that job with great attitude, great focus, great commitment.”

White and his brothers also came to appreciate the sacrifices she had to make. And they saw how she realized and embraced her primary purpose, which was to raise four young boys, so that they would become contributing members of society. And today, they all are.

“I didn't realize it at the time, but what was being instilled in me is you never work a day in your life — if you find why you're on this earth,” White said.

uncompromising 3dAnd that’s a key theme in White’s book, which will be released nationwide during Black History Month (2-22-22). Its title: UNCOMPROMISING: How an Unwavering Commitment to Your Why Leads to an Impactful Life and a Lasting Legacy.

White had considerable success coming out of college. But his first big job in a management role saw him fired within 12 months.

The same day he was fired, however, he also received a call from another executive in a different division of the same company. That executive and soon-to-be-mentor was Darnell Martin.

“Steve, I see more in you than you see in yourself,” White recalls Martin told him. “However, if you leave and manage the way you're doing today, you'll never be successful,” White remembers.

Martin said he wanted to move Steve from Michigan to Chicago. “He told me: ‘I don't have a job, but I'm going to create a position for you. There will be no P&L responsibility. You'll have no people. All I want you to do is watch, learn, and grow.’”

And that’s what White did. He quickly realized that leading is about serving your team. “People support you when you support them,” he says. “Their efforts and loyalty intensify when they see it from you.”

That was the light bulb moment for White. “I realized because I learned leadership early on as the oldest of four boys in that motel room, or when my mother had to work two jobs, it was my responsibility to get my little brothers ready for bed, and homework done and all of that,” he explained. “So, I recalled how I really enjoyed that—serving our family team. And that became my purpose.”

White adds: “That's why God put me on this earth – to lead and motivate, to inspire men and women to be better than they even thought they could be.”

White had initially identified his purpose, but there was still the question of why him?

“I’ve had eight core friends,” he told Advisors Magazine. “We all have friends that have been with us 20, 30, 40 years, whatever. Of those eight, only four of us are still alive. The other four died tragic deaths based on where and how we grew up.”

And over the years people have asked Steve: ‘How are you still here? You grew up in the same circumstances. Why and how are you here?’

White acknowledges: “I was curious enough to go find out my why, and I truly believe that allowed me to get through some difficult circumstances and to not become a victim.”

Many of these points are addressed in White’s book. The Uncompromising title, however, does not mean one should be inflexible or stubborn, it relates to one’s dedication to purpose.

“Life is built around compromise,” White said, “But once you find out your purpose and you find out why you've been placed on this earth, you should be uncompromising. You should be ruthless in your pursuit of your why,” he urged.

There are many business management and leadership lessons to be learned from White’s book, but at its heart, this is a story about realizing the American Dream.

white 434“We just do not teach the American dream in school anymore,” White said. “And as an African American, I can certainly attest that it's not an easy road for people of color, but it is available.”

He emphasized: “And through hard work and perseverance and obviously a few breaks and a few hand-ups — not handouts but hand-ups, which represent opportunity — I think the American dream is available to everyone.”

For most everyone, that dream is rooted in self-sufficiency. “I want to be independent enough where I can make my own decisions,” White said. “I want to be able to care for my family, my loved ones. We all want a level of freedom and choice to do as we please, right? And you need to have a level of success to do that.”

The Wealth Gap, The Pandemic and ‘The Great Reset’

While affirming that success and opportunity are available to all, White agrees that the wealth gap and income inequality are serious concerns. “Just look at the stock market the last few years and the wealth that has been created,” he said. “But if you don’t have the capital to participate in the market, the gap only widens and that’s a major issue.”

But such issues, White maintains, are being affected by what he calls The Great Reset. “I choose to ignore the label ‘Great Resignation’ in favor of The Great Reset,” he said.

White insists that the pandemic forced all who thought we were in complete control of our lives to slow ourselves down and to reflect on where we are. What’s more, he points to George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020, as a pivotal moment that showed how we are all vulnerable.

Steve Quote
“When George Floyd was murdered, it really captured the attention of everybody in this country,” White said. “Because if you're an African American, that's not a new story, but it captured America’s attention because so many of us were at home and feeling our most vulnerable.”

At the time, the nation was only three months or so into the pandemic. People were on ventilators and dying and a man was killed in the street by law enforcement. “It was a very frightening time for a lot of people,” White said, “because we just didn't know what would happen. You didn't know if you were going to die.”

As people of all kinds witnessed and experienced such events, White says they began evaluating and reflecting on how they were living their lives. It was a time to take stock.

“They started to realize that they were spending hours and hours doing something or working for someone that maybe did not fulfill them,” White observed. “So there is this desire to go out there and find your purpose. And then that ties into income and The Great Reset.”

He added: “Now, people are saying, ‘Look at my skillset, I truly believe my talent is greater than what I'm being recognized for; I’m looking for an opportunity that’s more equal to what I am worth.’”

Reflection, in fact, is a critical part of being a leader, according to White. Every morning he still carves out time to reflect – to figure out why a decision worked or didn’t pan out, or what mistakes he made, as well as what went well.

As always, White is thoughtfully uncompromising in his commitment to having a positive impact.



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