Ed Kargbo is both a born and bred leader. Affable and intelligent, thoughtful and driven, Kargbo gives the immediate impression that he is exceedingly comfortable in his own skin. He exudes confidence without arrogance. So it comes as no surprise that he is also quick to explain the role of other people–mentors–who have played a tremendous role in shaping the man he is today.
Kargbo was born in Houston of immigrant parents. His mother is from Nigeria; his father from Sierra Leone. They were both cab drivers while putting themselves through MBA school at Texas Southern University. Kargbo spent part of his youth in Lagos, Nigeria; then college in North Carolina followed by a few years of professional football. He eventually made his way back to Texas where he found his calling.
In 2006, Kargbo became the General Manager of Yellow Cab Austin, which operates 461 local cars and does business with about 700 drivers. They are proud to claim status as the first cab company in the country to utilize GPS dispatching in all their cabs.
Kargbo has served the Austin community through The Young Men’s Business League, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Habitat Young Professionals. He is past president of Austin Young Chamber of Commerce and a 2008 graduate of Leadership Austin’s Emerge program.
Kargbo has taken lessons from both sides of the mentoring relationship and turned those experiences into a foundation upon which he’s built both a lifestyle and a career.
Where did you passion for community come from?
In youth sports I had quite a few coaches who were dads volunteering and giving back. In that space you find a lot of kids who don’t necessarily have the two-parent homes. So I saw a lot of successful men who were contributing to the lives of kids that were not their own. For three of the teams I played on, the sponsors’ dads were attorneys so I just put one and two together: “To do really good things in this world you go to law school and become an attorney. You make a little bit of money and you have time to be a good father.” So those were some of my role models: those dads that were family men, but also literally giving back out of their pockets to the community.
In college, I became more and more involved in campus life: Athletes Care Team and Student Advisory Council. I was selected by the school to go to the NCAA Leadership Foundation my junior year. I kept this pattern going of being involved in community while doing my normal course of work and developing myself.
How did your career with Yellow Cab begin?
I was a volunteer peewee football coach. I had just taken the LSAT and was ready to go down the law school path. The gentleman who is the lead investor in Yellow Cab was a guy I coached with. He offered me an opportunity to get involved with the group. Long story short, I took that opportunity and passed on the law school plan.
The moment that I realized that it was for me was when the organization adopted a middle school in Houston: McReynolds Middle School. We took all our management team, set up a mentor program, and worked with other businesses to bring in equipment. We set up an after school program…I got to build the program from scratch and got to lead our management team in that process. We helped McReynolds transition from a failing school to…one of the highest rated schools in HISD. At that point, I knew whatever I did in life, I wanted to be engaged, active and involved in community.
Tell me about your earliest mentors…
My parents divorced when I was 7. That’s hard for a kid. I think the reason I was able to embrace and connect with a lot of the adults who were volunteering in my life and who were mentoring me, was because of that fundamental hardship. It’s just something you have to go through. And unfortunately that’s the reality for a lot of kids. There are kids who are looking for that guidance. There’s the opportunity for folks to fill that void. It’s not as hard as people think it is. Mentoring doesn’t require a lot of money, just time.
Tell me how you learned about Leadership Austin…
I moved here with the background of wanting to serve the community. I saw an ABJ spot about the Emerge program. That program has really helped me from a public service standpoint, to launch my activity. Immediately after graduating Emerge in 2008, myself and about 12 of us were on the first board of the Austin Youth Chamber. We formed the Austin Young Chamber. We went from zero to 1200 members in no time flat. I’ve served on many other boards since then. Leadership Austin was the catapult.
What lessons or experiences from Leadership Austin have stuck with you?
The reason I’m able to do so much more now is that I learned the lesson of collaborative leadership through Leadership Austin. One of my strengths is that I’m really detailed oriented, but what comes with that is that you tend to want to do so much by yourself to make sure that all the loose ends are shored up. I learned that when working with larger groups of people and leaders in a collaborative space, you can build things significantly faster.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Some of my other strengths: I’m pretty energetic and enthusiastic. As a leader, I’m fundamentally optimistic. Through this energy and enthusiasm, I’m able to communicate with various people from very different backgrounds, and to bring folks together to solve problems.
I try to delegate to folks so they have responsibilities and opportunities to grow. You give somebody the ball and they run with it. You watch them. And sometimes you have to stand back and watch them fail. And you coach them through the mistakes they made. But people learn fastest from doing, so you give people the opportunity to do stuff, while keeping an eye on them. And that’s where my sports background comes in–having played and then coached. You don’t start day one trying to accomplish something. There’s a process. There’s a lot of hardship…so I’m trying to work with people and keep them enthusiastic and positive and to help them keep trying to achieve.
How have your collaboration skills been affected all the debate about cabs and ride-share companies?
The biggest advantage we have as a company is that we are really an entity that’s very involved in the community. We’ve been able to pull people together or sit down with people because we have worked with so many groups and we can talk to them about the specifics of the issues. We were able to communicate effectively to drivers and then have them speak to elected officials and share their perspective. We communicated with people on campus and people in the disabled community, and those folks were able to share their stories about the impact of our business on their lives, and what the potential impacts of changes would be.
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership to me is about helping people advance through hardship. We all run into troubling times over the course of our lives. I think what a good leader does is, through various means, advance people through hardship. Sometimes you gotta push people, sometimes pull people, sometimes pick people up.
What motivated you to start the Emerge scholarship program?
If you look at the approach that Leadership Austin takes it’s “We are going to cast a broad net” and not just say “folks who apply will be reviewed.” Leadership Austin goes out and recruits folks who may not know we exist and creates opportunities for them.
This year we’ve got five scholarships that we give for the Emerge program.
We volunteered to help Leadership Austin in that effort to continue to be as inclusive as it’s been. To get people into the fold who might otherwise not because economics and finances are a reason they aren’t applying. We are creating a way to help them out.
Any advice for Austin leaders?
For upcoming leaders…Find your passions. Know what’s important to you, and get out there and do stuff. Get involved to help build something that will communicate your passions to people. Volunteer and seek out opportunities to grow as an individual while you’re engaged in something you’re passionate about. This helps people learn who you are and what your skills are, and it gives you the skills that you’ll need over the course of the rest of your life.
For established leaders…Find somebody you can get behind, pull them along, and teach them. For young professionals, it’s not always easy to seek out a mentor. It’s easier to have a mentor identify folks they think have a specific talent or skill set and help mold that person and help teach that person to to utilize the skills they have.
What’s first place you take out of town guests?
Spicewood Tavern is right down the street. When it’s not football season, we are there on most Sundays.
Downtown Austin. You get so much energy from the tremendous amount of growth that’s going on in Austin. …it’s encouraging and inspiring. It gets you motivated by the potential for things to grow and change.
SXSW Interactive. There are loots of exciting things in Austin…ACL, Formula One, but that 2-week period of SXSW, especially the interactive piece, is one of my favorite times here in Austin.
How often do you take cabs?
I’m probably in a cab twice a week. Testing our product and pressing flesh with drivers.
Is there a common denominator between the jobs you’ve had?
People. In my day job, the work we do serves the community. A lot of the drivers are running small businesses. I’m finding information for them that will help them improve their business. I’m finding places they can plug into the community to help them improve their business. It’s the same thing on the volunteer side. At the end of the day it’s about connecting people with people and then connecting people with information.