Featured Entrepreneur: Geoffrey Atkins
Tiffany: First of all, let me say thank you for agreeing to do this interview.
Geoffrey: Thank you. You know, you can be in business a long time, but sometimes, you never get the accolades or anything. I’ve had a few in my life, but sometimes, (you know), people forget.
Tiffany: I understand. Well, you definitely deserve it. My first question is, can you tell us a little bit about you and your company, Diversitas? How did you come up with the idea for the company? What motivated you to launch the company?
Geoffrey: Well, initially, I have to tell you that the name was New York’s Group Limited. Going back, what motivated me is a story. I had been one of those young guys who had been very fortunate and blessed to have opportunities presented to me at a young age, and I have to share this with you because I think it’s important from a historical perspective. My first real job was Sealtest Foods and I was a mail clerk in their national office. In the late sixties, this was my first job. I had graduated high school, and my first job was to deliver mail to all the executives in the company—the president, vice president, marketing … everyone. Now, interestingly enough in those days, when you were a mail clerk, you had to read the mail and you had to decide who got what, even if there was a name on it because there was no email back then. So, I read all the company mail—confidential, everything! And I learned by reading that Sealtest Foods had been targeted by Dr. King to do a boycott called Operation Breadbasket.
Melissa: What was the purpose of the boycott?
Geoffrey: The purpose of that boycott was to have Shield Test to increase the number of applicants they had who were women and minorities. So, I read it and I knew what was going on. I read emails from the parent company, which was Kraft and, at that time, the board of directors was saying, “We’re not gonna do anything. We’ll just hold out.” Well, after six months, they had lost seventy percent of their sales. They decided to make a deal, and the person who was responsible for leading that boycott who’d launched his career outside of ministry was Reverend Jesse Jackson.
What happened was Sealtest Foods ended up signing what became the first affirmative action plan in corporate America. So, as I’m learning all of this, I’m storing it away. One day, I was delivering mail to the vice president of marketing (I was a marketing major), and I used to talk to him on occasions. So, he asked me—he said, “Geoff, weren’t you a marketing major?” I said, “Yes.” I knew he knew that. He said, “Why are you in the mail room?” I answered, “Well, I don’t know. Why am I in the mail room?” And so, what happened was they sent me to personnel, and they moved me from the mail room to the accounting department, which was great for me cause I happened to be doing my accounting classes at the time. I started doing the expense accounts for the executives of the company. That was the first time I understood something about business in terms of the corporate world because all of the executives in the company had expense accounts that exceeded my income. I said to myself that one day, that will be me.
Tiffany: What happened after that?
Melissa: Yeah, the story is getting really good. What happened?