Africans, are gradually climbing their ways into top echelon of leadership in America, especially the corporate world. One of the trailblazers is Dr. Akinyinka Akinyele, District Manager for Chicago Postal Service. After a couple of changes because of his tight schedule, he eventually spoke to our editor, Joseph Omoremi, on what is it being the headsman, areas of opportunities, race relations and his Christian values. It is an exciting reading. Excepts:
Inquirer: We don’t have many district managers around. Yours quickly comes to mind in Chicagoland? Dr. Akinyele: America basically is a land of opportunity. Our preparation, when it eventually meet opportunities, will get us to where we want to be. The other piece, which you can win on, is your mindset. Your mind set has to be for positive trend that I can basically do it. It is not about the money. There are quick ways to make money.
Driving cabs was a quick way of making money and you could get stuck and never move forward to do what you really want to do in life. I started out just like everyone else. I drove cab just to make ends meet and go to college before I went back for my second degree and later my doctoral degree. If it can be done, it could be done.
Inquirer: So you got your first degree here or in Nigeria?
Dr. Akinyele: My first degree was from the University of Illinois in Industrial Engineering.
Inquirer: You are more or less a Chicago native?
Dr. Akinyele: Yes, I spent more of my years in the States right here in the city of Chicago. I came to Chicago in 1974 and graduated in 1978 from the university of Illinois. I worked for the University of Illinois as a project engineer. I did my masters degree from Governor State University. I have an MBA, which is a masters’ of business administration and masters’ degree in public administration. It was after that that I joined the post office in 1982. Five or six years ago, I went for my PhD at Benedictine University and graduated in 2000.
Inquirer: In 1978 when you graduated, people talk about discrimination, how did you overcome it and started working with the university on graduation?
Dr. Akinyele: Discrimination is always going to be part of life in this part of the world. I don’t belong, or I didn’t come from one country, people look at you different. However, like I said earlier, I have to be better than the rest because I’m not in my country of birth where my name is easily recognized. I have to be better than the best. In the corporate America, it is difficult enough for African American talk less a Nigerian. Somebody that was not born in America. And somebody that may have or perceive to have an accent. How did I get to where I am today has to do with my certain beliefs. Values in Christian faith. I’m virtually driven by my Christian faith in anything I do. Also, I have the mindset that I’m just as good and better than anybody else and I’m as just well qualified and be as successful than anybody else. The other part of it is that I’ve always tried to be nice to people. I treat everybody very well and with dignity and respect. And when a need arises and I need to ask for assistance, it was easy.
Inquirer: Who is Dr. Akinyele?
Dr. Akinyele: My own Akinyele comes from Ibadan. My grand father was Bishop Akinyele, the first African bishop in Nigeria. I came from Ibadan and my parents were both educated. My mother taught at an all girls schools and even became the vice principal before she retired and my father was in the ministry of education and later worked in the library of the British council. I came to America right after high school. I went to Baptist Academy in Lagos.
Inquirer: In 2001, you told me that your grand father started Ibadan Grammar School?
Dr. Akinyele: My grand father, Bishop Akinola Akinyele, started Ibadan Grammar school and my father went to Ibadan Grammar school also. In those days, it was a boys high school but now it is a mixed school. Inquirer: Is your father a bishop too?
Dr. Akinyele: Not at all but I have two uncles that went into the ministry. One is Archdeacon Emmanuel Alayande and the other is Rev. Akinyele. The Rev. was my father’s brother.
Inquirer: How is it being the head here?
Dr. Akinyele: Being the district manager here in Chicago is a challenging job. I’m responsible for over 10,000 employees that service over 3.6 million customers in the city of Chicago. Most of my employees are African Americans and we have a good population of Hispanics and now we have a decent number of White Americans or Caucasians. Things are changing now. The perception of post service in terms of what we used to be or looked upon as a government agency. We’ve not been a government agency for 30 years but we’ve been looked upon as a government agency.
Our customers are more demanding about service in the city of Chicago. With that in mind, we can no longer do things the way we’ve always done it. This is a challenging time for the organization because we are looking at the organization from the profit side instead of the perception that we are getting subsidy from government. Inquirer: How can first generation Africans be part of the over 10,000 workforce? Dr. Akinyele: There are couple of ways. The most common way is to take the entrance exam. We’ve not given a lot of exams in the last two or three years because the organization is reshaping itself. Hiring has been very limited.
The hiring exam is giving and based on your score, you are ranked and we go from the highest score down. Anybody that is interested in working for the postal service, that is the common way. There are couple of other external recruitment that we do for management positions. One is if you are a professional like I came in as an industrial engineer. If you are a professional like an industrial engineer, we do hire them and medical doctors and attorneys. The new program that is out now is called the intern program.
The requirement for that is that you must have a master’s degree and it will open up on November 8, 2003.You got about 30 days if you have a masters’ degree in different fields. They will hire those qualified in and we train them for about two years before being placed into management positions. So anybody out their with a masters’ program, I will definitely encourage them to look out for the application. This is administered through the office of personnel management (OPM).The website is www.usps.com/uspsinternships
Inquirer: People said it is hard to see you in the African community. Are you running away from them especially the Nigerian community?
Dr. Akinyele: Not at all. It is not that I’m running away from them. The fact is that, it has to do with my very busy schedule. When I’m here in Chicago, I’m involved in a lot of community activities. I’m a board of director for Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. I do attend board meetings and they do a lot of activities. I’m involved with a lot of other organizations like the eye vision. I do work with members of the Urban League. The reasons I do all that is to make sure the positive image of the postal service is out there. The Chicagoland chamber has all of the big businesses, small businesses in Chicago as members. I’ve got to see different CEOs of all those companies and put the good name of the postal services out there. When I’m not in town, I’m flying and attending meetings all over the country. It is not that I’ve avoided them; I’ve just never been given an invitation early enough to really schedule it within all of these activities. The other part of it is I spend a lot of time with my children.
Inquirer: September 11 changed a lot of things. How is the postal service doing since?
Dr. Akinyele: Personally, it was devastating. You just have to go back to your faith. My Christian values and reassessing of priority in life. I’ve been spending more time with my family. And for the postal service, it has change a lot. We look at everything that can show that we are making good business decisions for this organization so that it can be around in the future.
Inquirer: There is this saying of strength in unity. From your vintage position, experience and exposure, what can be done to strengthens unity among Africans?
Dr. Akinyele: Let’s not look at our unity as what is in for me as an individual but what is in for us as a community. We ought to be happy when one of us gets a job. Right now, the politics and the environment is no longer one of demand or one of entitlement. It has to show with you being the best for the job. It hasn’t anything to do with ethnicity. Laws of discrimination and reverse discrimination are in place. My suggestion, let’s help each other. Let’s all get together because if one is able to do, the one may be able to help another. The second thing is the fact that we can never forget where we come from. Over the years I’ve hired many Nigerians, Africans and Ghanaians on temporary basis and sometimes on permanent basis. Six years ago when I was opening-up a new facility by the airport, I hired some officers and two of my managers are from Nigeria.
Inquirer: How are thy doing today?
Dr. Akinyele: They are doing well. One of them is still there and the other got promotion. It is about reaching out to pull up another Nigerian and Ghanaian up. I have some Ghanaians too. I keep up with them to find out how they are doing and area they need help or advise. That is the way I operate. It is not a public fight or demand. The society is not going to accept that. If the mayor wants you to send him some resumes and you started fighting, he will think you are not serious.
Inquirer: What is your relationship with African leaders?
Dr. Akinyele: Fine. I’ve been in a couple of meetings with Dr. Ewa Ewa on race relations and stuff like that and I’m going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand me properly. It is not us versus them. It is not Nigerians versus Ghanaians. It is all of us together. There are lot of jobs out here but we just have to know the right doors to go through. When one person goes through a door, everyone wants to go that direction. I know a couple of my classmates from the University of Illinois that have been working for the city of Chicago for the last 20 years as an engineer. We talk from time to time. Sometimes, I help and other times, I can’t. The only thing I can do for you to have you hired on a temporary basis for 90 days either for Christmas or New Year. Let’s stick together, let’s work together. The adage says when you are in Rome, do like the Romans. I’m not saying forget your culture because I didn’t forget my culture. But when you are in Rome, you just have to adapt to Roman laws and when you are in America and Chicago, you have gone to adapt to America and Chicago rules and laws.
Inquirer: Any possibility of having an African judge and an elected official?
Dr. Akinyele: We don’t have any elected official just because of the example of the job market I just gave. And the one that just came to mind is Obama. Obama is from Kenya and I met him every time when I go to a lot of different functions. (Congressman) Danny Davis is there too. Congressman Davis was actually the one that told me about Dr. Olowopopo when I came back to Chicago because of the fact that they’ve been doing something together and I regularly attends the job fair he runs at Malcolm X.
If somebody has the aspiration to become an elected official, all he has to do is to step up. I would hope that some of us will step-up and start small. Don’t just start and say I want to be a mayor or a senator. Start with city Alderman position. Start with someone by volunteering as a campaign staff. If you start from the beginning and work with them to the end and they will remember you. Some of us should have been with Gov. Blagojevich when he was running with six or seven Democrats. That is when he needed to know which side you are. Start slow and small but don’t wait till a candidate wins the primary.
Inquirer: What about the judgeship?
Dr. Akinyele: The judgeship is done at several levels. A lot of them are political appointees. They need to partner with established politicians like Congressman Danny K. Davis or Bobby Rush. Those are the people that can put their name into the process. In some state, you have to go through the ballot but in Illinois it is a little bit different. It is a political game.
Inquirer: Recently the mayor of East Cleveland said it is good to be mayor but the pains attach to it is great. How will you relate that to your position here?
Dr. Akinyele: I agreed with him absolutely. It is good to be the headman but there are lot of pains that come with it. It is a lonely place at the top. Whatever you say and whatever you do is going to be scrutinized. I do understand him from the political perspectives. Mine is different but similar. If my managers among the over 10,000 people that work here don’t agreed with me, they let me know directly or indirectly but from the political perspective they let him know publicly. It is good to be a mayor, it is good to be at the top and it is good to be a district manager or whatever the top even in your own business but there are lot of pains.
Inquirer: The East Cleveland mayor also called for a closing of ties by first generation Africans and African Americans. How can we get together per see?
Dr. Akinyele: We’ve got to do a couple of things. Africans have got to stop making themselves superior to African Americans. We need African Americans and they need us. Congressman Davis, Jesse Jackson jr. they are into the political arena and they understood the political process in America. They know how to get jobs to their constituencies and how to give recommendations. We need, as Nigerians, Ghanaians and Africans, those kind of skills and assistance from them. We cannot get that kind of assistance if the only time we meet is when we want them to come and speak at our fund raising events or social events. We need to have continuous dialogue so they know what we stand for. From us we need to be very clear for what we stand for. Congressman Davis, Bobby Rush and Jackson they know the political process and how it has kept corruption to the minimum. Why don’t we learn that and how it can help us in Nigeria.
Inquirer: You talk about mindset earlier and things have also changed since you came here. Yet, we still have new immigrants from Africa. What is your advise for them?
Dr. Akinyele: Anybody coming in from Africa should know that it is not going to be easy. Focus on things that brought you to America. If it is good, comfortable living, you can get it. You don’t have to be a district manager or a doctor but you can basically have a good, safe and comfortable life in America. Also not everybody is going to be like everybody. So don’t be like the Jones. Focus on what is good for you. Keep your family close to you. Believe in God and keep your eyes on what you like to do. That is my advise for them.