CEO Of Powerful Media On Carving A Niche In The Publishing Industry

Michael Eboda went from a journalism career to running Powerful Media, a publishing and talent company. He talks about targeting the black consumer and coming to terms with being an entrepreneur.

Founded in 2007, Powerful Media is a media and talent firm focused on Britain's African and African Caribbean communities.
 
The firm's expertise covers both publishing and talent sourcing. It's publications, such as the Powerlist and the Future Leaders report, aim to showcase high-achieving ethnic success stories within the UK. Previous Powerlists have been launched by two of Britain’s Prime Ministers!
 
Their company was also recently nominated for a Race For Opportunity Leadership award for its publications and charity, The Powerlist Foundation.
 
We spoke to the company's founder and CEO Michael Eboda about making the transition from journalist to businessman and how business turnover is “vanity”. 
 
Tell us about Powerful Media in a few sentences?
We are a publishing company that, thanks to its wide range of contacts with interesting people, is able to introduce big organizations to something they're all looking for: talented people. We have several publications, all of them show-casing people in leading roles within their field. All publications showcase influential people in specific communities. Powerful people use powerful media.
 
When did you first get the idea for the Powerlist?
We first got the idea seven years ago. It’s funny because I’ve always been fascinated by lists. At New Nation we did a series of lists which were really successful, such as: "The most influential black people in history."
 
From that, the Guardian asked me to sit on a panel to create a list of Britain’s most influential unelected people.
 
Then I got the idea to create a list which showcases people you don’t usually associate with the black community, who could act as role models for young black people. We thought about doing a rich list, but we thought it would be full of the usual suspects. There is nothing wrong with that but we wanted to highlight the people you don’t see. 
 
Tell us about your charity, the Powerlist Foundation?
Well, with the Powerlist the idea was to try to form a network of people to do business together. We were at a dinners with our sponsor J P Morgan and Baroness Scotland said, “It’s wonderful us being in the magazine, but what are we doing to do to make a difference – collectively?” The next day I got a call from Ken Olisa, our chairman and CEO of Restoration Partners [a private equity firm]. He said to me, “Mike, I’ve got it, let’s form a charity”, and that was it.
 
Since then we’ve had a summer leadership school, and have another one scheduled for next year. There is also a women-focused programme in conjunction with Bank of America.
 
We are also launching an A-level college based in inner city London. It will be a school for people with disadvantaged backgrounds who show promise, and have a specific focus on leadership skills.
 
Have you ever considered getting an MBA?
Considered it, yes. That’s the thing about business, I’m a journalist and I’m reasonably okay at what I do, but it doesn’t mean I can run a business in publishing. Running a business is a completely different skill set. You see so many practitioners that are great at what they do, but running a business doesn’t work for them.
 
I’m currently looking at online business courses at top Ivy League American universities, such as Coursera and Udacity where the lecturers do videos.
 
Do you have any MBAs working in your company? What roles are they in?
No we don’t. If we did however, it would be within Business Development.
 
What do you look for in an employee?
It's very simple and it’s the one thing that is guaranteed to make someone successful: reliability. You want someone who, if you ask them to do something, they can do it the way it’s supposed to be done. If you can do that I’m more than happy to have you on board.
 
You started off as a journalist. What story or stories are you most proud of?
That’s a good question. It was probably something I did at New Nation. It wasn’t a story but it was impactful. We petitioned the Blair government to get an apology for Britain’s involvement in slavery. We didn’t get it straight away but with continued pressure and five years down the line, we actually got it. That was pretty big.
 
How tough was it to make the switch from being a journalist to being an entrepreneur?
I’d been an entrepreneur already. I had a restaurant and a shop, and I'd also been involved in property. However it’s actually quite difficult, I’m still coming to terms with it in a way!
 
I read somewhere the other day that: "Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, and cash flow is reality" and I think that’s one of the things you only understand if you’ve run a business! You hear businesses say we turn over "X" amount, but if you're spending that amount you’re not making a profit.
 
I spoke to two Harvard MBAs the other day and they said: “It’s simple: you keep your costs low and bring in as much money as you possibly can”. But it’s not as easy as that. You do spend money you shouldn’t spend and sometimes money that’s supposed to come in doesn’t.
 
What multinational businesses (in any category) do you think are serving the black consumer most effectively?
I think in many ways, we’ve moved beyond that. Multinational businesses serve everyone. I agree that there are hair care companies that cater to the black consumer. There are also companies that specialize in black art, but I would imagine many white people buy that too.
 
I’d like to see some of the large pharmaceuticals deal with ethnic illness. People from different races have different causes for the same illness; black people suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes for instance. It’s a bit of a taboo to say everybody isn’t the same but quite clearly everyone isn’t. If pharmaceuticals could take that information and move forward without people suffering discrimination - i.e. insurance policies going up – that would be great to see.
 
Seven of the top ten fastest growing economies of the next three years are in Africa. Any plans to expand your business there?
We’re actually working on something in Nigeria right now; we’re working on publications for some state governments in Africa. 
 
What's next for Powerful Media, what new projects do you have in the pipeline?
We have our Women’s List coming out in April. This will potentially be followed by one on disability later on this year.

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