Dynamic by any standard, an unconventional path towards success has defined and opened doors for Aaron Arnold – the under-30 CEO who will keynote this weekend's Memphis Urban League Young Professionals Empowerment Conference.
For those in need of a snapshot, consider this description: a young millennial innovator, risk taker, CEO, MC and party host, producer, trendsetter, inspirational speaker, entrepreneur and lifestyle expert.
Some might have called him crazy a few years back when he left a well-paying executive position with one of the top five PR firms in the world to work for free as an intern at Sean "Diddy" Combs' Bad Boy Records. Feeling burned out and dissatisfied with his career and having a burning passion for music, the Chicago (south side) native embraced the demanding task of working with "Mr. Combs" (as he respectfully refers to the hip hop mogul). And in the words of Robert Frost, "that has made all the difference."
Arnold has since launched his own company and been featured in/on leading media outlets across the country. During a live interview, CNN hailed him as a "Young Person Who Rocks" – a person under 30 who impacts and inspires the world.
Corporate guy to 'Bad Boy'
A Florida A&M graduate, Arnold is personable, frank and direct about his experiences, his business, taking risks, and his upcoming visit to Memphis.
"I was miserable! I was making good money but miserable," Arnold said in describing his emotions just before making the decision to leave his last PR job.
"I remember talking to my mom and she told me, 'You should never do anything for a paycheck alone, you're young enough; you've got to figure out what you want to do.' I made up my mind to leave after that."
In a wide-ranging conversation with The New Tri-State Defender, Arnold explained that he never imagined actually being in the "music space," bowing to what called to him. Having admired what Combs had done in the business, he pursued and secured an internship with Bad Boy Records.
"It changed my life. I look at it as if I didn't work for free. The experience that I got most people would have paid for. In fact, if I hadn't taken that chance, I probably wouldn't be talking to you right now or coming to Memphis to speak at the MULYP conference."
Breathing again and 'Passing Go!'
Arnold acknowledged that he gets one question a lot: How did he prepare himself to go from high income to no income and still hold it all together?
"I want to save the answer for when I speak on Saturday," he said. "However, I will say this – faith and commitment. I'm not a super-religious person but I am spiritual, and I can say I've been blessed. Whenever something hit the fan, and a lot of things did, and I was down to my last penny or last breath – something would happen, and I got to breathe again.
"I would take those as signs that this was meant to be. It was where God meant for me to be," he said. "It was like playing monopoly. I was still on the board, and things would look real bleak. I'd be down to my last, but something would always happen and I would 'pass go' – re-up to make it through to another day. I kept 'passing go,' barely, but I did it."
Music is his business!
During his 18-month stint with "Diddy" and Bad Boy, Arnold launched his company, Music Is My Business. He describes it as a fully integrated music company with three components: MIMB Music/Publishing (which houses artists, producers, djs), MIMB Television/Film/Animation and MIMB Brand Management.
Diversity marks the company's approach to business. It has produced music for television and artists, including Grammy artist Chris Brown, Sony Australia artist Jessica Mauboy, Travis Porter, celebrated country writer Jeffery Steele, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Trace Adkins, Miley Cyrus and Montgomery Gentry, ESPN, and the Cartoon Network.
Arnold and his company have become a go-to team for reaching the young, cool and hot! They've consulted for ESPN, McDonalds, Heineken, The United Nations' World Food Organization, MTV's Making The Band platinum selling artists Danity Kane, Grammy Award winner Bryan-Michael Cox and various agencies in New York, Atlanta and Chicago.
Journey to legacy
Following numerous appearances and interviews on national platforms, a mentor encouraged Arnold to take the show on the road, going to Harvard, USC and other places to share his message of following one's passions, social entrepreneurship and innovation.
Along the way, he began to redefine his purpose and approach to business.
"My true passions are music and helping people follow their dreams. At first I questioned if people would want to hear me speak, but I realized that I could inspire (and) help people by sharing my story. It's real for people, because I've lived it, been through, it and still going through it as I work to build my brand and my company. Now I embrace it, and I take each opportunity that I have seriously. Because if I don't deliver, it hurts my brand, my business and ultimately my pockets."
Arnold said he's really trying to redefine entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial spirit.
"When I go speak at these universities, like Harvard and other schools that I couldn't get into coming out of high school, I go in breaking down stereotypes and stigmas – creating paradigm shifts. My message is it's not where you start or even the obstacles you face, but what you do along the journey to get to your place of destiny," he said.
"And you must enjoy the journey as much as you do the results. As I continue to grow and do my thing in business, it's my desire to continue to inspire others. That's really what my legacy is about."
(Bernal E. Smith II is President/Publisher of The New Tri-State Defender.)