How to negotiate your way up the Corporate ladder

“Sponsorship, mentoring and trust”

“Sponsorship, mentoring and trust”.  These 3 words are the best career advice I ever received and I will pass on to anyone working for a large corporation.  For people already in the know and already doing it, it’s a no brainer. For people working extra hard and convinced that their work will speak for itself this is going to be a shock.

I have been in shock and denial for a while.  Working hard was how I was raised.  During college, people kept telling me to get good grades. at work, my bosses kept on telling me to work hard and in the office, people constantly tell you how busy they are.  On the other hand, there are people who focused on networking during college, found people who could help them perform tasks at work.

Robert Kiyosaki nailed the difference between these 2 personas in his book “the cash flow quadrant”. Here is a short video summary. He differentiates between people on the left side of the quadrant and people on the right side “Business owners” and “Investors”.  People on the left work hard. People on the right work smart, they employ the hardest working people from the left side.  And while working hard is very honorable, it has its limitations. There is so much one person can achieve.  Whereas there are no limits to people on the right side of the quadrant, to achieve more they just need to find more people or resources.  That same mentality is what help you to get ahead in a large corporation.  Let me explain the meaning behind these 3 words:

  • Sponsorship: Get a sponsor in your department.  It is most likely someone more senior. It could be 1 or more levels above you.  In some rare occasions, it could even be a peer or someone more junior.  It is all about clout.  The more clout your sponsor possesses, the more your ideas/projects will be amplified and your mistakes will be minimized.  In business, there isn’t a right or wrong idea. There are ideas that get supported and sold and others that get shut down.
  • Mentoring: Find a mentor, ideally outside of your department.  Why outside? because you need someone without skin in the game.  A person that will provide unbiased advice.  But still, an employee who understands the company culture and who could vouch for you from the sideline when the time is right.  You need to have some affinity with your mentor.  You also need to appreciate his/her achievements.  They need to inspire you.
  • Trust: Build trust with your teams.  Teams in the broader sense.  If you have people reporting to you they need to know they can count on you. Maybe you act as a sponsor for some of them.  If you have peers, they need to know that you are a trustworthy colleague. You will make them look good when the opportunity presents itself.

To climb the corporate ladder you need to be good with people. Have the ability to read and influence higher ups, peers, and direct reports.  You aren’t taught that in school. You are not even taught that your professional success relies on it. Just like Van Jones said, “it is not what they do to you, it is what they do not even tell you about

How to get an edge in negotiations?

Find a mentor who has done it before and accelerate your learning

Today was a good day.  I coached some one to get into the Executive MBA Global program I graduated from.  What does it mean to be a coach? In his words: “Every time I want to do something new, I look for someone who has done it before to guide me and make me succesful”. In practice it means that I tell him what the application process is like, the events he should attend, the people he should meet.  Bottom line, I give him the opportunity to show the best version of himself to the admission committee.

This guy is French Haitian and most of the business school staff aren’t.  Business school staff do their best to be objective when reviewing application and really try their best to create a diverse environment, in term of cultural background, opinions and professions.  Despite their best intentions, they have unknown biases.  Today I spoke to one of my former team members, and when I asked him how everything was going at work he said “I am working with this person who studied chemistry at the same college I attended. I think he automatically likes me because of that”.  This is the hard truth, we like, and trust, people who resemble us.  When it is not the case, you have to work harder to build rapport.  This is what the guy I coached did by reaching out to me.

Some of you may think that this is not “fair”, that there is an application process, that everyone should go through in the same way and have the same chance of success. This is what I thought when I applied. I was dumb.  The reality is that smart people understand that if there is a way to get a head start, you take it.

The perception of ‘fair’ differs from person to person. I argue that for people of color playing ‘fair’ is very strict. You stay between very narrow lines. That puts you at a disadvantage when you compete with people that cross the line and then ask for forgiveness.  I saw it first hand when I applied to my French business school.  If it was down to me I would have done it all by myself and today I would be in a very different career.  But thanks to my college classmates in the wealthiest neighborhood in Paris, I joined a 2 week course that prepared me for the exam.  The institution coached me to step over the line all the time.  They found legal but dubious ways to accumulate the majority of the pool of questions to the competitive exam to French business schools.

All that taught me one thing: There are times when fair is unfair.



Patience in negotiations paid off $200 million for Steph Curry

Steph Curry went from the worst to the best contract in the NBA. This is How.


I am a Lebron fan, so Steph Curry right now does not have a special place in my heart. But if the King can respect Steph Curry’s success, then so can I. One thing I admire is how Steph Curry went from being the most underpaid talent in the NBA – $10M a year – to securing the best athlete deal ever – at $40M a year.  This is a better deal than Michael Jordan, in his best year. This is the best deal in all sports combined. In one day, he will earn more than 95% of Americans earn in a year – $110K.  This is $170 per second for each game.  This is not including his Under Armor deal or any other sponsorship deals. This is a big deal!

How many of you think this is too much money for a single person to earn? I bet many. Allow me to test this belief by sharing two key principles in negotiation: VALUE, and PATIENCE.

1. How to define value for a basketball player? 

We need to think about who actually decides the value of a player.  There are 2 different sides:  Steph Curry’s manager and the owner of the Golden State Warriors.  Steph Curry’s manager can look at it from different angles. Look at past players such as Jordan, current players such as Lebron, or even the “designated veteran player” salaries of up to $210 million. One thing that is for sure is that he aimed high. This is great to start a negotiation!

Let’s look at it from the perspective of the Golden State Warrior owner, Joseph Lacob. $200 million surely is a lot of money… or is it? Consider this: In 2010 Jacob bought the Warriors for $450 million. Now, they are worth $2.6 billion. We will all agree that Steph Curry is an essential part of the Warriors success. Therefore he played a big part in generating a whopping $2 billion value for the franchise. Do you still think he is being overpaid?

2. Worst to best deal ever

I believe Steph Curry was patient and used the timing of the title to his advantage.  He never complained about his original deal. He famously said: “Never count another man’s money….if I’m complaining about $44 million over four years, then I’ve got other issues in my life”.  He was happy to receive a lower salary to build a winning team with amazing players. He even stated publicly that he had no intention to go anywhere else than the Warriors even as he became a free agent. I wonder how his agent reacted: “Steph don’t get rid of all our bargaining power!”.  But the timing was right. Tremendous value was shown, the franchise value was at an all-time high, and so Steph’s salary cap was lifted because of his MVP and veteran status.

So what?

Challenge conventional value references.  You think you are an exception? You believe you bring something unique? You know the situation changed in your favor? Don’t be afraid to ask for more and get what you deserve.

Be patient and master the concept of Net Present Value. Sure $1 today, for sure, is better than $2 tomorrow.  But $1 today and the potential to get $5 tomorrow at a 75% chance is a great deal. Much better than getting $2 today and $2.5 tomorrow.  Think about the long-term potential of any deal.


Can people of color act “real” and be successful?

My reflection on why I “evolved”, its downsides and when it makes sense

“Real” vs “Evolving”

While writing this blog post live on Instagram, an old friend asked: “What does it really mean to be “real”.  This is highly subjective. For artists, it is the debate of being “real” vs “commercial”. Real artists stay true to their original style – whatever that means. Commercial artists reflect trends in their new music – they even suspected to have sold their soul to secret societies like the Illuminati.  For athletes, like Lebron James, he expressed that people see his success, new environment, as a sign that he has lost his way and connection to his roots. Whereas Lebron sees it as his attempt to better himself. In my case, some people from my old neighborhood thought that I was not my true self when I started to dress differently, make new connections, spend more time on the golf course than the basketball court.

Why did I “evolve”?

  1.  I like to try new things. After being limited to my neighborhood for 18 years, it was exciting to share new experiences
  2. I thought it was a natural evolution. After all, we hear that the only constant in life is change
  3. My success depended on my ability to adapt. As soon as I left my neighborhood, most people at my college, my workplace did not look like me.  Suddenly, normal had a new meaning.  What was normal in my neighborhood, was an exception at work, or at my college.

Building rapport is essential to success with anything in life. Building rapport allows you to influence people. And regardless of what you can see on TV, nobody can make it entirely on his/her own.  The fastest way to build rapport is to have shared interests and look similar. Now consider this, The NY Times found that “only 44 out of 503 of the most powerful people in American culture, government, education, and business are minorities”.  Companies like Google, Facebook have ~1% of black employees.  So for people of color who want to build rapport, sharing interests is the best approach, because it won’t be based on looking the same.

I am not alone in this situation.  Several people of color or women feel like they must change or play a role to get what they deserve.  In an interview with Tristan Walker and friends by Fast Company the same line comes up.  The need to be two people at the same time.

Believe it or not, so far that was the good news.  This is what you do when you have people who are open to collaborating with people of color.  Unfortunately, the system was historically designed for white men.  How much of that legacy is left? this is unclear, but chances are high that there is a legacy that impacts the ability of people of color and women to succeed.


The downsides of fitting in

Over the long term, you realize that you worked hard to fit in whereas other people fit in naturally.  Nothing wrong with hard work. But fitting in is more than hard work, it is constant work. The camera is always on. That is exhausting. Ask anyone playing a role, it drains you over time.  So everybody needs to find their right balance.  Too much effort put into it and you won’t make it long enough to actually reap the benefits. Too little you won’t fit in and get what you deserve.

How to know when it makes sense to “evolve” to fit in?

It boils down to 2 criteria:

  1. What is at stake? I always think in term or return on my investment. How much do I put in – money, energy, time and what do I expect to get in return.  I always ask myself, is it worthwhile.  The answer will be different for each of us. Because of different rewards matter for each of us.
  2. What are the chances to change the environment? I also ask myself, is there an opportunity for me to change the system from the inside.  I am not talking about a way to make myself feel better about selling out. But genuinely, will my effort offer opportunities to other people of color in the future.

After a 15 year career as a professional chameleon fitting in almost any setting. I am glad to have found a place where I can be true and best self.  In hindsight, 15 years of making minor concessions to fit in, to eventually find a place that value my diversity was a small price to pay.


Why roll deep to your next negotiation?

There is power in numbers. This is not about brute force, rather using diversity to influence.


When people want to buy, say a fridge, they believe they negotiate with the store.  They believe the salesperson has his hands tied by the company and the sticker price is the price you have to pay.

Sure you are negotiating with the store, but you should think about the store as merely giving guardrails for what the salesperson can or can not do. Of course the store as something in place for the salesperson not to give away their product for free or at too much of a discount.  But that does not mean they can not do anything for you.  Recently I bought some expensive coffee in Kona, Hawaii. I really love my coffee.  After befriending the salesperson during the tour, she spontaneously offered me a 10% discount.  I would love to say that my good looks did the job, but I believe that showing up with my 2 cute kids, my charming wife, and showing my passion for coffee did the trick.   When she applied the discount, I noticed there were 2 options: a 5% and a 10%. What was interesting to me was that the potential to give a discount was already built in. This is what the salesperson can do, without asking anyone.


Build a rapport with the salesperson. That should be easy because they are trying to build a rapport with you to make a sell.  While they gather information from you, you have to do the same. Get a better understanding of who they are, what they can do and what they can not.  It is much easier than you would expect. People don’t usually do that so they won’t expect it. And also, in many cases, they have nothing to lose personally. Just like in my coffee example, tapping the 10% discount when they check me out is simple.  Moreover, average people usually do not ask for a discount. Probably they think it would be embarrassing, or that it says something about them like they are cheap or the can not afford it.  For me, and probably for most of you, I was proud (and still am in some situations) to pay the full price. For a long time, I could not afford much, and people would look down on me.  Being a person of color and living in the “banlieue”, the French equivalent of US projects – nowhere as bad though – would make matter only worse.  I realized how dumb that was when I realized that many of my new wealthy friends ask to pay less with no shame!  There I was, thinking that paying the full price would make me look rich, while all along rich people are asking for a discount for anything: AAA batteries, restaurants, credit card fees, parking tickets, extra coupons.  it is not so much about the money for small buys but more the principle and the habit. It feels like it is wired in them.  So that when they ask for a discount on a fancy car or a new villa in Southern California, it comes automatically. Even better they ask for a lot. I mean 50% off and yup, they do not have an ounce of shame.  So if rich people do it, why not everybody.  


  • There is power in numbers.  Show up with friends, partners, kids, pets anything that can give you an edge. You need to capture every single detail, bring people to observe, you need to build rapport with a mother or a father, bring your kid or nephews, you need to appeal to someone’s emotions, bring your cute pet.
  • Check your ego at the door. Ask for more without thinking about what people may think of you. Salespeople do not care what you think of them as long as your check does not bounce.

How Ian Andres Hoyos became U.K. finest barber

How he did it? Unconditional belief in his project

You know when you meet someone special. It was the case when I met Ian in London a Monday afternoon in front of Champs Barber.  The Sunday before, I had noticed a cool crew in front of the store. You know it is a cool crew when everybody is dressed in Supreme, one guy is documenting everything on camera and another one on video camera. So on Monday I decided to check out the store attracting so much attention from everyone.  This is how I got talking to Ian.

Talking to Ian was an emotional rollercoaster. I went from being surprised by the encounter, to engaged as we talked about the mission, to inspired by the similarities of our journeys.  We had to collaborate.

Ian, a dad of four, born in the U.K. and of Colombian decent is more than the finest barber in the U.K. Sure, 20+ years experience, a loyal following, celebrity clients, pop up events and collaboration with fashion labels are outstanding achievement.  But Ian is first a passionate entrepreneur, with unconditional belief in his projects.  As he loves to say “there is no way to be half pregnant”.  When he decided to open Champs Barber, a barbershop in the West End was a first. Ian faced multiple obstacles:

  1. Non believers – People were quick to tell him all the reasons why a barber shop in Central London would not work. Other barbers, friends and family were trying to stop him.  I am sure that most had good intentions, that stopping him, was their way to safeguard him from what they thought would be a certain failure.
  2. Leasing the store – Convincing the landlord to lease him the place was not easy.  This is a prime location, in a hip Central London neighborhood.  All around it, you can find art galeries, specialty coffee shops and trendy restaurants. Ian made his pitch to the landlords in a fancy West End office building.  There was a bit of surprise in the landlord office, as he was not the typical tenant. To secure the deal, he was asked three references.  Moreover, they had to be from doctors, judges, lawyers, or similar. Ian gave the landlord five references, to be on the safe side.  Luckily his loyal customers were from all fields of work and happy to help.
  3. Fitting in the neighborhood – Fitzrovia never had a barber shop and neighbors did not know what to expect when they heard about the opening of Champs Barber.  They knew even less what to do when it attracted more diverse patrons to the neighborhood. It took time for the neighbors to warm up, but it was only a question of time for Ian to win them over.  He kept being himself and doing good work.  Now you can tell that Champs Barber brings value to the neighborhood.

Success did not come easily.  Ian had to be obsessed with his project. He had to convince himself that Champs Barber will thrive. Loving to read about great leaders such as Malcom X and Martin Luther King, he understood that when you really believe in something, you have to stay the course and find a way to make it happen.  Regardless of what people say, he was confident in his self taught skills and found motivation to excel in his four kids.

A few years from now, Ian envision owning 3 barber shops in central London. He wants to keep it human size to maintain the highest level of quality and customer service.  He is also passionate about Champs Barber BattleTM, a barber competition he has been working on. Right now it is focusing on the U.K. but his vision is to have a world competition where the U.K. would compete against the U.S.

I can’t wait to see how far Ian will go and what new barriers he will break.  I know it will motivate others to work hard and pursue their dreams, regardless of what is in their way.

How to overcome racial bias in salary negotiations

People of color should work in parallel of organizational changes. Here are some of the actions that helped me to overcome racial bias.


With this post I address the raison d’être of this blog. It is both a critical and personal topic.  It should have been the first post I wrote, but it wasn’t. Why? I had no clue how to tackle the topic in a powerful and authentic way, without basing my point of views on stereotypes. That was true until I read the article – Getting the Short End of the Stick: Racial Bias in Salary Negotiations – from the MIT Sloan Management Review.  Let me recap the findings of their research.  It is an objective basis for the conversation:

  1. Black-White salary gap exists
  2. Black employees are more likely to be taught at an early age that life is unfair
  3. Black parents communicate to their children the importance of racial identity and prepare them for bias that it may provoke
  4. Black job seekers are more likely to negotiate with dissimilar others, and this is likely to work to their disadvantage

Now that we have the facts, we can make this more personal. I will use my personal experience. Here are some of the values I was taught growing up:

  • Value job security over higher income.  Which I interpreted as do not take too many risks. Keep a low profile
  • Lower your expectations and you will never be disappointed.  I heard someone saying “don’t think you can become an executive” at age 18, when they saw me reading a magazine for aspiring executives
  • Work twice as much as privileged people to get the same outcome.  Which is really to say that I am worth half as much.  I even had friends considering legally changing their names to sound more “white” to have a better chance to get job interviews.

First, I want to say that I deeply respect the values that my mom, family and friends instilled in me.  They helped me become who I am today, and I am proud of it.  Second, these values were shared because people wished me well.  There was no ill-intent, just a willingness to help someone dear to them.  And probably passing some wisdom they received.

And yet the question is; how do we get past this and succeed, when research concludes that your race will negatively impact your ability to negotiate the salary you deserve? The MIT Sloan Management Review suggests a combination of formal training sessions and the implementation of systems and structures to provide checks and balances. While I agree with the recommended solution, people of color should work in parallel to accelerate the resolution.  Here are some of the actions that helped me to overcome my situation:

  1. Break the routine.  I left Paris, France to get my first job in the UK.  In London, I was perceived totally differently.  This had a massive impact on me and my self-confidence.  I understood that the same person can have a different faith when he or she changes their environment.
  2. Find mentors.  I needed the support of my family and peers to strive growing up.  I needed people who understood the environment and saw a thing or two to guide me effectively.  The same is true as you progress in your life and career. You need the support of people in the know.  It may be the same or different people.
  3. Read autobiographies of successful people.  I did not know what I did not know.  What is amazing? What is possible in 10 years? I used to think that driving a brand new VW Golf, being a manager and earning $4,000 a month would be a stretch life achievement.  After reading autobiographies from great leaders such as Dale Carnegie, Malcom X, Nelson Mandela and Steve Jobs; I dreamt much, much bigger!

The situation for most people of color is probably worse than you had imagined.  However, this is not a reason to give up.  Some people of color are able to turn this to their advantage. At Columbia Business School, members of the black student network typically get several offers for internships, they have guests speakers such as Pepsi CEO during their conferences, and are courted by companies such as Google early in the MBA.  With more people of color joining elite networks and institutions, entire communities will be better off.  The more people of color are in position of authority, the lesser recruiting bias, the easier it will be to find mentors and the more people will be inspired to replicate the achievements of other people looking like them.