31, Principal Consultant at Meeks Consulting, Virginia Beach
Contributions to the business community:
Founding Board Member, tHRive
Chairman of the Board, Men for Hope; Board Member, PiN Ministries; Board Member, Boys & Girls Club of Southeast Virginia, Virginia Beach Unit; Member, Filipino-American Community Action Group; Member, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Member, Guiding Young Men; Mentor, CHOICES Program, Lynnhaven Middle School
How do you define success?
Einstein once said, “Not everything that counts can be truly counted, and not everything that is counted truly counts.” Success is living a meaningful and purposeful life while using your purpose to positively influence the lives of others.
What person or experience has made the biggest impact on your life?
That person is Congressman Scott Rigell. When I was a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University I wanted to start a business and use the proceeds to help impoverished communities through scholarship, mentorship and providing nutritious meals to families during the holidays. I was looking for investors to jumpstart my company. I barely knew Scott Rigell, and I showed up to his office for a business meeting in jeans and a hoody but with a pretty good business plan. After my 10-minute pitch, without hesitation, Scott walked over to his desk and wrote a check to help me get my business started. That investment created an opportunity for me to grow a business, donate thousands of dollars in scholarships, mentor dozens of students and feed hundreds of families in Virginia.
After college, Scott invited me to join his campaign staff during his first election for U.S. Congress. After he was elected, he hired me to serve in several capacities on his staff to include senior congressional aide, campaign manager and district director. Those jobs required me to be attached at the hip with Scott for nearly seven years. During that season of public service, I learned so much from Scott about character, integrity, courage, work ethic, servant leadership, discipline, business excellence, effective communication—foundational tenants that are now woven into my DNA which I use daily. These are the three greatest lessons I have learned from Scott: “Never underestimate your ability to influence someone,” “Be relentless in the pursuit of excellence,” and “Why not me?” Those mantras are unbreakable blocks in my foundation as a young entrepreneur.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
Eighteen years ago, my family went from living in a spacious home in Middle Plantation to living in a Samaritan House shelter. My father was battling serious health problems at the time. Shortly after moving into government subsidized housing, my father was incarcerated. I expressed my resentment of my situation by disengaging from school and associating myself with the wrong people. However, there came a point where the internal light bulb flicked on in my head and I realized my current situations did not define my final destination. One achievement in my life was being obedient even when life seemed to be at its worst, trusting in something I could not see and letting my faith guide me. Faith alone has opened up so many doors in my life. Believing that positive things will happen while going through difficult times, remaining disciplined and relentlessly pursuing good opportunities when they are presented can take us far in life. I try to let every day be my biggest accomplishment, and I celebrate the small victories in life. Sometimes we wait on life’s biggest wave while letting too many great waves pass us by. Today is my biggest accomplishment.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
From ages 6–10 I wanted to be a diplomat. I remember riding in the car with my dad, seeing diplomatic license plates on a car and asking him what they were. He then explained to me what diplomatic immunity was. As a child, diplomatic immunity sounded like freedom—freedom to do anything you wanted.
My father was an entrepreneur. I watched him start a small business from home and grow it into a successful investment firm within a few years. He always welcomed me to sit in on his business meetings, and I enjoyed learning about the economic and managerial facets of his profession. My siblings and I would help stuff and stamp statements for his clients. I remember him telling me, “The only person that can pay you what you’re worth is yourself.” After watching my father’s success, the drive to emulate his entrepreneurial footsteps inspired me to start my first business at the age of 10. Today, as an adult, I know that the best way to have freedom in your career is through entrepreneurship.
Name a book that has inspired you professionally.
Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. In an era heavily influenced by social media and 30-second ads, understanding how and why things go viral is key if you are in the business of influencing people. The book breaks down the science of why people talk and share. I am not interested in getting a million views on a YouTube video; however, the book’s examples of why certain products and ideas gain traction in the market shifted my perspective and approach in how I engage potential clients.
What is your best time management hack?
Wake up earlier and your day will be longer. When you start your mornings at 4:30 a.m. there are fewer distractions to keep you from being productive.
What’s your favorite restaurant for a lunch meeting in Coastal Virginia, and what do you order when you go there?
Coastal Grille in Virginia Beach. If it’s a casual meeting sit at the bar on the side with the golden seat. If the seat is filled, you’re likely in good company. If you need a more private setting sit in the dining area. The ambiance is peaceful, and the service is incredible. During the summer my favorites are the caprese salad and butterfly shrimp. If it is cold outside I go with the wilted bib salad, roasted chicken and acorn squash.
Is there anything that you would change about your generation as a whole? If so, what?
Spend less time on your phone and more time being present. Technology has made it easier for us to stay connected digitally, but it also has created a physical disconnect in our society. It is common to watch a room full of people staring at their smartphone checking updates rather than checking in with the person sitting across from them. I always prefer meetings in person rather than conference calls. It eliminates distractions, allows you to read body language and feed off of the energy in the room. The same is true when communicating in person versus digitally. Emotions are sometimes difficult to decipher through email, text and posts on social media. I would love to see more people practice turning off their phones, if possible, when spending time with colleagues, family and friends. We should be more present in the moment.
What do you think is Coastal Virginia’s biggest challenge?
Hampton Roads is one of the most vulnerable regions in the country for a hurricane and catastrophic flooding event. Our drainage systems are outdated, and residents are not prepared for a flood evacuation. It is a serious issue for Coastal Virginia that needs immediate attention and action.
What’s something that gives you hope for the future?
What gives me hope for the future are those that who went before me. My father’s father had it a lot worse. I see optimism through incremental progress. I am grateful to have been born where I was born and when I was born. Providence could have called me to have come into this world at a time or in a place where I would not be as fortunate as I am today. What gives me hope is the fact that I am blessed to be living in America during this time.
From his nomination:
"Esmel’s passion, drive and work ethic are key elements behind his success. He is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. However, one other thing I also admire about Esmel is his ability to balance work life and personal life. In addition to working hard in business, politics and serving his community, he volunteers as a DJ for the local CrossFit community to support various causes including Gold Star Family Foundation, Pancreatic Cancer and Leukemia research, homelessness and many others. He is an avid fisherman, hunter, hiker, kayaker, snowboarder, gardener, woodworker and a pretty good cook. He has been blessed with many skills and talent and is using many of them to give back and serve his community.”
—Shannon Kendrick, former colleague