MEMPHIS BUSINESS JOURNAL | Meagan Nichols
What if Coachella met Harvard Business School?
That’s how Cedric Bobo, co-founder of Project Destined, described his nonprofit that teaches minority teenagers the ins and outs of real estate investments.
Bobo, who has roughly two decades of investor and investment banking experience — most recently 10 years with The Carlyle Group — launched Project Destined with his co-founder Fred Greene in Detroit in 2016.
This June, he brought the program home to Memphis.
A Washington, D.C., resident, Bobo was born in Sardis, Mississippi, but moved to Whitehaven when his mom joined FedEx Corp. He grew up in Memphis and then attended the University of Tennessee where he earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. During his college years, he had summer internships with FedEx. He then received an MBA from Harvard Business School.
“When people ask me what my dream was in life, I said, for me, it would be being on the board of FedEx, because that business changed my life and so many of my peers,” Bobo said. “My Memphis story is my life story, because the frame around what I have done is all based upon those life lessons from FedEx — 100 percent.”
Bobo said his mom — like many single parents — had to navigate the ongoing issue of school gets out at 3 p.m., work ends at 5 p.m. Because of that, Bobo went to FedEx about three times a week.
But, it was what his mom made him do every time he was there that shaped his entire professional career.
“She would give me this USA Today newspaper; I was like eight [years old], and she would say, just read like three facts about business, three facts about sports,” Bobo said. “Her whole goal was to try and make it appear like her child was not coming to work. If you actually engaged with employees, you don’t come across as being babysat. I always tell people, as a business person, I always felt like the thing that God gave me was that I could connect with people fairly quickly. But, it is purely because at age eight, I was trying to fit into a work environment because I didn’t want my mom to look as though she was a single mom.”
Fast Forward a few decades, and Bobo is now taking some of those early life lessons, as well as those learned during a summer internship on Wall Street with Salomon Brothers, to teach high schoolers how to invest in real estate.
The name Project Destined was inspired by the 2016 film Destined; it tells the story of a young boy that in one reality is a drug dealer and in the other is a successful architect. The outcome of a single event determines the path the man pursues.
That movie, which Bobo said reminded him of his life in Memphis, sparked his interest in investing in Detroit. Since his initial trip in 2016, he and Greene have gone to Detroit 30 times.
“What we did on this first trip is we discovered — you have to teach a man how to fish,” Bobo said. “The criticism that I got in some ways in Detroit was: don’t just go and buy a community of houses and just give them fish. Why don’t you teach the young people how to do what you do? You go around the world trying to buy stuff and create more value and then sell it, and you create a good life for your family doing it. I was like 'Wow, we could do better than that. We could actually teach the kids how to do it, and then give them a part of the property as a scholarship.'”
That is exactly what they did.
The model: during a multiday program, students are taught the fundamentals of real estate investment directly from experts in the field — brokers, bankers and architects. At the end of the program, students then make real bids on properties.
If those offers are accepted, Bobo writes a check, buys the buildings, and then a portion of the profits generated from those properties — they like to buy buildings that have existing tenants — go into the 501(c)3. That money is then evenly dispersed in the form of scholarships either bi-monthly or quarterly to the teenagers who put those real estate deals together.
In Detroit, the students acquired two properties for $150,000 in invested equity. That investment is expected to generate $30,000 in scholarships over a five-year period, which would be evenly dispersed between 20 students.
“The one point we make to the kids is that, 'We are all in it with you,'” Bobo said. “There is no large donor behind you. All the capital comes from my and Fred’s savings accounts. Every dollar we have invested both in the program you see today [in Memphis], but also the properties in Detroit, it was all our capital. It is important for kids frankly to see folks who look like them who are investors.”
And remember the part about Coachella meets Harvard Business School? The reason Bobo describes Project Destined like that is because he does not simply make students listen to lectures and then structure a deal. He creates an experience.
The program includes cocktail receptions with mocktails, breakfasts with baristas and chefs, events with violists and DJs. By doing this, it achieves two things — one, kids see that a life in the business sector can equal a great life; and two, by creating these relaxed environments and inviting local executives to attend, Bobo and Greene are able to foster mentoring opportunities between students and professionals — and they don’t even realize it.
“We have a cocktail reception and we try to make it fun, but they are really quite deceptive because the whole goal is to get the adults to stay as long as possible,” Bobo said. “You don’t know you are mentoring, you are just having bagels and lox and talking to some kid about real estate. The kid is like, ‘Wow, I am talking to them and they aren’t running away from me.’ The kid’s self-esteem is like ‘I have something of value to offer to someone more my senior,’ and that is super empowering.”
At the end of the Memphis weekend, the students placed formal bids on properties in the Historic Annesdale District and Binghampton neighborhood. They are waiting to hear if those bids were accepted.
“Becoming an owner changes the way you see yourself and your value to the world,” Bobo said. “You are not a victim anymore, you are a participant in change.”
Some of the Memphis business professionals who participated in Project Destined:
- King Rogers, Glankler Brown
- Doug Carpenter, DCA
- Kent Wunderlich, Financial Federal
- Gerre Currie, Financial Federal
- Sabrina Dawson, The Dawson Group (D.C.)
- Seth Harkins, Harkins Educational Consulting and Advocacy (Chicago)
- Liz Copeland, Urban Conservative Project
- James Maclin, M&M Enterprises
- Steve Lockwood, Frayser Community Development Corp
- Frank Ricks, LRK
- Kirk Bobo
- Paul Young, City of Memphis
- Matt Landsberg, from D.C.
- Philip Gbee, Robert Half Technology
- Alton Cryer, Leadership Memphis