Rick Wade is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach for the US Chamber of Commerce. In this role, he is responsible for fostering diverse business partnerships through program development, providing counsel on policy issues, and serving as a strong advocate for American-owned businesses.
Rick has devoted his career to improving communities by strengthening the US economy and advocating for quality education. He was a senior advisor in the 2008 Obama for America campaign and the Founder and President of The Wade Group, assisting small and mid-size businesses with revenue growth by building strategic alliances.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Rick Wade's professional history and career in politics
- How working for Obama shaped Rick's political career
- Learning how to be comfortable taking business risks
- Understanding the impact investments have on life experiences
- Rick encourages emerging entrepreneurs to invest in social capital
- Tips for managing stress as a business owner
In this episode…
An innovative idea is the first step in an entrepreneur’s journey to owning a business. Launching your business can be a financial gamble — especially if you’re unfamiliar with business investment strategies. How do you know which risks are worth taking?
Rick Wade, a seasoned business leader who experienced adversity in his early years, can relate to the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. He encourages young entrepreneurs to invest in themselves while exercising discernment and seeking mentors who will help navigate opportunities as they present themselves.
On this episode of The First Buck Podcast, Nicolas Cary welcomes Rick Wade, Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach for the US Chamber of Commerce, to advise young entrepreneurs preparing to launch a startup. He talks about the experience gained while working for Barack Obama during his campaign and presidency. Rick also discusses how to become comfortable with taking business risks, the value of investing in social capital, and how to manage stress as a business owner.
Sponsor for this episode:
This episode is brought to you by Sky’s The Limit, one of the largest nonprofit programs for underrepresented young adult entrepreneurs in the US. Sky’s The Limit is a quick-growing digital platform that connects entrepreneurs with their peers, volunteer business mentors, training resources, and funding.
Our goal is to develop the social capital that founders need to chase their business dreams.
To learn more, please visit www.skysthelimit.org today.
Welcome to The First Buck Podcast, where we feature stories about entrepreneurs and the people who support that. Now, let's get started with the show.
Nicolas Cary 0:20
Hello, and welcome to The First Buck Podcast brought to you by skysthelimit.org. We feature stories about entrepreneurs and the people that support them. Today we're joined by Rick Wade, an internationally recognized business leader in Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach at the US Chamber of Commerce. His decorated career has included time in both the private and public sector. He also serves on the board of skysthelimit.org Welcome to the podcast, Rick.
Rick Wade 0:47
Hey, it's great to be here Nicolas. Thanks for having me. All right, cool.
Nicolas Cary 0:51
I'm excited about this conversation. So the very first question we have here is, how did you earn your first buck?
Rick Wade 0:59
Well, I'm kind of dating myself. Entrepreneur, ship me earning my first book, when I was a kid, in the rural part of a small town in South Carolina used to be a textile town. I grew up in a family of eight, five brothers and one sister, my younger brother, nine, Nicolas, we would take our little red wagon, and go all across the neighborhood and back then, you could sell redeemable soda bottles. And so we would collect all of the old coke bottles and Mountain Dew bottles and Pepsi bottles all over the neighborhood and take them to the local five and dime store. And we sell them for a nickel seriously. And I'm like, this is pretty, very cool. And so, but that, I mean, that is how I earned my first book by selling old redeemable pop bottles across the community.
Nicolas Cary 1:54
I love that. So a family business right from the very early ages. Young man, that's a cool story. So what I love about that is it just sort of reminds everybody like we all start off as entrepreneurs using the kind of resources and the community we have around us trying to figure out how to make a first buck. So that's a cool one. All right. So tell us a bit about your professional career. How did it start? And what were maybe some of the pivotal moments that allowed you to sort of evolve and sort of increase and grow and your responsibility scope?
Rick Wade 2:22
Yeah, I've had a really interesting, I kind of call my professional career sort of a way up of a whole lot of different experiences. I grew up again, in rural South Carolina, and Nicolas, it was at a time when they were still sort of vestiges of segregation. And I was first generation to go to college, in a family of eight. And I went to college, what was called the springs company, or industry scholarship. And in my hometown, the textile industry was the mainstay of our economy. And I was awarded a scholarship to go to the University of South Carolina. For me that was going to the big city, even though it was only an hour away from my small rural town. And I say that to say because it was there that kind of became an experiment of sorts for me. I mean, I really took education seriously, not because I wanted to, or I had to, but it really was in necessity. I knew as my parents had instilled upon me that if I wanted a better future and a brighter future than theirs, that education was the key. So I was really involved at the University Sacramento more outside the classroom. excel academically, you know, became involved in the student body and the student council and, and was an intern at the local state legislature, with an intern in corporate America. And that kind of all inspire me in the rest of my career. My first job out of college, I thought I wanted to go to medical school or dental school. So I majored in Biology and Chemistry. haven't used it much at all in my life. Except, yeah, when I worked for a pharmaceutical company later in my career, but my first job out of undergraduate, to be honest, was I was an admissions officer, admissions counselor, and traveled all across the country recruiting students at the University of South Carolina. And that in itself exposed me to a whole life outside of South Carolina. From that, it's been a really interesting weaving work for the succulent House of Representatives. I was Chief of Staff for the Lieutenant Governor of the state of South Carolina, was executive was a vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield there in South Carolina. And one day, I decided that I wanted to run for office. So I ran for statewide political office for Secretary of State in 2002. But it was back in I guess, in 2007 years when I wasn't Blue Cross Blue Shield. I got this really, really interesting strange call. The phone ring, oh, that my dad's working hard as a corporate executive does. And this guy on the other on the other hand, says this is Barak Obama, and I'm trying to reach Rick Wade. More than who man Hurni me, so I thought it was a fraternity prankster. Brother, my, I won't repeat all the expletives that I use. Trust me, you know, I mean, work hard, like, the bleep bleep bleep. What the Bleep Do you call it the poor. And I listened more attentively and I heard the voice and it was Senator Barack Obama. And the rest is kind of history. He and I established a relationship by he had this vision of hope and change for America. I drink the Kool Aid early, I believed in it and actually resigned from Blue Cross Blue Shield. And it was one of the early architects of being President Obama's first campaign with Washington, DC and ultimately to Chicago. We're at campaign office. And on the day of inauguration, we did not have a Secretary of Commerce. And I was asked to go Hold down the fort, at the United States Department of Commerce is one of the best experiences I've ever had that totally immersed in international trade, and doing all kinds of things on behalf of business and industry and entrepreneurship, did that for several years. Then I started my own firm, called The Wade Group, primarily advising foreign investors and business people are how to do business in the United States. And fast forward in 2016. I was in Philadelphia in the Democratic Convention, of which I was a DNC member. And one night we a few of us just didn't want to go Nene in here anymore speeches, Nicolas, and we walk downtown Philadelphia, and we see this marquee sign that says US Chamber of Commerce, reception, and we crashed the party. And I met this wonderful woman named Suzanne Clark, who, who happened to be Executive Vice President, the world's largest business organization, the United States Chamber of Commerce, we had coffee back in DC. And we both recognized that we just had the same kinds of values, we believe in a free enterprise. And now I am Senior Vice President of the United States Chamber of Commerce. And she's now President CEO. So that's sort of a rinse trade weaving of a career in government and business and politics, entrepreneurship, domestic and global. And here, I,
Nicolas Cary 7:13
there's so much to unpack there, it sounds like you have this innate ability to make friends right before they're about to
Rick Wade 7:22
find me, like,
Nicolas Cary 7:24
so cool. So from dragging your red wagon to going to university, to working in the public and then private sector and to getting an unusual call from a potential presidential candidate to working in the administration. I have to ask one question, though, like, what is it like working for the President of the United States?
Rick Wade 7:44
Well, you know, it was hard for me to actually get to the point of calling him Mr. President, because I had started out with him. And when we first started the campaign, I mean, he didn't even insist on being called Senator, we call them Barack. And he called me Rick. And I count him because of that dead and are having a shared vision of America. And it's free. So but it was just it still to this day is mystical, magical is a testament to what you really can become in America. And it was just such an honor for me, Nicolas to be on the, on the on the on the ground zero, of building the campaign to elect the first black president of the United States as well. And so it was inspirational man. And it changed the trajectory of my entire career. And I'm very grateful to have had that experience. And not Not to mention that he has been the coolest president ever in the United States of America. Yeah, I think it's pretty clear. He was a baller and he played basketball and, and he schooled me on a couple of cases. So I'm a living witness that he really is a good ballplayer. And it was just an amazing experience. It's a great, great leader, who I think we've not seen the end of his contributions to America in the world.
Nicolas Cary 9:01
I love that sort of, you know, reminder of what the American Dream sort of means. And it's sort of like this achieving your potential. And so, earlier, we talked about how you earned your first buck, I think it might be helpful to our listeners to talk a little bit about how at maybe one or two different points in your career, you had to make a big decision about investing money to get a return on that investment and maybe a business decision or in recruiting or hiring someone. So talk to us a little bit about how you got more comfortable basically taking risk in a business context.
Rick Wade 9:35
You know, risk is important, and I will tell you, I have become less risk averse today than it was many years ago. But even you know, I tell the story of how, you know, my first book I heard, you know, selling redeemable pop bottles. Well, I invested that money back in my education. And if that was important to me, again We grew up poor, I was first generation. But even after that, I mean, my next job was sweeping floors at a local ice cream shop. But I took I took that money and invest it back in me and my family. And that matter, right, and I think that's where I learned. The important importance of investment and a return or return is not just all the time, a profit, but return is also have an impact. And in my case, it was impacted my education, that ultimately taught me how to save money and raise money to even finance my graduate school education, which was at Harvard University. But I tribute that back to my early lessons of just trying to be a good steward of my money, and the limited capital, if you will, that my parents and aunts and uncles were able to invest in me. So that's one example. And I think through even when I had my own firm, you know, making decisions that were very strategic and thoughtful, there would database, it's just always been the way I've operated, Nicolas, and I think that's still the case today. You know, every opportunity may not be the best opportunity for you to invest in or for you to invest your own time. And the resources in you asked me it, I think that that actually, I've used sort of the same similar practical lessons in my hiring, I run a federal agency at the Department of Commerce, I've run the state agency, back in the day, as a member of the governor's cabinet. And I've always, you know, sought to find the best people for the best job, so that we can have the best outcomes. And I think those are the same principles that I would, would suggest very important, and being an entrepreneurship and growing a business.
Nicolas Cary 11:48
Like that. So if I can maybe summarize that sort of like, one of the things you need to do is always sort of invest in yourself. And that creates the sort of gains over time, I think that's super important for our listeners. So you just mentioned something that's important. You've hired a lot of people across your career, I've got to ask you, what is your favorite interview question?
Rick Wade 12:08
You know, my interview question is asked, it actually probably is not as difficult, but it is difficult. The most people is not about skill set is not about education is not about what you want to be when you grow up. But my interview question that I asked everybody is, tell me about what I call your calling. Tell me about your passion and your purpose. Now, I know that sounds a bit rhetorical. But what I'm trying to do is Pro I have a tendency to believe Nicolas that most people aren't in jobs, or even careers already are reps, not even in places of entrepreneurship, that they really, really want to be in, and they have passion for, but also believe you're going to succeed as an entrepreneur, as leader, you have to believe in the cause. You have to believe in your business, you have to believe in yourself. So I'm always searching for these sorts of nuggets of understanding how people got to where they are, what was their motivation, their inspiration, what was what is their passion and their calling. And I'm the first person to say I mean, I'm not hiring people, because it's just not a good fit is not a shared value of how I view leadership in my organization, or my company. So for me, those are kind of courses that Procore does not technical, but really deep dig in a little bit more deeper into character.
Nicolas Cary 13:32
I like that a lot. I have one I've used quite a bit, which is sort of similar, it draws it the same thing, which is teach me something you know a lot about the for the job spec, and it get that sort of passion out of someone understand one, we know what is what is that what's underneath the surface so that when things get tough, they're going to draw on that reservoir of motivation for something. And I love those types of questions. I think that's a really good one. So many early stage entrepreneurs, ones are just at the beginning of their entrepreneur journeys. They think sometimes that they really need to go raise money or get a loan. But what advice maybe would you give to early stage entrepreneurs, who are thinking about their startup idea? What's maybe some stuff you might suggest that they think about?
Rick Wade 14:21
Well, for me, I mean, I've been very fortunate. I mean, I've never had to go get a loan. I mean, I in reality is most entrepreneurs, as you said, bootstrapping, we still finance, particular entrepreneurs of color. The data shows that you use credit cards, you have family of funds as we can. And, you know, but again, I think if you can figure out with that passion, what their real interest is that you have, I'm struck by how it catches on. It's almost like becomes contagious fire. Other people see that and will bring capital and invest in you and your company. So you know, lending and capital is extremely important. But I think also is that tenacity that grit that grind the stick it to me to stay with fitness, I know that I'm making up a word. Yeah. But that's, that's equally as important that you're committed for the long haul. I mean, you're gonna fall, you're gonna fall, I think there's good and poorly, because we learned from my mistakes. And so, again, for me, it's just been the tenacity of the grit and grind and stand with it. And people will see that and make make investment. And oftentimes investment comes not just in capital for me it's come in mentorship is come in people supplementing and heading talent to my or Lindy meet people to work with me on a project. So you know, capital is not just by nature, is that other social capital that I think is very important as well.
Nicolas Cary 15:56
All right, I'm excited to talk about that. So in summary, though, it's the sort of stick you know, start with you're passionate about something that's really going to be a young entrepreneurs unfair advantage, they're going to care more about it than other people. And that's something like that, then you can be competitive. But at the end of the day, we don't ever really achieve anything without support. And you just mentioned the value of social capital. I was interested to ask you, who was or is the most important mentor in your career?
Rick Wade 16:28
Well, without question, the most important mentor to me, personally, growing up as a kid was a dentist, believe it or not, in my local hometown. His name was Dr. Douglas Rucker. And he saw something in me, I think, Nicolas was that perhaps I didn't see myself. Again, I did not have the role model of a father who went to college who knew about entrepreneurship who had run a business or But Dr. Rooker was just that guy wanted to be just like, obviously, I mean, we may be certainly, he had, he had his own digital practice when he was an entrepreneur. But his values, I mean, he bought me my first car as an investment in me, and him. And he was just all I want to be. That's why I actually ended up going to undergrad in biology and chemistry, because I thought I wanted to be a dentist, like you.
Nicolas Cary 17:20
I see how it's all coming together now. And he
Rick Wade 17:23
was, he was a girl. So who helped me understand the importance of tapping into my own passion is one thing to extract from him that lessons and values that I did, but I didn't have to be like him. But he is perhaps, in fact, he passed a few years ago, and I was honored that his family asked me to do his eulogy, and speaks to again, that the incredible way they viewed me, and the way that I viewed he and his his mentorship or sponsorship for me in my life. And I'll say one of the things I think mentorship for me is not just one mentor. I mean, I've had so many people who have helped create pathways for me, in providing different aspects of, of life or life lessons. It's not that exit mentors when collected person. And I think that's something that, you know, entrepreneurs should think about, or folks that they claim their own ladder of success. You don't have to have one mentor, extract and extract and draw from lessons of life from multiple people, because I think that makes you more global, a more full, well rounded entrepreneur leader as well.
Nicolas Cary 18:35
I, you know, that's I'm so glad you shared that. It's amazing that Dr. Edgar certainly trusted you with that eulogy to honor that relationship you had. And I think entrepreneurs really all benefit by finding these patient coaches, mentor sponsors, people that can provide advice and coaching and sometimes a little encouragement. And the truth about entrepreneurship is that it's pretty hard. And it can feel pretty lonely. And you need to do it completely by yourself. And in fact, other entrepreneurs tend to bond with other entrepreneurs, because they see sort of the same challenges that they've been through in their lives. And they want to be there as a as a support system for them. Right. So thank you for sharing that. All right, one last sort of question here. So, you know, because entrepreneurship, it does, it's not always the path everyone thinks, is right in front of them, you know, there's a lot of pressure maybe from parents to go to college or to get a job right away and go work, you know, establish a career. So entrepreneurship sort of seems like this other path. You know, what tips would you give our listeners for how to, you know, manage some of the stress that maybe comes with running your own business or exploring entrepreneurship in general? What are some things young adults should be thinking about?
Rick Wade 19:56
Well, let me I think I think it I see the stress a lot when I talk to entrepreneurs, especially when, when there's a capitalization, you see it the most, when they when they lost some lost money, or it just didn't, didn't get the return they expected. I think, Nicolas, that's where you got to have that balance. And we were talking earlier, being a well rounded person. I mean, you're still human, have fun along the way. One of the lessons I learned, we were talking before we started the podcast is, you know, getting away. I mean, I, for years, I did not know how to take a vacation, find a good book to read. I mean, yeah, I am that guy, also who want to have experiences outside of my own world, I call it I guess, meet you sometime. Color outside the box, right? I mean, I've traveled all over the world, and from Asia, to India, to China all over, and I'm a better person for it. So don't limit your experiences to just When Lane color outside the box, get out the box, because that's where you will find not just amazing new friendships and relationships, but new opportunities, perhaps that you've never thought about for your own business as an entrepreneur. So just be a whole self. I mean, entrepreneurship is a part of who we are. But we're still human and find that arena. You didn't ask me this, but I wanted one of the books. And I'm reading, rereading,
Nicolas Cary 21:31
I had on my list to ask, like, what is the right now?
Rick Wade 21:35
I mean, I've read I'm a, I'm an avid book reader. So it's not to me that I haven't read and but but one of the it's a book I'm rereading it you may not even think is relevant to entrepreneurship, or leadership is a book by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Called the strength to love. Now, it's not getting the new sauces, new, also wide look, but love has to do with it. But it is about trying to find your purpose. It is about understanding our interconnectedness as a people as humans, not just here in the United States, but around the world. No man is an island. I mean, in so he talks about this whole interconnectedness. And I hope that thing that entrepreneurs, whether it's in technology, or whatever business we're in, that we're not only making profit, I'm a capitalist, but we're also solving problems and that affect humankind. And having that fundamental basis basic thesis, that we're all humans, and in this thing together, is kind of what Dr. King talks about this whole book, The Spirit to love the spirit to be out for others, and our sisters keepers.
Nicolas Cary 22:47
Oh, thank you. That's an everyone should go read that. And it's like a book about compassion and doing things for fellow man and doing stuff to your community, find useful and do that. You're going to be a very successful entrepreneur. And I think an important lesson is remind yourself to have some fun along the way. I think one of the things you exemplify amazingly, Rick, is this commitment to lifelong learning. All of us have it all figured out. Even as role models in the world are still committed to constant self improvement and in questioning and being curious. And I think those traits you notice in a lot of people trying to solve big problems and also little ones in their lives. And so, Rick, thank you so much for sharing that. I think there's been a huge amount of wisdom in lessons learned that are useful for the community at skysthelimit.org. Thanks for sharing that skysthelimit.org we connect under represented entrepreneurs with volunteer business professionals for free one on one mentoring. We also have business guides for all our members monthly funding opportunities, so you can sign up for free today. And if you like what you heard, please subscribe. Have a great day with you.
Thanks for listening to The First Buck Podcast. Don't forget to join the community of underrepresented entrepreneurs and their supporters by signing up at skysthelimit.org CLICK subscribe and we'll see you next time.