The COVID-19 pandemic. Income gaps between the rich and poor. How can we all work together to make the world a better place? They’re big topics. And they were all on the table as Delta CEO Ed Bastian sat down with Tristan Walker for the premier episode of Gaining Altitude: Conversations Worth Navigating.
Walker is the Founder and CEO of Walker & Company Brands. He also serves the Boards of Directors for Foot Locker, Inc., Shake Shack, Inc. and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Fortune Magazine named him as one of the top 50 “World’s Greatest Leaders.” In 2018, Walker & Co. was acquired by Procter & Gamble, and he became the first Black CEO under its umbrella in its 180-year history. His top brand Bevel also became a category leader with distribution in Target and Walmart stores across the nation. All by the age of 36.
During his conversation with Bastian, Walker shared his journey from Queens, NY to Wall Street to starting his first business in Silicon Valley, all while covering topics such as servant leadership, representation and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.
Here are six key takeaways from the conversation:
1. Code2040 was created in response to the dramatic income gap.
In 2012, Walker recognized the dramatic gap between the richest and the poorest of society and wanted to do something about it. Working with the best and brightest young Black and Latino undergraduates, Code2040 helps the young leaders get internships in Silicon Valley and provides training they need to be successful. The organization sees a 90 percent full-time offer rate and has launched 500+ engineers into the industry, he noted. To see those young people then start their own companies, “it is as much of a triumph as anything I’ve created,” he said.
2. Walker calls Atlanta home – and he’s proud of it.
Walker is thrilled to call Atlanta home and wishes he had moved here sooner. Atlanta boasts the second-fastest growing economy, world’s largest airport and he believes that the diversity imperative offers infinite possibilities in culture and business.
3. Walker's biggest takeaway from the pandemic is that we are "people first", and this seemingly simple idea transformed his view on business.
“I recognized quickly: We’re people first. At the end of the day, I’m a person. We had to reflect on everyone’s person-ness. We had to acknowledge the trauma we were all feeling first. The disproportionate impact from the pandemic, but also the issues related to unrest this summer. And once you acknowledge the trauma, THEN you can model the way,” he shared with Bastian.
Walker reflected that despite the trauma we all experience during the pandemic, he expanded his capacity for empathy in ways that he never would have believed. “And isn’t that the right thing?” he said with a smile.
4. Walker aims for consistency across all areas of his life.
He shared that above all, the top three things he’ll always prioritize in his work are: the importance of the demographic shift in the country and the influence of Black culture; how we equip the curators of culture with the tools and technology to spread it; and finally, how he supports and loves great brands. Walker shared that he hopes to be known as someone who is consistent – and consistently committed to advancing these priorities.
5. Build your tribe and build the values that guide your thinking.
“I’ve been building a tribe of people across Walker & Company, Code 2040, and the boards I serve on that want to celebrate the same things that I do,” Walker said. “We have company values that are my personal values.”
Walker & Company is majority people of color and majority women-led, and he explained that this is because the guiding principles of his company don’t discriminate. He hopes more leaders will find and define their voice through their values.
Bastian agreed and added: “If we don’t take everyone on this journey, we’re not going to get there.”
6. We can all better connect the world by “aggressively” being ourselves.
“It starts with you, and I encourage people to aggressively be themselves,” Walker said, reflecting on how his time spent journaling in a Starbucks in California led to the establishment of the values that guide his company and his life.
“If everyone were aggressively himself or herself, the world would be much better,” he added.
Gaining Altitude: Conversations Worth Navigating is an interactive video series from Delta. It offers employees, customers and communities an opportunity to listen in and join the discussion with CEO Ed Bastain and leaders on topics that matter to our world. Topics will include, but are not limited to, leadership, entrepreneurship, mental health, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and sustainability.
Watch the full replay here and let your friends and family know they can watch the episode on Delta.com/GainingAltitude.