01 Dec 2018
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In My Humble Opinion: Growth Investor

Building hope, brick by brick
by Julia Hanna

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Photo by Ryan Donnell

Cedric Bobo (MBA 2004) was bitten by the business bug at the age of eight, when he visited his mother, who was a secretary at FedEx’s Memphis office. “I was drawn to the creative, all-hands-on-deck energy of the place,” he says. “In 1983, FedEx was reinventing domestic logistics. It blew my mind that people from all over the country were moving to Memphis to help build this company.”

But Bobo’s excitement had no real outlet. “We scour the planet to find athletic talent at an early age,” he says, “but we wait too long to cultivate academic or business talent, especially in challenged communities.” That realization prompted Bobo to leave his position as a principal at the Carlyle Group and in 2016 launch Project Destined (PD), a social impact vehicle that trains inner-city youth to be active partners in sourcing and financing real estate investments (primarily apartment buildings); students then receive 20 percent of the profits over five years in the form of scholarship funds.

Late last year PD got a celebrity boost when Bobo met former Yankees star Alex Rodriguez at a Jennifer Lopez concert in Las Vegas. A-Rod and J. Lo both related to Bobo’s mission and signed on as partners immediately—a serendipitous encounter that resulted in PD expanding from Detroit to Miami and the Bronx.

“I want people to understand that very often, ‘talent’ is a result of opportunity and exposure combined with resources,” says Bobo. “Alex got to where he is through baseball. I got to where I am because my mom took me to work.”

Namesake: Destined, a movie that turns on one chance-based event to portray two very different outcomes for a teenage boy growing up in Detroit.

Why real estate: “My mom did an amazing job raising me as a single parent, but we were in a community where housing insecurity was ever-present. I always thought, wouldn’t it be better to be the landlord than the tenant? And real estate is hyper-tangible; I love the idea of providing shelter in return for income.”

PD cities to date: Detroit, Memphis, Miami, the Bronx, Chicago, Oakland, Atlanta.

Favorite Carlyle investment: Genesee & Wyoming, a railroad holding company. “It was a complex deal, and our thesis generated some uncertainty, but when we sold our assets a year later we had almost doubled our money.”

Favorite PD investment: An eight-unit apartment building in Memphis. “We had just come from Detroit, which had a more favorable market environment for our impact model, so there was some concern as to whether our model was portable. That building is now one of PD’s best-performing assets.”

Inspiration: Former NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice. “No one saw him go back to Mississippi every summer and run the same dirt roads. His excellence on the field was due to his preparation in the off-season.”

First job: An independent video store. “I loved that job because I love the power of storytelling. I always wanted to tell customers about an amazing movie I’d just seen.”

Lasting impression: HBS professor [emeritus] Warren McFarlan. “The cases he taught blew my mind because the focus was on how engaging in challenged communities can be a strategic advantage.”

Best business advice: “Don’t be afraid to be afraid. Everyone battles insecurities. When you’re trying to fit in, knowing that all individuals are battling the same thing is important. Also, your seeming disadvantages can be the source of strength.”

La famiglia: “My favorite place to vacation is Portofino. At 11 o’clock at night there’ll be three generations of an Italian family eating dinner together. When you see that kind of generational exchange it becomes clear why you invest in your own family.”

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2004, Section B

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