Operations

Lessons From A Former Bad Boy Streetpreneur

Lexi Tucker
Posted on January 10, 2019

Chef Jeff enraptured the audience with his life story and what he has learned about being a successful businessman.

Chef Jeff enraptured the audience with his life story and what he has learned about being a successful businessman.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Many attendees were likely intrigued by the concept of a chef giving the keynote presentation at this year’s LCT East on Nov. 5. However, those who attended the event sponsored by Grech Motors were certainly glad they did, as Jeff Henderson, a former convicted drug dealer turned award-winning chef and bestselling author, told a story that moved and inspired.

Differences And Similarities

Henderson understood some luxury transportation operators may be apprehensive about what he could possibly teach them. He clarified his main message as being related to the American dream. “No matter who you are or where you come from, what country or religion you embrace, everyone has an opportunity to achieve greatness,” he said.

He admitted to making a lot of poor choices and actions he wasn’t happy about in his past, but he was thankful for the organizations and mentors who helped give him a second chance. They saw value and potential in him, and helped him discover his “gift” — something unique that can be found in every one of us in a different form.

“As leaders and entrepreneurs in our respective industries, we are where we are in life and we become the best versions of ourselves, because at some point we discover our gift: Something we do extremely well at a very high level with the least amount of effort,” he explained.

At 54 years old, Henderson has survived the streets, prison, and corporate America, which he believes is “pretty gangsta, too.” He identified a common goal for everyone in the room: To grow the industry at the highest level possible while fighting every day against the bottom feeders trying to chip away at their businesses.

Rough Start

Growing up in poverty and a broken home, Henderson faced many circumstances that led him to his past life. Nobody is born a criminal, he said, and often our circumstances and influences shape our lives. He was motivated by the idea of one day having a house on a hill with a white picket fence; unfortunately, his circumstances led him to pursue it in the wrong way.

“When you raise yourself without the proper teachings and dreams, you become influenced by other elements in your life and community. To my knowledge, it was the ‘streetpreneurs’ who had pockets full of money and nice vehicles…there was no money connected to education,” he said.

Therefore, he began to study the strengths and weaknesses of the drug dealers he saw. He learned from the most successful on the street, and figured out what they were doing wrong. Why were they getting arrested? He didn’t get involved in any violence or gangs, and dressed differently to keep himself from getting caught. It worked for five years…but he learned the hard way it was his product that was bad.

Street Knowledge

“Your God-given gift is something you do extremely well at a very high level with the least amount of effort.”

“Your God-given gift is something you do extremely well at a very high level with the least amount of effort.”

The things he learned on the streets came back as transferable skill sets he could use when he got out of prison. He learned some key elements to becoming a great salesperson. Building strategic relationships was important. To become the best at what he did, he had to build a team of subject matter experts. “Every great manager understands he has to employ people strong in areas he is not. It’s impossible to be an expert in every aspect of your business,” he said.

Having the best product in your market and fostering your unique gift to help you succeed in your endeavors will also help you get far. Henderson’s gift was that he likes to be around people. In turn, this became his biggest asset in selling his product.

Being a gambler of sorts and taking chances brings to mind the saying, “there is no reward without risk,” he said. Every time you buy a new vehicle, try to penetrate a different market, or hire specific people; you’re not always sure what the end result will be. “Always bet on yourself because you understand your greatest strengths; when you know what you’re good at, success is almost guaranteed.”

Rise And Grind

During his 10 years in prison, he had an epiphany. Rejecting the “little voice” (his conscience) built on wisdom is what had gotten him into trouble. He made a decision to listen to the voice in prison, because he never wanted to return. He spent time building relationships with the smartest men in the prison yard, and read newspapers and books to educate himself.

After reading about top chefs in the country, he realized you can’t just talk about success — you have to hustle for it. He started a catering business in prison and got creative with whatever ingredients he could find. “You have to have that beast mode mindset, and rise and grind every day. Learn from what makes someone the best in the industry, and ask yourself ‘What do they know that I don’t?’”

Learning From The Experts

In Henderson’s book, “If You Can See It, You Can Be It: 12 Street-Smart Recipes for Success,” he presents two decades of life lessons he gained on his redemptive journey from drug dealer to TV celebrity chef to nationally acclaimed speaker.

In Henderson’s book, “If You Can See It, You Can Be It: 12 Street-Smart Recipes for Success,” he presents two decades of life lessons he gained on his redemptive journey from drug dealer to TV celebrity chef to nationally acclaimed speaker.

When he left prison, Henderson had to create a brand and diffuse the stigma that came along with his past. “I knew it’d be like someone wrote ‘felon’ on my forehead. As the face of your brand, how you look, walk, socialize, and talk dictates the relationships you can garner to get access to people’s knowledge and connections,” he said. You should study people who succeed in your industry. “The competition is heavy, and if you aren’t on your A game, it’s only a matter of time before you’re gone.”

He advised the audience to never chase money; chase opportunities instead, because opportunities lead to relationships, and relationships lead to money. “Access to subject matter experts is more valuable than anything. Money will always come if you have a bomb product and the right business model at the right time.”

Finally, look at your company culture. Is it one of learning? Do your employees love what they do? You must treat your internal customers as well as your external if you hope to succeed.

“Our talent cannot provide service to people that they don’t get themselves. They have to buy into the vision of what you’re trying to sell. As owners, we are in the business of making people better. It’s not about giving people directives or telling them what to do because you’re the owner; it’s about bringing everybody to the table. Because often, the failure of a company is directly linked to the talent that works for you.”   

[email protected]

Related Topics: Atlantic city, customer service, Harrah's, industry education, keynote speakers, LCT-NLA Show East, limo tradeshows, tradeshows

Lexi Tucker Senior Editor
Comments ( 0 )
More Stories
Durieu with his Cadillac XT6
News

Uber Black Driver Sees the Light

eNews Exclusive: Jordan Durieu started out with the TNC, but quickly realized it was time to provide service with higher standards.