The Inspiration in my Life

We’ve all been inspired by someone in our life. Whether through a mentoring relationship, colleague or friend, I’m confident there’s at least one person who’s inspired you on to greater things–personally or professionally.

Having a role model has different meanings for various people. In my opinion, it’s someone who you truly learn from, aspire to be and emulate.

Personally, my role model happens to be my father, Aubrey W. Lee, Sr. I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with great people, excellent organizations and have had the opportunity to achieve a certain level of achievement throughout my life and professional career.

However, I would not have been able to attain goals without the advice and counsel I have received from my father.

To many across the Detroit region, my father is a “trailblazer”, business and community leader and a mentor to many.

To me, he’s simply Dad.
To wit, Dad is a brilliant thinker who has helped many people during his illustrious career and without question, has not forgotten his Huntington, West Virginia roots after moving to the big city of Detroit.

He and my mother, Jeane, moved here in 1956 as part of the great migration of African Americans to northern cities. As soon as he hit the Motor City, Dad established roots, raised his family and became a business leader within the banking and finance industry. He helped many Detroiters receive financing or assisted those in need as they were looking to start their business.

In an article published by Crain’s in March, 2014, Shirley Stancato, President, New Detroit, simply stated, “He was a hero among us.”

This sentiment is shared by many within the business community, particularly among African Americans in Detroit and beyond.

Now, you have to understand my father received a Master’s degree when he was 21 and under today’s circumstances that would have allowed him to graduate into a job consistent with his educational experience–however, in the 1950’s, it didn’t.

After arriving in Detroit with a strong educational pedigree, he landed a job as a bank teller.

And this did not discourage him. In fact, it inspired him–to act.

Throughout his career, he became a person of “firsts”. He became the “first” African American branch manager at the old National Bank of Detroit (NBD), now Chase, and ultimately, rose through the ranks to become the “first” Chairman & CEO, NBD Troy and Senior Vice President in its corporate offices, in Detroit.

And he became a champion for diversity.

As he was rising the corporate and community ladder, Dad simply reached back to help others. For example, he hired former Mayor and ex-Detroit Piston, Dave Bing when Bing was relatively new to the NBA and Detroit. And along the way, he recruited and hired other business leaders including Stancato, Linda Forte, Emmett Moten, Walter Watkins, al. al.

He’s also helped countless others out of college or in career transition to find jobs or, at the very least, opened doors by introducing them to his extended network.

As I’ve thought about my father and his career, I’ve decided his advice is timeless–not only with me, but with others he’s met throughout his life and career.

And one of the things concerning to him is how people treat each other. He’s from the old school and is a true believer in ethics–personally and professionally.

With this in mind, here are a few lessons I’ve learned from Dad. These are principles applied in my personal and professional life:

    • Surround yourself with people smarter than you and treat individuals with respect: it’s easy to think you may be successful on your own. However, surrounding yourself with others allows them to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise. You’re giving them a chance to shine and, by doing so, highlighting not only your success, but others as well.


    • Always have a process and think things through: there’s a tendency to make rushed decisions. However, he believes there’s a process one should follow. Gather the facts, listen to others, evaluate alternatives, identify pros and cons and then, make an appropriate decision. While not always perfect, you’ll have an opportunity to minimize the risk based on relevant information.


    • Give credit to others: Too often we take credit for ourselves. However, Dad defies this approach. His philosophy is simple. People work hard for and with you–therefore, recognize their efforts and in doing so, you’re continuing to build a team based on trust and recognition.


    • Make a commitment and stick to it: How many times have you heard someone say, “I’ll get back to you…?” This principle focuses on follow through. People simply want a commitment from you and would like to know you will follow through on it. If you can’t, just be honest and say you can’t. Think about how you feel when someone indicates they will follow up and, they don’t. It actually hurts the person who’s made the commitment. From a business standpoint, what message does this send to someone you may ultimately want to do business with?


    • When it comes to resources, be practical: Treat resources as yours and make decisions accordingly. Develop a budget, invest wisely and understand the ROI for you and your business


  • Reach back and make time to help others: We all have been raised as part of a “village”. When you help others establish a business or by providing advice, you will be amazed by the return on the people investment.

What dismays me, at times, is we’ve lost some of these basic values when it comes to business. Many don’t know the sacrifices made before them and believe they’ve achieved a level of success based on their own merit.

Not to burst your bubble, but people like my father and others truly paved the way for the level of success achieved by the younger generations.

And don’t forget it.

I run into many people who hide behind technology or say they’re “busy”. Through implication they’re to busy to return a phone call or to give back and help others but yet, you can find them regularly on social media sharing “updates”. My father believes in the personal touch and old-fashion conversations–over the phone or face to face.

And he’s never to busy to return phone calls.

Before you say I’m overreacting, think about this, look at the tips above and apply them to your personal and professional life and ask yourself a simple question, how often do you follow these basic tenets of business?

My father has been called a legend, a beacon in the community and a “trailblazer” but to me, he’s a decent and caring human being who truly loves his family, this city and everything it has to offer.

To my father, I just want to say, “THANK YOU”. We could not have done it without you.

And to those of you reading this, I have one question: how many people have you reached back to help and mentor others?

Imagine the difference we all would make if we simply followed his advice.