Bryant University Executive in Residence hosts a community conversation
Executive in Residence Jude Addo '11 leads a community conversation on artificial intelligence, emotional intelligence, and the fight for human connection.
Jude Addo ’11 encourages students to deepen connections and ‘do the hard thing’
Mar 01, 2024, by Stephen Kostrzewa

In person, Bryant alum Jude Addo ’11 is unassuming and easily approachable, seemingly always happy to start, and follow through on, a friendly conversation. And when that conversation does begin, his voice is quiet and thoughtful, seemingly more accustomed to asking questions and providing support than issuing commands.

But that manner and openness is his superpower — the talent, and the mindset, that’s helped him find incredible success in the international business world as founder and CEO of JA Group in Ghana, a diversified holdings company, and co-founder of Cornerstone Partners, a venture capital firm that supports diverse founders in the United Kingdom. He’s always making connections, Addo shared during his time as Executive in Residence at Bryant in late February, and those connections makes us stronger together, both in our business dealings and in our lives.

The decision to return to Bryant, he states, was easy. “When a place like Bryant makes such an impression on you and invests so much in you, you want to repay that in some way, shape, or form,” says Addo, who was a recipient of Bryant’s prestigious William E. Trueheart scholarship. “When I look back on my life, I see that so much of my success can be attributed to what I learned here.”

Over the course of three full days, Addo delivered guest lectures on subjects ranging from international business to financial statement analysis. During a visit to a Project Management class, Addo offered a brief rundown of his career but then opened the floor to questions, a strategy that would be his hallmark throughout his visit.

“I want to meet you where you are,” he offered — and found a dedicated audience. For the remainder of the class, he fielded a swell of queries about everything from his time at Bryant to building an international mindset.

Bryant Executive in Residence June Addo '11 aids Josie Gex '24 with her resume.
Executive in Residence Jude Addo '11 aids Josephine Gex '25 with her resume.

Even after the course’s time was up, the majority of students stayed behind to continue the discussion. Among them was Josephine Gex ’25, a Global Supply Chain Management and Leadership and Innovation student who is still considering her post-graduation path. When Gex asked Addo about what he, as an international business leader, looked for in a young graduate’s resume, he pulled his phone out of his pocket and showed her how he structured his own CV.

“He told us that, just a few years ago, he was sitting where we are today. And now he owns a company that operates all over the world,” Gex said. “Just learning about his path, and what I can follow and what I can do differently, is really helpful.”

When he wasn’t teaching, Addo spent much of his time getting to know the Bryant community, talking with faculty and the administration about the Bryant curriculum and Vision 2030 Strategic Plan, discussing the JA Group’s work — including its mission to democratize finance and empower the underserved — with student leaders, meeting with the university’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging team, and touring the new Business Entrepreneurship Leadership Center and Data Visualization Lab. It was good to be back on campus, reflected Addo, but even more inspiring to see it flourish now. “I am even more impressed with Bryant today than I was as a student,” he declared with pride.

One of Addo’s meetings took the form of a working lunch with Bryant’s student entrepreneurs. As always, he began the meeting modestly. “I don’t have a magic blueprint or game plan to show you,” said Addo. “I just hope we can have an honest conversation.”

And, again, he was bombarded with an assortment of questions from an eager audience. The serial entrepreneur offered practical advice on subjects such as building teams and overcoming logistical challenges, but he also reflected on the personal side of entrepreneurship. “I think entrepreneurs are all crazy,” he admitted. “I say that jokingly, but you have to have a certain level of madness to see a problem and think you are the one who can solve it. It takes a certain level of courage, a certain level of bravado and, yes, a certain level of madness to make something out of nothing.”

Navigating that journey of madness, courage, and invention, he advised, is much easier with partners and mentors. “Very early on in my career, I decided to see myself as a company,” he told the students. “So I have a board of directors for my life.”

But wisdom isn’t enough by itself. To perform acts of creation, Addo said, entrepreneurs must find their passion. “I think the most important thing about being an entrepreneur is having a mission. My mission is to democratize the finance industry: to find ways to address inequality and provide access to those who haven’t always had it,” he said.

If he had a single piece of advice, suggested Addo, it's “Do hard things, but always take the path of least resistance.” Try your best to change the world, he encouraged them, but find smart ways to do it.

“No matter how much empathy one tries to program into it, AI can never fully do the work of a human being. "

Addo also spoke with the students about their individual entrepreneurial projects, including The Fresh Kick, the nascent sneaker accessory company started by Nina Karlin ’24, and Aqua Shield Services, the flooding solution business created by Elana Ochieng ’24. When Jayden Colon ’27 noted that he had already started his own clothing brand, Life Beyond, and was considering manufacturers, Addo let out a quiet “wow,” impressed with the first-year student’s initiative.

“I really appreciated his candor,” Ochieng noted afterward. “I want to be a young entrepreneur and start my venture early, just like he did, so talking about what that’s really like was really valuable.

“It’s also inspiring to see how a recent Bryant graduate has succeeded like he has,” she added.

The Executive in Residence’s visit culminated with Addo leading a community conversation on artificial intelligence, emotional intelligence, and the human connection. “Barely thirteen years ago, when I walked that Commencement stage, if you told me that I would return a little more than a decade later as an Executive in Residence to deliver a talk on artificial intelligence, I would have mocked you — and not just because artificial intelligence at the time felt like a concept reserved for futurists,” he noted.

While Addo majored in Economics at Bryant because he loved the subject, and deepened his love for it during his classes with Professor Edinaldo Tebaldi, Ph.D., he chose to study computer information systems “because I was an opportunist and I wanted job security,” he admitted with a laugh. Addo recognized that, as technology evolved, it would come to play an increasing role in the banking sphere, where he began his career — and that thread has helped to shape his path from a technologist building software to an investor in the tech space to his current role as a tech entrepreneur.

Yet the advent of artificial intelligence surprised even him. “This is the game changer,” Addo told the audience. “Artificial intelligence, and its ability to mimic human intelligence and extrapolate at great speed, is undoubtedly going to improve every one of our lives. Its applications hold so much promise.”

“Deep care trumps deep tech.”

But, even with the potential rewards, we should have concerns with this new technology as well, he told the crowd of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Beyond issues regarding legislation, control, and potential misuse, there are other more ontological challenges.

“There's an ancient phrase from the Zulu tribe in Africa called ‘Ubuntu,’ ” shared Addo, “It means ‘I am who I am because you are who you are.’ It is a value system that emphasizes the interconnectedness of individuals.”

That interconnectedness, Addo suggests, is something AI can’t replicate. “No matter how much empathy one tries to program into it, AI can never fully do the work of a human being. AI doesn't have any friends, it has no family, it has no personal anecdotes. AI can't tell you ‘I know what that feels like.’ It cannot identify.”

The future, Addo stated, belongs to those who can augment artificial brains with human hearts — and that this ethos informs JA Group’s newest app, “Celerey,” which combines AI processes with the ability to connect with real financial advisors for the human touch. Celerey also furthers Addo’s mission to democratize wealth management with a free service that will be available to WhatsApp users in Africa. 

“The competitive advantage and value that you and I have is our humanity — to love, to care, to empathize and, surprisingly, even to make mistakes, and to ask forgiveness,” Addo declared.

So be more human, he advised. “Deep care trumps deep tech.”

As if to prove his point, when the lecture concluded, there was, as always, a crowd waiting to talk with him. Although the sun had begun to set on his time as Executive in Residence, Addo couldn’t resist making just a few more connections — or motivating the next generation of Bryant success stories to do the hard thing. 

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