Shortly after launching his fashion company—and two days before AK Ikwuakor ’07 was to leave to continue an international speaking tour—all U.S. flights were grounded.
The COVID-19 pandemic had arrived, and it wasn’t long before many people started living very differently.
Suddenly, not a lot of folks were wearing suits and ties, nor were many organizations planning in-person speaking events.
The serial entrepreneur and a three-time All American for the Ducks in track and field found himself grounded in more ways than one.
“This year taught us a lot,” he said. “That we’re not in control.”
And yet, he said, this strange time in history has brought Ikwuakor (AK) intense personal clarity.
“It’s been one of the best experiences for me,” he said. “I thought I wanted to travel around the globe speaking.”
Instead, he found his speaking style translated well to recorded, shareable content. And audiences were eager to hear his message virtually.
“How do I help people live a life aligned to their lifestyle design, while also creating alignment, accountability, and action toward that outcome,” Ikwuakor said of his process.
After one speaking engagement, broadcast from his living room, it hit him: Closing his laptop, he was right back to spending time with his partner and 8-year-old daughter.
“It redefined what success was for me,” he said. “I slowed things down. But yet, I got a lot more work because I transitioned into a virtual lounge.”
Part way through the pandemic, Ikwuakor, who was based in Boston, was thriving. He had shifted his business model with success to helping entrepreneurs scale their business in 90 days. Around that time he experienced a spiritual shift as well.
“How do you learn to be with yourself, by yourself? That’s what this year has been to me. I’ve been breaking down those layers,” he said.
Then, in August, along came a huge opportunity: Moving west and joining a small team of leaders to train the Google sales team.
Ikwuakor’s partner, a professor at Boston College, took a leap of faith and moved too. She quickly landed her dream job as director of water governance and policy—making water more equitable on a federal level.
His little daughter is even pursuing her dreams at a school for the arts.
“She likes everything on the creative side and that’s what this school is all about,” he said. “The pandemic was a realignment for my career and also much needed personally.”
Now located in Marina Del Ray, Ikwuakor continues his work as the founder of MobileXA as well as the sales excellence coach lead at Google. He also produces his podcast, Mornings with Coach AK.
“At the end of the day, we all need some coaching in our lives,” he said. “One of the biggest impacts in my life has been coaching in general.”
Though close with his family—Ikwuakor is a triplet, who joined three additional children for a total of six—the Colorado city he grew up in was not diverse, he said. Students were unkind.
“I was the kid pushed into lockers, the kid nobody talked to,” he said. “Sports coaches reached out to me.”
Additionally, “My experience in sports has helped in my career.” One such lesson—delayed gratification.
“You can feel worse, sore, but know that is part of the growth process,” he said. “Also pushing beyond one’s limits, the importance of a team, and that everyone holds a piece of the puzzle.”
These lessons, combined with his fluency in sports, business, entrepreneurship, and more made Ikwuakor a top pick for moderating the Lundquist College Digital Speaker Series.
“The UO has powerful name domestically and internationally,” which was part of the draw, he explained of the choice to add these free virtual experiences to his already full plate. He also sees these sessions as a great way for Oregon alumni to pay it forward.
“I believe in repaying the favor of the impact the University of Oregon had on me,” he said.
—AnneMarie Knepper-Sjoblom ’05, Lundquist College Communications