When Lawson Nzekwe’s parents told their son to go out and get a summer holiday job, they probably expected him to begin making his first foray into the minimum wage world of high street retail.
But the London-born teenager had far grander plans for himself. By the time he was 16 he had already built up a £300,000 company by importing iPods and electronic goods from abroad.
Thomas Chigbo, 21, is equally keen on shattering glass ceilings. Born to Nigerian parents and brought up in a south London council flat, earlier this year he made history by becoming the first black president of Cambridge University’s student union.
Today both students were named as two of 30 young Britons who had made it on to a prestigious list which celebrates the most influential black men and women in the UK – rubbing shoulders with the more recognisable likes of Attorney General Baroness Scotland, who was last week fined £5,000 for hiring an illegal immigrant, and John Sentamu, the vibrant and outspoken Archbishop of York.
Other prominent young names on the list include YolanDa Brown, the 26-year-old Mobo award-winning artist who is also studying part-time for a PhD, and Vicky Ngari-Wilson, a former beauty queen who at the age of 21 has already set up her own charitable trust to educate children in Africa.
The list is the brainchild of former journalists from New Nation, a newspaper for Britain’s black community until it was mothballed last year. Keen to keep the black community’s unsung heroes in the media spotlight, former New Nation editor Michael Eboda created the annual Power List, which names the UK’s 100 most powerful people of African and Caribbean heritage.
Most of those included are business leaders, politicians and entrepreneurs but this year the judges, including higher education minister David Lammy, were asked to draw up a second list of high achieving students whose success stories might act as inspiration to their younger companions.
“When we compiled the list last year there were a lot of 40 or 50-year-old business people on there,” said Mr Eboda. “They were all incredibly inspirational people but we wondered whether they would really work as role models for younger people.”
Mr Nzekwe, now 21, said: “My parents told me to go get a job because they thought I was a bit lazy. I went to Oxford Street and handed out my CV to everybody but I’m naturally impatient and when I didn’t hear back from them within a week I thought I might as well start my own company.”
He started small, importing the odd iPod from the far east and selling them on to make a profit. Soon the orders came flooding in and within a year his company had a £300,000 turnover. He has used some of the profits to put himself through university.
“Role models are vital,” he said. “For me my role models were my parents, who are hard-working people. If I didn’t have them I imagine I’d be in a very different place.”