When Apollo Emeka, PhD, was a teenager, he wanted either to be on Saturday Night Live or become an FBI agent. Emeka started with the latter, and his career has covered lots of ground since then (though the SNL ambition, for the moment, remains on hold). In addition to working as an FBI intelligence analyst, Emeka has been a Green Beret in the U.S. Army, and after serving in Iraq, got a doctorate in policy, planning, and development at USC, despite never finishing high school. Now CEO of the Apollo Strategy Group, Emeka applies the wisdom he’s gathered in his wide-ranging career working with private sector and nonprofit leaders across a range of industries, from tech to public affairs and entertainment.
Your career has had many exciting chapters. What are the passions, convictions, and curiosities that link them?
I didn’t go to a lot of school growing up. Cause and effect in the real world has been my primary education. I’ve found that we’re conditioned, as Americans, to take most things at face value. The answer is always: Work harder. Grind it out. Stay up late. I use my deep “why” curiosity to find ways to work smarter, not harder, ways to achieve more with less.
What are the issues facing our society that are most striking to you?
I think the ideological divide in our country is an existential crisis. It prevents us from being able to deal with large problems in a rational way. The largest problem that we’re facing as a planet is climate change. It’s record temperatures in a whole bunch of cities and these massive, related infrastructure problems, like not being able to drink the water in Jackson, Mississippi. People’s inability to find common ground is an existential threat because it prevents us from dealing with the bigger problems.
What advice would have been most helpful to you when you were 22 and first starting your career?
Early in my career, I had a chip on my shoulder. I had imposter syndrome. I was a high school dropout, which caused me to second-guess myself quite a bit. But every time I’ve doubled down on who I am and what I actually believe, my success has made an exponential leap.