A driven business leader with a deep passion for his community, Akinwole (Aki) Garrett ’00 has achieved remarkable success as a Wall Street finance pro thanks to exceptional determination and the solid educational foundation he received as a Shipley student.
“Shipley breeds natural leaders,” says Garrett, who arrived at Shipley in the third grade and quickly embraced the challenging-yet-supportive environment. For Garrett, Shipley was the first catalyst to propel him forward on his ambitious life path. “In school, you’re searching for who you are, searching for your identity,” he says, “and Shipley is a place that offers boundless opportunity.”
As the youngest of seven children growing up in South Philadelphia, Garrett was the only member of his family to graduate from Shipley, thanks to his mother and to Shipley administration. “[My mother] wanted to give me an opportunity to learn in an environment where I didn’t have to worry about some of the things that were happening in public school, like fighting and violence,” he says.
But Garrett’s opportunities at Shipley would not have been possible without the assistance of financial aid from the School, too. “I am the youngest of seven, and my mom is a single parent,” he says. “Financial aid made the difference between me going and not going to Shipley.”
Grateful for the assistance from Head of School Dr. Steve Piltch and the admissions office, Garrett knows there must have been a struggle to find the resources to supplement his tuition year after year. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy,” he says. “I was shielded from that, fortunately, but they definitely made it work.”
With the support of his family and the School, Garrett threw himself into life on the Shipley campus and strove to excel. “I knew that I had to perform and maintain exemplary grades in order to garner the aid,” he says.
And perform he did. Shipley turned into a second home for Garrett, and he was an incredibly involved student throughout his tenure. “There was no end of the spectrum I didn’t touch, in terms of school life,” he says.
Not only did he connect with teachers like Sunny Greenberg, Josh Berberian, and Deborah Hoops, Garrett was involved in a nearly endless number of extracurriculars: He served as Vice President of the school and a member of Executive Council, he was active in arts and culture with plays and musicals, Madriguys, All-School Select Chorus, Jazz Band, Orchestra, Beacon, art editor of yearbook, Black Student Union, and the Chess Club. Beyond arts and clubs, Garrett was also a member of the varsity basketball and varsity cross country teams, as well as the baseball manager.
Though his school life was rich, Garrett notes he grappled with the constant shifting between his community on campus and his home in South Philadelphia. “I had a very dichotomized world,” he says, “it was very bifurcated in that I grew up in South Philadelphia surrounded by the typical urban issues that plague our country.”
By attending Shipley, Garrett was exposed to practically the opposite end of the social spectrum. This proximity to relative wealth provided a sort of inspiration and motivation for Garrett, only solidifying a goal he had had since early childhood: to work on Wall Street.
“Many of the kids’ parents worked at SEI Investments or at Vanguard, so I was around the culture. Maybe it was through osmosis, or just rubbing shoulders with folks,” says Garrett, but “I wanted to push myself to make my dreams come true.”
His Wall Street dreams were established not at Shipley, though, but at home when one of Garrett’s brothers gave him a book by Reginald Lewis, the first black billionaire, Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?
The book had a profound effect on the 12-year-old Garrett, who not only saw similarities between his life and the financial giant’s, but also deeply respected Lewis’ drive to help his community. “It kept me on a focused path to get to Wall Street,” he says.
With confidence instilled at Shipley, Garrett went on to attend Washington University in St. Louis, where he tripled majored in finance, accounting, and international business. After graduation in 2004, Garrett’s longstanding dream was fulfilled when he accepted a position with Bear Stearns in Manhattan.
Since that first job, Garrett has gone on to work with such prestigious firms as UBS Investment Bank, Deutsche Bank and Barclays Capital, as well as to earn his MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. For Garrett, though, achieving that first career goal still resonates. “To get that letter saying I'd been offered employment at a major Wall Street firm was an incredibly proud moment for me,” he says.
After Wall St., Garrett explored new career opportunities media, making the switch from finance to digital media business development at ABC, CBS and finally at SHE Media. Garrett’s experience in mergers and acquisitions in media and technology allowed him to continue to do the work he’s always done best: bring in revenue and grow business.
Most recently, Garrett along with his wife Shilu and two daughters, Amara (2) and Sanaa (4) relocated back to North Carolina, where he and his wife met during their time at Duke, as they were seeking a more family-oriented place outside of New York to raise their two daughters. Garrett took on a new role at hardware technology manufacturer, Lenovo, as the director of global strategic alliances within the telecommunications vertical, where he builds partnerships with the world’s leading telecommunications companies.
Not only passionate about development at work, Garrett is also an active Shipley alumnus who holds an ardent belief in giving back to his alma mater. “For me, it’s about the legacy of Shipley living on beyond me and the next generation,” he says.
Whether through financial contributions or just by staying in touch with the School, Garrett understands that giving back to Shipley to help develop programs for future generations is imperative.
“It’s a privilege to go to Shipley,” he says, “you walk away from the School with a certain level of confidence, a desire for impactful citizenship, and a finer appreciation for the world.”