Ntiedo Etuk is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Electrical Engineering. He also holds an MBA from Columbia Business School, where he was a Beta Gamma Sigma graduate. He has managed the creation, implementation and analysis of various consumer products for Bank One and Citigroup. With Citigroup he was selected to work directly with the Chief of Staff to Citigroup’s president, Bob Willumstad. Ntiedo left Citigroup in April of 2004 to focus on Tabula Digita full time.
SM: Let’s start with your background. Where does your journey begin?
NE: I was born in Nigeria. My father is Nigerian and my mother is from the Bahamas. They met in Canada. From day one I was brought up with a sense and the expectation that I would do more for the community. “To whom much has been given, much is expected”. [Originally from the Bible (Luke 12.48), this was said by President Kennedy in a 1961 speech.] There was also a strong sense of respect for education and the opportunities that were offered. That was partially because of the history of both countries coming out of colonialism: Nigeria came out in 1960 and the Bahamas in 1973. Both of my grandfathers were very involved in the respective independence movements.
My family has a history of community involvement. In Nigeria they were involved in politics locally, and in the Bahamas my grand uncle was the first Governor General of the Bahamas. Various members of my family have held positions from the Minister of Education to the Minister of Health. There is a long tradition of public service on both sides of the family.
My father gave up going to the Olympics to go to McGill [in Toronto]. He was the West African hurdles champion. My mother was sent to a Canadian boarding school from the Bahamas at age seven. The result of that is that everyone has done well in business and in giving back to the community. My father is an architect and my mother is a doctor. She is the first black Chief Resident in Boston at the Harvard Decanus Hospital. My father ended up doing architecture in the Bahamas before going back to Nigeria to start his own firm. He does a mixture of architecture and entrepreneurship, as I think anyone in the nations in Africa ends up doing.
SM: Where did you grow up?
NE: I was born in Nigeria and lived there until I was four. I then went to the Bahamas until I was six before returning to Nigeria, where I lived until I was 13. At that point I came to boarding school in the United States. I then ended up doing electrical engineering and computer engineering and Cornell. I then spent about two years in the workforce before going back to Columbia business school.
It has always been my desire to own my own company. When I was younger, I was fascinated with the idea of computers and computer science. When I came out of Cornell I had lost my fascination with being in a lab building these things, and I really knew that I was more of a people person. I wanted to go out and make my mark on the business world.
At that time, the business world did not know what to do with people who had engineering backgrounds. The only companies hiring people with such backgrounds were derivative traders on Wall Street. I did an internship at First USA, where I worked in a new department in the Collections Group doing analysis. I did that over the summer and really liked that they were an entrepreneurial company that was growing. I took that job because of that environment, and also because I knew I wanted to learn about business as much as possible for two years before going off and earning my MBA. After First USA I went to business school, where I studied entrepreneurship and management.
SM: What year did you finish Columbia?
NE: I finished there in 2002 at the age of 26. That was a great experience and I really enjoyed it. I threw as much as I could at myself. I set the goal at the beginning to do a summer internship at McKinsey, that I was going to win all of the business plan competitions, that I was going to run at least two organizations, and that I was going to graduate on the dean’s list. I did all of them. I accomplished everything I set out to do, yet I still felt that there was a huge hole in me because I was not running my own company.