UPTOWN — A decade ago, Jeff Badu was in a neighborhood gang in Uptown. He said he felt lost with no sense of direction.
Today, he sits atop a series of companies he formed, amassing a net wealth over a $1 million before he hit 26 years old.
Badu, an Uptown resident, now wants to leave his mark by promoting financial literacy and independence to underserved communities.
Badu was born in a tiny village in Ghana in west Africa. He lived with his aunt, and although he doesn’t remember much about his childhood there, he said living conditions were tough.
When he was 8, Badu moved to Chicago and reunited with his parents who had settled in Uptown. “It wasn’t the best environment at the time,” he said. “Even to this day, Uptown is still a little rough sometimes.”
Badu said most of his friends were involved with different gangs and it was only a matter of time until he was, too.
“I was involved in a lot of really bad stuff,” he said. “I was almost put in handcuffs.”
The one thing that kept Badu tethered was his school attendance — which was near perfect. Badu said the scariest thing in his life would have been facing his mother’s wrath if he skipped class.
But it was a three-month family trip back to Ghana when he was 16 that changed everything.
“That was a turning point in my life,” he said. “I saw my own family members were homeless. I said to myself, ‘I have to change something. I have to work harder.’ My entire mindset shifted.”
Badu said being grateful for the opportunity to live and work in America put him on an entirely new trajectory. He leaned on his best friend Michael Boateng — a fellow Ghanaian who helped him get more involved in the nearby church, African Community Methodist United.
Boateng was an assistant youth leader at the church and both Badu and Boateng said involvement in the youth groups kept them focused on education and away from trouble.
“Jeff always had a positive mind and positive attitude but we were in the wrong group of friends” said Boateng. “But he really allowed himself to be moved and guided by God, which changed everything.”
Boateng said that Badu is a force to be around, calling his presence “infectious.” He said Badu has a hunger to improve the world around him.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg for him,” he said.
Boateng said one big obstacle Badu overcame was his reluctance to embrace his natural capacity for leadership.
“Jeff had to accept the fact that he is a leader,” he said. “As we went to college he became that source of information that people would come to for help.”
Badu lived up to his promise to work harder in order to make a better life. He was accepted to the University of Illinois where he would eventually receive bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting.
It was the Ghanaian spirit of hustle and entrepreneurship that prompted Badu to teach himself how to prepare taxes. What started out as a small side gig developed into Badu finding his niche.
When Badu hit his 100th tax client, he quit his corporate job at PricewaterhouseCoopers PwC and created Badu Tax Services, the flagship business of Badu Enterprises.
Today, Badu owns tax preparation businesses, car rental businesses and real estate investment groups. He also hosts a radio show from 7-8 p.m. on Mondays on 98.3 WGHC FM called “Money Talks” where he helps promote financial literacy.
But Badu isn’t trying to simply acquire wealth; to him, making money is a means to an end. His goal is to use his power and influence to help communities adversely affected by displacement and lack of opportunity.
“We need more financial empowerment,” he said. “If my friends had seen a better way of doing things they would have.”
He hopes to have the Badu Foundation up and running by 2020. The foundation will provide 10-week workshops and specifically target young people experiencing homelessness.
“It’s one thing to give a homeless person a dollar,” he said. “But it’s a whole other thing to teach them how to use that dollar.”
He also plans to use his real estate companies to buy property in neighborhoods facing gentrification. Badu calls these areas “opportunity zones.”
Badu said his properties will never be sold at anything higher than market price, and if the market price is inflated Badu will adjust rates to a more fair level.
He’s also currently in the process of trying to acquire property in his home country of Ghana, a place where many struggle to find a place to live.
“For [Badu Enterprises] we are into real estate for a profound cause,” he said. “We want to make communities better, we want to restore things.”
Badu’s work is being noticed and recognized in the Chicago business community. Earlier this month, Badu was awarded the top award in finance for 21- to 47-year-olds with the WOKE 10 award, presented by the Chicago Urban League. The WOKE 10 awards honor young emerging professionals in 10 different industries.
Badu wants to share with the world his five-step model for starting any business.
1. Find a business you are passionate about.
2. Do your due diligence and research the industry.
3. Build your business model around your research.
4. Start small and test the market.
5. Launch your business
He’s hoping to spread that message to those who typically feel their only option is to live paycheck to paycheck working in jobs without advancement opportunities. Badu believes there is a better path forward if individuals are willing to arm themselves with knowledge and take a few risks.
“What I really want to do is help the super hungry to take advantage of resources in order to live an abundant lifestyle. That’s my purpose in life and it’s exciting.”
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