Here’s the situation… You have made costly mistakes in your past, but will not allow those errors to impede your future achievements. You’ve learned all you need to know from the “block,” and now want to parlay that information into the “boardroom.” With the hands-on skills learned from your trade, you know you have what it takes to make it, but with a criminal record, aren’t sure how you can reenter society successfully. Or, you have climbed every ladder and made every stride, but still aren’t sure how to become your own boss. Tracey D. Syphax gives us essentials for living out our entrepreneurial dreams in his debut autobiography.
The Situation Room with Michelle Cuttino speaks candidly with Tracey about his novel, From the Block to the Boardroom, and gains insight into his entrepreneurial success, inmate re-entry programs and community outreach programs, including MOB, which caters to teaching children how to become entrepreneurs.
Michelle: Tracey, your personal story is one of successful re-entry into society. Can you tell us a few key factors that helped you turn your life around?
Tracey: It was several things that turned my life around. Specifically my 1991 sentence in Rahway State Prison where I was on 23 hour lockdown, with nothing but my own thoughts; my wife and children, I tapped into my spiritual self and learned God’s purpose for my life and having a mentor in businessman John Harmon. I knew the “block,” John helped me network my way into the boardroom. The combination of these factors helped guide me in the right direction.
Michelle: Not many can overcome the stigma of a criminal record, but you have. What advice do you offer to inmates with expected release dates in the near future? What can they do while still incarcerated that will help build a smart foundation for their re-entry into the community?
Tracey: In the State of New Jersey, you never remove the stigma. When I volunteer at Prisons today, I have to admit to my criminal record. It’s all about perception. It’s hard to prove to people that you’ve changed your life around. I am forever committed to keeping a strong, determined focus on my life’s improved direction. Current inmates must take advantage of every program and book that they can seize while in prison. Information is valuable.
Michelle: You’ve released your autobiography, From the Block to the Boardroom, which I’m sure is more than just your basic facts of life. Tell us more about the content?
Tracey: Beyond my own life telling, the book speaks a lot on economics, being an ex-offender and the process of re-entry into society after prison.
Economics – There are many resources, but some of us are clueless to tools that will advance and drive entrepreneurship. For example, Black business in New Jersey grew 66% in 2005 – 2010 per US census, and in Atlanta it grew 99%, same period. Why is that? Even in a recession, 2005-2006, we are still creating business. When we have our backs are up against the wall, we have to build capacity by employing people and do it as a community.
Re-entry – 93% of parolees of Mercer County come back to Trenton and unemployment is 66%, which makes up the parolees. When there is no job or job offers because of a criminal record, the ex-offenders commit crimes again and they go back to jail. When you talk about recidivism, we have to give opportunities and reunite with family and give them a chance. We do so much through that, and that’s the message I want to give through the book.
My wife/marriage – 27 years of marriage and 34 years with Margaret. It was important that my wife had a chapter in the book for her support, as a mother and a wife. She has a story that many women will relate to.
Michelle: You are one of the founding board members for the community outreach program, Minding Our Business (MOB), which teaches middle-school children how to start and operate a business. How did you get involved with the program?
Tracey: Three years into owning my own business with the program which started with an instructor at Rider University, Professor Sigfredo Hernandez. Today the program is ranked in the top 10 in the country for teaching kids business. It was important to give back to the community and I am able to show them continuously that black or Hispanics (minorities) can be business owners. In Trenton, where I grew up as a kid, there were approximately 12 black owned businesses, now none of them are around and the community is still majority black.
Michelle: You continuously speak at business associations, youth centers, detention centers, schools and community programs across the country. What is your main message that crosses all audiences?
Tracey: The main message is entrepreneurship. I want people to have the passion, vision and resolve to make something out of nothing. Entrepreneurship done right opens opportunities in the community.
Michelle: Your messages of empowerment seem to target our youth and ex-felons. Why is your passion so strong for the underdog?
Tracey: When you’ve been an underdog, nobody believes in you. As an underdog, I have been empowered and if I can do it, they can do it. I am preparing to launch our non-profit. Our mission will be “REINVENT SELF THROUGH EXCELLENCE AND LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT.”
Michelle: After being recognized as the first African American to receive the award for ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ by the Princeton Chamber of Commerce, what message of support can you give to budding African American entrepreneurs who are facing obstacles in their endeavors?
Tracey: After 18 years of being in business, I have learned that failure helps us to be successful and it is a life experience. I may not have gone to college, but I am paying for my “education” now. I have written a lot of checks in exchange to learn and earn becoming a business owner.
Michelle: You’ve also been awarded the AFLAC ‘Business Man of the Year’, the 2009 Congress of National Black Women ‘Business Man of the Year’ and your company Capitol City Contracting has received the ‘Historical Rehab Award’ twice for your skilled worked on properties in Trenton. Do you still feel the pressure to succeed at a higher level?
Tracey: We set the standards for excellence. The Better Business Bureau has rated Capitol City Contracting, Inc. as “A+” in providing excellent service. We set the bar and standard. When you set it, you meet expectations especially as an African American. Remember, we have to work twice as hard. We can only grow but so much. Therefore, you must have diversity and the reality is regardless of race or culture, business is business and it needs to serve everyone in the community, local, state and national. It is business and personal! As I have traveled outside of Trenton (LA, MA, NY, GA, PA, etc.), I have realized that if you only stay in Trenton, you only know how Trenton operates, but when you go outside of Trenton, you know how the world operates. YOU CAN’T BE IGNORANT WHEN IT COMES TO DIVERSITY IN MANAGING A BUSINESS.
Michelle: Writing an autobiography is a major fete. From the Block to the Boardroom definitely describes your ascent. Did you realize a sense of accomplishment as you relived your past to present for the making of this book?
Tracey: When I look back over my life and see how far I have fallen, to only see how far I have come, it is therapeutic. It is an opportunity to re-live my life. At times unexpected accomplishments that were not included in the book have been brought to my attention. During this interview, I discovered that Homefront (a non-profit organization working to alleviate homelessness in New Jersey) is using From The Block to the Boardroom to educate women who are enrolled in a program called, “Workfirst.” My hard lessons learned are helping others. That is important.
Michelle: What do you want readers to discover and/or what knowledge do you hope they gain after reading From the Block to the Boardroom?
Tracey: It’s never over. Many people are living on the margins of life but they can obtain better if they commit.
Michelle: With your two award-winning real estate and urban rehabilitation businesses, as well as your being a motivational speaker, community activist, philanthropist and published author, what can we expect next from Tracey D. Syphax?
Tracey: We are preparing to launch our own national non-profit to assist ex-offenders and continue to educate youth on business.
Michelle: What words of wisdom can you offer to those aspiring to pen their life story?
Tracey: Use your life’s setbacks and success stories to help someone else.
Michelle: You’ve obviously figured out what equates to success when running a business, no matter what that business may be. Please give us your must “Do” and your most important “Don’t” fr becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Tracey: “DO”: Network. “DON’T”: Never say you are going to do something and don’t.
Read this fascinating autobiographical account of the pivotal early years of Tracey D. Syphax’s journey as a young African American man navigating through life, and ultimately transitioning from The Block to the Boardroom.
This extraordinary novel provides a first person account of the trials and tribulations that Tracey faced as he began his climb to his current status of President and CEO of two multi-million dollar companies. A climb that has erased the stigma of the common street hustler he was once labeled.
Tracey’s journey is a universal story of change and evolution of one’s direction in life which is relatable to all genders, age groups and income levels. Change has no color barrier. It does not discriminate, and one must only be receptive to it in order to benefit from it.
Tracey’s life experience as shared in The Block to the Boardroom provides a Blueprint on how to achieve success in business.
Tracey D. Syphax is an entrepreneur, community activist, and a motivational speaker. He is the President/CEO of two million dollar- award winning corporations, Capitol City Contracting Inc. and Phax Group, LLC. Capitol City Contracting Inc. specializes in home and building improvements. Phax Group, LLC is a real estate development company.
Awarded the 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year Award by the Princeton Chamber of Commerce, Trenton businessman Tracey Syphax tirelessly continues to give back with passion and vigor to his New Jersey community. His mission: to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs. Embracing entrepreneurism on many levels, Tracey Syphax is one of the founding board members of the highly successful MOB (Minding Our Business) program. Founded in 1997 Mindng Our Business (M.O.B) is a community outreach program of Rider University College of Business Administration. The purpose of Minding Our Business is to advance the personal and vocational development of Trenton youth through entrepreneurship education and mentoring. Since inception, MOB has trained and mentored more than 1,300 Trenton middle school students, ages 11-14, in starting and running their own businesses. The skills needed to run a business successfully are also important life skills.
Tracey Syphax is a board member of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ). He is also a former founding Chairman of the Board for Fathers & Men United for a Better Trenton. In his autobiography, From the Block to the Boardroom, Tracey shares with author Detric “Qadiriyyah” Goss his powerfully uplifting story of the success that comes from faith, love and the second chances given to those who were formerly incarcerated.
Currently President/Founder of two award winning Trenton businesses, Capitol City Contracting and The Phax Group, Tracey Syphax is a history making path-breaking figure in the African American community with an incomparable record of accomplishment both personally, professionally and philanthropically. Once identified in his youth as inmate #226926, today he is known as the first African American to receive the Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the Princeton Chamber of Commerce.
Tracey still resides in Trenton West Ward with his wife of more than 25 years, Margaret Syphax. He has two children Trachell and Marquis, and two grandchildren, Brooklyn and Sanaa.