Erdolo Eromo, MBA ’94

by Susan Wright
Courtesy of Investment Underground

erdolo.eromoMoving from Ethiopia to Los Angeles at eight years old may have shocked Erdolo Eromo quite a bit, but he certainly made the most of it. After graduating from UCLA and receiving his MBA from Pepperdine University, he became a senior executive at a leading mobile payment company at a very young age.

Erdolo’s story is inspirational, and his accomplishments are a testament to the importance of hard work and perseverance. I recently spoke with him about his journey and the secrets behind his success.

Tell us about your past first. How did your background shape you as a person and lead you to where you are today? What experiences did you have growing up that helped guide you?

I was born to a small tribe in the Kambatta region of South Ethiopia. My siblings and I were given tribal names that stood out like a sore thumb where we grew up in the city of Addis Ababa. In 1990, at the age of eight, my family and I immigrated to the United States. I was faced with the challenges of acclimating to an entirely different culture and language. These early experiences taught me to be comfortable in my own skin.

I grew up in an extremely close family where we were taught to put the needs of our siblings before our own. Now professionally, I call upon those lessons when I put the needs of my team and my clients ahead of my own. The result is exactly what I learned from interactions with my family: when you take care of others, they take care of you.  These personal experiences have made me more aware and sensitive to the subtle differences in peoples’ distinct personalities and cultures. I learned how to leverage these skills into building an organizational culture that promotes cohesive teams that are flexible enough to adapt easily to organizational challenges.

Tell us about your educational career. Where did you go to school?

As a child of two educators, I was an anomaly at home.  I did not value education the way my parents and siblings did. I did not put forth the effort needed to excel, and my grades reflected that. I graduated from Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles and did my undergraduate studies at UCLA. I received my Masters in Business Administration from Pepperdine University’s George Graziadio School of Business and Management.

At this point in my career I understand completely why my parents and siblings were so adamant about encouraging me about school. I’m currently considering pursuing my JD to help me navigate mobile technology regulations.

I see that you played for Crenshaw High and UCLA. How did those experiences help you? Tell us about any “wow” moments, setbacks and successes.

There are many lessons I learned from playing football. Some aspects helped shape my approach to business and some taught me what not to do.

Through football, I learned not only to understand the whole picture, but also the details. Although the game is won through strategy, for the players, nothing matters but the next play; not the last play, the score, the time on the clock, not even the final outcome. You are given a specific duty for the next few seconds, and you are expected to deliver. The detailed oriented environment of football influenced my business personality and management style.

As a linebacker and strong safety, I was always undersized for my position. Despite the fact that I was all-city in high school and all-state in college, coaches always overemphasized my size and ignored my record. This is entirely the wrong approach. When I assemble my team, I take into consideration not only their God-given talents, but also their track record, passion, determination and integrity.

Talk about your past work experiences? How did they help you? Tell us about any “wow” moments, setbacks and successes.

I view setbacks as opportunities for success. When I first took the job at The Cheesecake Factory, it was a very dark time for me. I was used to being a spoiled and coddled athlete. My transition into “civilian” life was difficult as I believed job opportunities would be in abundance after graduation.

After four months of unemployment, I had to swallow my pride.  I got a job at The Cheesecake Factory. A few days into the job, I learned that I knew very little about the product I was selling. The inability to answer routine questions was uncomfortable for me. I made it my mission to learn the menu from cover to cover.  I even chatted with the bartenders and cooks to learn details that were not in the manual. I was an expert on all things cheesecake.

I soon found that customers, especially regulars, valued my knowledge and would regularly request me.  More importantly, some of my customers began expressing an interest in hiring me. Instead of job-hunting, I was now being hunted. I learned that just beyond our greatest setbacks, are our greatest opportunities.

Tell us about your encounter with the CEO of Payvia while working at Cheesecake Factory. What happened?

I was at a crossroads in my life at the time. I learned the lessons that have helped me be successful at Payvia during my stint at The Cheesecake factory. I provided Darcy Wedd and the other executives what I try to provide my clients today. I gave them excellent service, talked with them the way I would my friends and expressed my gratitude for the way they were gracious to me. This is no different from how I treat my clients. People appreciate that. I know this because I appreciate it when people treat me that way. People want to do business with people they like, people they find trustworthy and people who are good at what they do. This works for a waiter at The Cheesecake Factory as well as a Senior Vice President at Payvia.

What led you to a career in mobile technology? Were you always interested in this field, or did a particular experience lead you to it?

As a kid growing up in south Los Angeles, I never had the exposure to technology that would have piqued my interest. However, I grew up in a home where leadership, integrity and hard work were valued. Those three characteristics created the opportunity that led to my success. I immediately saw the potential mobile technology has to change society, and I wanted to be a part of it.

I am passionate about where mobile technology is taking our society. I am an advocate of this as a solution to many of the problems that ail our planet. It gives the disenfranchised information as we were able to witness with the Arab Spring. It offers a livelihood to farmers in Africa who need micro financing. It offers connectivity, and a voice to those who lack it. I am here because the forceful currents of such an overarching, industry-disrupting platform has given me an opportunity to evangelize to people regarding its impending good.

My path toward a leadership position in mobile technology was guided by successful people in this field who valued those virtues and mentored me, guided me and championed me.

As Senior Vice President of Business Development and Client Relations, what are your responsibilities? What have your biggest successes been?

I am the chief cornerstone to the company’s global sales and marketing structure, and an expert in identifying trends in the mobile commerce space as well as finding new opportunities in which the mobile phone can be used as a billing platform. My efforts in the last year alone have grown the company’s annual gross revenues by 400%.

Erdolo Eromo, MBA ’94
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