Rolling Out

Ralph Cook shares what shaped his path to politics and entrepreneurship

Ralph Cook (Courtesy)

Ralph D. Cook Jr., the founder and CEO Handprint Group, provides leadership and works with clients to implement capital investment, business and communication strategies. One of his greatest strengths as a leader is his ability to build relationships.

With offices in Atlanta, D.C. and Birmingham, Alabama, Handprint Group’s practice has expanded regionally from Mississippi to South Carolina.

Cook received his B.A. from Morehouse College, earned his J.D. at Howard University Law School and is a member of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta.

Here, he shares his vision as an entrepreneur, important skill sets progressive professionals need to have, and his attraction to Martha’s Vineyard.

What is your day-to-day routine like at work?
As an entrepreneur with Handprint Group, one of the biggest benefits is to be able to manage my own schedule and time commitments. Two days out of the week my morning routine begins with taking my two daughters to school, followed by a work out before starting my work day. On alternate days, I jump-start my day beginning at 5:30 a.m. to exercise. When I am not traveling to Washington, D.C., or to my clients’ cities, my day flows between conference calls during the morning and meetings beginning at lunch through the remainder of the afternoon. I try to return to my desk to finish any documents, emails or paperwork etc. and then break for the evening to spend time with my family or play tennis with my team, which I recently joined. Overall, I would say that conference calls and meetings are the lifeline of my business.

What inspires you to show up at work every day?
I love what I do. Ultimately, I created a company that embodies my philosophical beliefs. Public service and economic empowerment are important to me and are areas that I focus on in my business and personal time.

How did you determine your career path?
My grandfather was an entrepreneur and I was exposed to politics early in my life. My grandfather owned and operated a dry cleaners for 67 years in my hometown of Bessemer, Alabama. My father was an elected judge through my child hood years. I remember campaigning with him and attending many community events. In college, I began working with my godfather, former Congressman Earl Hilliard in his congressional office. He really exposed me to federal politics and the power of influence federal policy had on local communities. In law school at Howard University School of Law, our professors consistently drilled the concept of “social engineers” into our thinking, and it left a powerful impact on my current belief system. Being exposed to these activities and thinking, absolutely shaped my path to politics and entrepreneurship.

What industries connect to your career choice?
Generally speaking, government affairs, business strategy and capital investment are disciplines that affect most, if not all business. I am more of a generalist when it comes to industries because I work in professional services, and the above disciplines can be applied in most industries. I have had experience with working in many industries from the energy to education, and technology to real estate with small organizations to Fortune 500. I prefer the ability to remain neutral because every client presents different facts and situations that you must apply your skill and experience to in order to add value.

Describe the skill sets that will be essential to future business leader and innovators.
Engineering, communication and financial skills are essential for entrepreneurs and business leaders. The ability to understand how to create, construct and manage anything is invaluable. Today’s engineers are expanding their skill sets that encompass a greater understanding and expansion of “design thinking.” The expanding technology about how we communicate is growing exponentially. A great leader will need to keep up with innovation and find new ways to incorporate how he or she communicates with their ecosystems to lead effectively. Lastly, the vast understanding of financial services and management will always remain influential for leader to be able to identify the best ways to add value to a business. These skills are essential now for business leaders and will remain important in the future.

Describe innovative methods you apply to your business and life.
Because my primary focus is the professional services industry, communication is one of the most important elements in my business. At Handprint Group, we try to incorporate up to date technology and innovation around our communication practices. From VOIP phones systems to CRM software, we are using technology to keep up with the growing client and project base.

Describe how you set goals and evaluate your success.
As much as we try to use technology to manage the company’s goals, we use a process call “vision mapping” to assist with setting our annual goals. It is best equated to the archaic vision board that are most familiar with personal goal setting. It has been something we have not done regularly in the past but we have increased using it. We evaluate our success by holding quarterly retreats with our partners and address our goals for the year during those times.

Name your favorite role models for success in two different industries.
My father was instrumental and greatly influential in my life. He raised me to work hard every day and connect whatever I was good at doing to giving back to society. My father was a public servant most of his life, serving as a judge for 23 years, including the Supreme Court of Alabama and finishing his career as a trial attorney representing the less fortunate. I followed in his footsteps constructing my career around assisting public servants and entrepreneurs, while impacting the community. I started Handprint Group in 2003 in order to bridge the gap between government, business strategy and capital advisory for clients. The business model targeted government, non-profits and entrepreneurs that did not have access to high level relationships, experience professional services and capital for their organizations. During my time at Howard Law School, it was repeatedly taught that we were more than lawyers, we would be social engineers. Those teachings were instilled in me and Handprint is engineered to provide social impact as a for profit company that provides access to organizations that ordinarily would not have it. I cherish this influence and role in my life.

Names three books that changed how you saw life that you would recommend to others.
Three recent books I have read are: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey; The 10x Rule by Grant Cardone and Traction by Gino Wickman.

These books are extremely helpful in sharing proven business practices that can help you operate more efficiently in your personal and business life. It assists in personal growth, development and confidence building.

Define why lifelong learning is important to you.
From my perspective, the only way to grow is to learn. The way we develop ourselves is through learning. It helps us to evolve. I think the saying, “it’s not important where you come from, its where you are going” is appropriate to the importance of lifelong learning. If you set goals in your life or business, you have to work toward them. Growth is the key and learning helps you grow. It is important for me to grow to be the best I can be.

Define your personal culture.
I would define my personal culture as hardworking, family focused and spiritually growing. As we all know, life is a journey and so is your personal culture. Ten years ago, your culture may have had the foundation principles of today but ultimately has evolved into what it is today to your benefit or detriment. I try to stay on the positive side and grow my culture to affect myself, family and friends, remaining flexible to evolve and integrate others positive attributes.

How does music impact and influence you?
For me music is an amenity for me. It is something I like but do not need. I have people in my life for whom music is part of their soul. Although I understand it, music does not impact me that way. I love that music has the ability to change moods and impact souls. With that, I respect it and honor it.

What’s your favorite vacation spot?
In the past few years, I have enjoyed Martha’s Vineyard as a vacation spot. In short, I like the ability to have some rest and relaxation time on the water but with the opportunity to be intellectually stimulated with familiar friends and family. There are so many culturally interesting activities such as film festivals to best-selling books signings that go on during the summer on the island. When my family thinks about going to other places for vacation, we always revert back to MV.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
Poverty. There are many issues in the world but I believe one of the largest is poverty. Poverty is so detrimental to society and communities around the globe that if I could change one thing it would be addressing poverty.

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