By Julia Duggan
Tracey Syphax, president and COO of Trenton-based Phax Group Construction and Design LLC, virtually visited the College on Nov. 18 to talk about his life experience and answer student questions about both professional and personal endeavors.
The event was organized by the TCNJ Entrepreneurship Club and TCNJ Spear.
“It was a very natural partnership between Spear and the Entrepreneurship club,” said Alex Perricone, a senior interdisciplinary business major and president of the TCNJ Entrepreneurship Club. “Syphax was definitely the best acclamation of what the two of us do.”
The conversation was also co-sponsored by the School of Business, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Pre-Law Society, Petey Greene TCNJ, Delta Sigma Pi, TCNJ Financial Management Association, Amnesty International, Men of Excellence, National Association of Black Accountants, Black Student Union, TCNJ NAACP, Freshman Class Council and TCNJ College Democrats.
“When I looked at those sponsors, I said ‘wow,’” said Syphax. “The thing is, I think I can give everybody, all the sponsors, a little something based off of my life story and where I've come from. So I definitely want to thank the sponsors and thank you for having me here.”
Syphax was named one of the 25 most influential African Americans in New Jersey in 2016. Additionally, he was part of Former President Barack Obama’s 2014 White House Champions of Change.
He was named Power Magazine’s person of the year in 2014. Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce named him entrepreneur of the year in 2011, the first African American in over 50 years to receive the award.
“The most impactful thing the speaker talked about in my personal opinion was his life story and how he was able to turn his life from negative to positive,” said Erik Karalis, a sophomore finance major.
The event started off with Syphax explaining that a lot of what allowed him to grow came from early experiences in his life. He grew up in Trenton and he explained in great detail how he fell into dealing drugs.
“I began to be in a point where I had to take care of my mother,” Syphax said. “My mother was in abusive relationships. I remember having to break them up in fights. He (mother’s boyfriend) was a very violent person when he got high. So I remember having to protect my mother at a very young age of 13 or 14. And then I had to take care of my mother as I was growing up. So that led me to the life with drugs.”
After being incarcerated, the pivotal point for him was when he was able to take a course in business while in jail. He then, in three years, built a business from the ground-up that became a multi-million dollar organization. Amidst his success, Syphax decided to create a course in entrepreneurship.
“This is why I do so much work in the criminal justice re-incarceration area because I recognize that when people come home, the majority of people that come home… come home with high hopes of doing the right thing,” he said. “They come home with high hopes of getting back with their family, getting back with a girlfriend, getting back with the children, finding a good paying job, having shelter, food and everything that they need to take care of themselves.”
Syphax had multiple examples to show the audience that there are a lot of leaders who end up being incarcerated and falling into this cycle of dealing drugs. As a result, he designed an entrepreneur course specifically for incarcerated people. It has now been adapted to be available online, allowing any incarcerated person to take the course at their own pace.
“He turned something that was awful and made it something incredible and better for the world and there is nothing more incredible and admirable than that,” Perricone said.
Syphax had several examples of people taking his course, creating a business plan through the course and moving on to a successful future.
“All through my life I always knew I was an entrepreneur,” Syphax said. “I always knew that I can actually run a legitimate business, so I quit my job and I started my first company. Kappa City Contracting Company and I grew Kappa City Contact Company from zero to 1.7 million in seven to eight years.”
Syphax first tested the program with a small group of people who were incarcerated. One of the top three finishers was able to implement his business plan in Washington, D.C. and now has a multimillion dollar contract with the city.
“I feel as though this is now my life purpose,” said Syphax. “I didn't go through everything that I went through to take what I have and not give it back. So we teach programs all over the country now; we did 1,000 inmates in Washington D.C. We actually took our program, and we actually created a secure platform where now we can beam into any prison securely in the world. We actually were in conversation with the United Kingdom last year about how we would be able to bring this entrepreneurship program there.”
The students were also able to ask Syphax questions regarding Syphax’s story and his view on entrepreneurship.
“I loved his energy around entrepreneurship as a path for anyone, anywhere, at any time, and how powerful of a force entrepreneurship can be in the world,” Perricone said.