From business pioneer to powerful leadership and strategy coach and consultant, Dr. Apollo Emeka’s life is dedicated to the art and science of self improvement in all its forms. Whether looking to accelerate personal or business growth, Dr. Apollo Emeka’s proven strategies not only catapulted him to entrepreneurial success but also empowered his clients to seek greater value and grow the pie so they can gain a large share of it. As with any endeavor, the results start with setting a vision, then aligning people and resources to follow through and achieve success. Along this path, Dr. Apollo Emeka introduces clients to his powerful, time-tested, battle-proven strategy that he calls the Prioritize, Leverage, and Execute System.
An established framework for driving results in business and elsewhere, these three key areas help keep you and your team on track to achieve success through distilling that into a series of understandable, knowable, and achievable goals. His goal-oriented, objective-based approach is directed at transforming and mastering circumstances to the greatest degree possible and is rooted in Dr. Apollo Emeka’s own life experiences rising from a high school dropout to earning his doctorate at USC. Drilling down even further into his focus on the team unit, Dr. Apollo Emeka is quick to note that he only takes on ambitious, growth-minded clients that need help getting to the next level.
This commitment to the journey is important because his methods are rigorous and designed to accelerate performance that is already at high levels. Towards this end, unlike most consultants that focus on time-based deliverables, Dr. Apollo Emeka focuses on long-term outcomes and building the infrastructure necessary to produce success.
Here, he looks for what makes teams tick, what drives them forward, and what, above all, makes their unique combination of talents a strength in their industry. In the end, he notes, true success comes from identifying and doubling down on what makes you unique. It is about unlocking the power of the individuals that make up the dynamic teams he coaches.
Dr. Emeka, can you start off by telling us how you started working as a “High-Performance Team Accelerator”? What does it mean to be a High-Performance Team Accelerator?
I built, scaled, and sold a business pretty quickly which had other folks asking me how I did it. My response to them: “It’s all about building a team with the right skills and systems in place to produce high-performance results.” As a high-performance accelerator, we help leaders do this on an individual basis and companies do this at scale.
Can you explain your coaching, the Prioritize, Leverage, and Execute System?
If you want to be wildly successful, you only have to do three things really well: Prioritize, Leverage, and Execute. The PLE System is a simple and powerful framework for achieving amazing business results. When our clients apply this simple system effectively, they become more successful in business and in life.
Prioritizing is all about knowing what must be done. It’s about identifying that really big goal you want to accomplish. Leveraging is about making that work (hitting those priorities) easy. Essentially Leverage launches your priorities. Executing is all about following through on those priorities to get it done. To put it simply, make it big, make it easy, and make it happen.
The heart of the PLE System is rooted in my journey from high school dropout to being successful in multiple dimensions. It was heavily influenced by my experience in the FBI, U.S. Army Special Forces, and entrepreneurship. Honing these concepts was also the focus of my doctoral work at USC and we continue to refine them with each client experience.
How did your work in the special forces and FBI help you prepare for a career in consulting?
In Special Forces, we’re tasked to accomplish difficult missions with limited resources and support. These circumstances teach you to prioritize and focus on what matters most and ignore the rest. It’s amazing what miracles you can pull off with duct tape and bubble gum when you’re focused enough.
My experiences in Special Forces also taught me the importance of becoming proficient in the skills necessary to do your job. We Green Berets pride ourselves in being “masters of the basics.” Success doesn’t come from being flashy, fancy, or arrogant. Success comes when you can do what’s required in your sleep. In Special Forces, it’s shoot, move, communicate. In football, it’s about blocking and tackling. In business, it’s about prioritizing, leveraging, and executing. Most companies have a hard time determining the key skills their people need to get really good at. Once they have determined those essential skills, it’s even harder to help everyone master them. Special Forces taught me how to absorb and transfer key skills like a beast.
In the FBI, I learned how to view an event from every angle, even if it hadn’t happened yet. On one day, I might need to consider what an attack on a mass gathering might look like and on the next day, I may be called to predict how a new policy change might make senior citizens vulnerable to financial crimes. It made me really good at understanding potential risks and threats to ambitious business goals. That way, we can come up with plans to mitigate the risks and ensure success.
How do clients get started working with you and what is the process like once you begin working together?
We’re like a business Special Forces team. We only partner with leaders and companies that have high ambitions and the commitment to see them through. We help solve big problems and seize big opportunities. So, first, we work with prospective clients to define the size of the challenges and opportunities they’re facing.
Prospective clients get a ton of value out of these early conversations because most leaders have a hard time estimating the cost of lost productivity or lost opportunity. Similarly, companies have a hard time deciding on ambitious financial or business performance goals. After these initial conversations, prospective clients are much more prepared to take on the challenges and opportunities that lie before them and, where it makes sense, we partner with them to make it happen.
There are a lot of people who work in the consulting and coaching sphere these days. What sets you apart from others in this industry?
We are your strategic thought and execution partners. Most consultants focus on deliverables, we focus on outcomes. If you want a consultant who will disappear after they drop a list of recommendations on your desk, and leave you with the challenges of implementation, then we’re probably not for you. We have a done-with-you approach that incorporates elements of coaching, consulting, and facilitating to help your team come up with rock solid ideas and see them through to fruition. We have awesome people, but we don’t claim to be the smartest in the room. We’re experts in drawing out the smarts from your people and turning them into reality.
We view every engagement as a change management initiative. The best ideas and the smartest recommendations in the world are meaningless if the right people are unable or unwilling to take action. We work alongside our clients to anticipate and clear obstacles so that plans can be successful.
Why do business men and women seek out high-performance coaches and how can they benefit from working with one?
The people who find me are often optimistic, ambitious, business leaders who commit to big ideas and quickly find themselves overwhelmed by the number of moving pieces and people they have to organize in order to be successful. Their calendars are packed, and much of their time is spent fighting fires so they can’t focus on the big strategic moves that really matter. In extreme cases, the ambitious leaders feel like the walls are closing in on them, from all sides– from the people that report to them, from their bosses, and from the market. They often think their lives would improve if they were better at time management, but I’ve found time and again that these situations call for priorities management.
A great high-performance coach helps leaders decide what’s important so they can blockout noise and distraction and then helps them leverage their resources against their priorities and execute successfully. The best coaches aren’t the ones who think they’re the smartest person in the room, they’re the ones who help bring the full potential out of the ambitious leaders they work with. The coaching clients I work with often experience benefits that extend beyond their business objectives.
The leaders I’ve worked with have been able to accomplish more at work while spending more time with their families (spouses have even thanked me for our work). Pick an industry: sports, business, public speaking, whatever, the top performers work with amazing coaches who can make them even better.
You began Apollo Strategy Group in 2016. What are some of the challenges you have faced as an entrepreneur since starting the company?
Apollo Strategy Group started with a request from a friend and fellow entrepreneur who watched me build, scale and sell a business very quickly. He wanted my help badly and offered to pay me for it. I was able to help him make some quick and significant gains in his business so I thought growing my company would be easy. As I worked to expand, I had a hard time deciding who my ideal clients were and exactly how to position myself. I felt like I had to blend in to be credible. You know, black suit, white shirt and tie, arms crossed, standing tall in a headshot.
I thought I had to tout my conventional accomplishments and downplay the thing that made me unique, and even a little weird. It didn’t help that I had a number of folks who I thought of as mentors and advisors discourage me from pursuing big goals and making more authentic choices. I finally had to stop going to them for advice and start creating opportunities that aligned with my unique background and experiences. My ability to get clients transformational results increased every time I leaned more into my authentic identity and values. So my business took off when I doubled down on my weirdness. An amazing bonus to being more authentic is that work began to feel a lot less like work and more so the natural pursuit of a passion. The business began making a bigger impact and becoming more successful while I was also enjoying it more and having more energy for life outside of the business. Now I help my clients do the exact same thing: grow their teams, dazzle their customers and live fulfilling personal lives all by doubling down on what makes them unique.
Dr. Emeka, you served in the Iraq War in the early 2000s. How did your time serving in the military focus you toward the future and starting your own business?
Like so many young people who join the service, I felt like the military was my best path from a very narrow set of options. I was a high school dropout and a bit of an emotional wreck after watching my mom lose a quick and ugly battle to pancreatic cancer in 2001 (I was 17). Just before I deployed overseas for the first time in 2004, I was living in my brother’s unfinished basement, skipping community college classes, and couldn’t get a job as a barista. I had no idea what it took to be successful at almost anything! Deploying blew my mind. It made me realize how big the world is and how much leadership matters. When the consequences of your actions are life and death, the opportunities for learning are immense. The war zone taught me some of the most important and enduring lessons about leadership, strategy, and life that I have ever learned. I didn’t get the idea to start my own business that first trip overseas, but it did lay the foundation for my ability to create successful businesses and help others do the same.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your business? Has there been a resurgence in the need for life and business coaches since then?
Our business grew dramatically during the pandemic. In the first weeks of the lockdown, some business leaders realized that we were on the front end of a paradigm shift. They knew that what had worked for them up until early March 2020 probably wouldn’t work moving forward. So there was a new hunger for unconventional, action-oriented strategies to become even more successful in the pandemic. People were especially receptive to my background as a Green Beret because we specialize in coming up with unconventional approaches to achieve massive wins in the most dire circumstances. So our clients also thrived through the pandemic.
The demand for personal and professional development has surged through the pandemic. Technology makes a lot of things easier but it also makes things a lot tougher. People and organizations need resources that help them account for the lack of live social interaction, the lack of spontaneity, and screen fatigue.
What is the future of Apollo Strategy Group?
The large consulting firms that have come to dominate the industry in the last hundred years did so primarily by driving efficiency. Efficiency just doesn’t cut it anymore. Business threats and opportunities change so fast that efficiency can easily become a liability. That’s why we don’t focus on driving efficiency. Instead, we help our clients create the capacity to drive change effectively, not just respond to it. Perfecting assembly lines is so last century.
Success now and in the future depends on continuously innovating to achieve product market fit. We believe that companies and lines of business led by women, people of color, and other diverse identities are ideally positioned as leaders who will usher in the next wave of American innovation. Apollo Strategy Group will be the main force in pushing this wave. Those are the leaders and companies we are ideally positioned to accelerate forward.
Dr. Emeka, how is a day in your life?
Okay, so yes, I’m one of those people who are up before 5am everyday. I like to get up early because I have the whole world to myself at this time. I use that time to get my mind and body right by exercising and reading. Once the rest of the house starts waking up, we spend time as a family hanging out and getting ready for the day. We have a three-year-old and a nine-month-old and they wake up with so much energy and passion for life. It’s awesome.
When I get to our headquarters in Old Pasadena, I typically start the day with a quick debrief and direction setting meeting with the team. I still get inspired by our office because it’s such a creative space. So the debrief might happen in our main event room or on our rooftop deck. On a typical day, I might have one or two coaching calls with a select group of folks that I work with one on one. In the one on one calls, we may tackle topics from the performance management of a sales team, how to secure $100M to fund a real estate deal, which features should be prioritized on important product development projects, or how to tackle a crippling fear of public speaking. I also spend a couple of hours a day with the team working to help our enterprise clients achieve large scale strategy performance and innovation initiatives. The rest of the time, I’m working to create and refine service offerings and support my team.
At the end of the day, I pick up my three-year-old from preschool, and head home for dinner and family time. I typically knock out at 9:30pm so I can be ready to tackle the day early again the next morning.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
My mom loved horses. When I was younger, we had a couple of them. I had a white pony with brown spots named Buzzy. When I was six-years-old, I saddled her up and competed in a barrel race. I don’t remember what place I got, but I do remember being completely surprised by how fast that pony went. I was holding on for dear life as she sped towards the finish line. When I close my eyes and imagine it, I can still see the lights on the ceiling of the arena zipping by as my head whipped up and down. I probably didn’t ride her many more times after that. I hung up my spurs at six so not many people know that’s something I’ve ever experienced.
Choose two of your favorite quotes and write them here.
“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda
“I never lost. I just ran out of time.” – Michael Jordan
If you had the power to change just one thing in the world, what would it be?
If I could wave a magic wand, and change the world in one way, I would boost everyone’s emotional intelligence. So many of the world’s problems would disappear if everyone had a superhuman ability to understand and manage their own emotions while intuiting and responding to everyone else’s emotions.
To learn more about Dr. Apollo Emeka, please visit https://www.apollostrategy.com