Thirty years ago, at the age of 23, Jeff Henderson was sent to federal prison for drug trafficking. Today a nationally renowned chef, Henderson offered the credit union crowd a keynote address illustrating his path from the streets to success.
While in prison, Henderson had the chance to interact with white-collar criminals who were educated and read the Wall Street Journal – a world Henderson had never experienced, having grown up in poverty. The lesson he gleaned from them, he explained, was that many of the skills he had learned as a drug dealer – including profit and loss, management, leadership and more – were transferable.
"Those business traits I honed on the streets, what I didn't realize was those were transferrable skills," he explained. "What I didn't realize is selling is selling, and the only difference is the product...The final 'a-ha!' moment for me was during that moment when [another inmate] said 'change the product, transfer those natural skill sets into a legitimate revenue stream.' A light came on [and] I said 'This is what separates the haves from the have-nots!'"
The key, he explained, was finding his gift – not his passion, but his gift. That occurred when Henderson was put on the kitchen crew and got to experience not only cooking, but ingredients he had never had before. He eventually became the head inmate cook, and after his release in 1996 he began meeting other chefs who helped him hone his skills and learn more about the profession. And as his career grew, he made sure to surround himself with those who could teach him and help him improve his skills while he helped them in their own careers. Years later, after publishing a book about his journey from being a drug dealer to a chef with a prison stint in between, he was invited on the "Oprah" show, after which he became a celebrity who today has published multiple books and hosted a variety of TV shows.
"Discover your gift and become passionate about the gift and the talent God blessed you with and success will be almost guaranteed," he said.