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Jul 22, 2019 2019-07 Accountancy Alumni

Badu overcomes obstacles, aims to fund education for future business leaders

The obstacles facing Jeff Badu (ACCY ’14, ’15) may have been too much for the average person to overcome. But Jeff Badu is not your average person. Badu was born in Ghana, where he lived until he was eight years old. He and his family came to America for a better life in 2001, but his struggles were just beginning.

“We unfortunately landed in Uptown, which at the time was one of the worst places to be in all of Chicago,” said Badu. “We were surrounded by negativity and violence. I got sucked into that lifestyle and got involved with a negative group of people, and nearly went to jail. I needed a way to get out of that environment.”

Jeff Badu 2His opportunity to escape came during the summer after his sophomore year of high school. Badu was 16 years old. He spent that summer in Ghana with his mother and two sisters. The poverty and blight he witnessed there changed his life.

“My parents went through so much to get me to America,” he recalled thinking. “Why should I mess it up?”

That was when everything changed for Badu; but as he returned to Chicago’s Uplift High School for his junior year, the obstacles remained. No one from Uplift, where only 8% of students are proficient in math, had ever attended the University of Illinois. His class, which started with nearly 100 students, had dwindled to fewer than 70 by the time he graduated.

But Badu knew he had the tools to be successful. After that life-changing trip to Ghana, he got out of the negative groups, surrounded himself with better people, and became a ‘straight A’ student. He knew he wanted to study business, but there was one more major obstacle to overcome when it came to picking a university. The cost.

“I was 80% sure I was going somewhere else,” said Badu. “But when the University of Illinois came through with financial aid, I knew it was the school for me. I had to go there.”

Although he did earn some academic scholarships on his way to earning a bachelor of science in accountancy in 2014, Badu predominately relied on need-based aid, saying he was “always one of the first ones to apply.” By the time he graduated with a master of accounting science degree in 2015, he had no student loans remaining.

“The scholarships made a huge impact on me,” he said. “Graduating with a bunch of student loans would’ve been an enormous burden on my shoulders. Instead of focusing on academics, I would’ve had to focus on ways to pay back all my student loans.”

Free to fully focus on his future, Badu has enjoyed immediate success. After spending one year at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Badu started his own tax firm, Badu Tax Services. That company is now a multinational conglomerate that does tax preparation, planning, and representation for individuals and businesses across all 50 states. He also started Badu Investments, which acquires residential and commercial real estate in efforts to restore traditionally underserved areas.

Badu says he developed his entrepreneurial spirit from his parents, who are both entrepreneurs themselves. His experience at Gies College of Business taught him to how to turn that spirit into success in the business world. In fact, he built his first business plan for his tax firm as a freshman at Illinois in 2010. A year later, as a sophomore, he started a business plan for his real estate company.

“My accounting, consulting, and marketing courses all led me to start my own business,” said Badu. “It also helped me develop the skills to thrive in the business world. Things like etiquette, how to appropriately present myself, how to be a better business person when you’re conducting meetings, hosting dinners and happy hours. The U of I taught me how to best represent myself in those environments.”

Those lifelong career skills are ingrained into the curriculum at Gies College of Business, teaching students to go beyond traditional accounting or finance knowledge. He honed his leadership and communication skills at Gies, where he joined the National Association of Black Accountants, Illinois CPA Society, CORE Mentoring Program, the African Cultural Association and many more.

“I knew leadership and communication were valuable skills, but I had no idea how valuable they would become. Those people skills are must-haves in order to be successful today. If you’re out on a golf course with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, your accounting knowledge will only take you so far. The people skills will be the key to landing business partnerships.”

Badu isn’t resting on his success. He is motivated to give back and ensure others have the same opportunities he was afforded. As treasurer of the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants, he is proud to award scholarships to minority students pursuing a degree in accounting. He is also preparing to launch his own foundation, which he plans to use to give out millions of dollars in scholarships.

“I feel that if I’m able to help offer scholarships, I’m helping people fund their education,” he said. “And if they know they’re in line to get a great education, it might motivate them to stay off the streets as well.”