Position: Director, Global Virtual Sales - Middle East, Africa, Russia and CIS
Location: London, England
Years at Cisco: 17
Tunji Akintokun has traveled to six Summer Olympic Games since 1984, missing only one in recent times. And he had a pretty good reason for missing the 2008 Games in Beijing – the recent birth of his son Tyrell. But when Tunji travels to Rio de Janeiro next summer for the 2016 Olympic Games, it will not be a spectator, but rather as a Cisco Olympian and a participant in the official Torch Relay on behalf of Cisco.
“I was gobsmacked!” Tunji says of finding out that he had been selected for this honor. “The Olympics is something so special, and it means so much to me in so many different ways. To represent the company I love working for and care about is a deep honor.”
Tunji’s connection to the Olympic Games began long ago. He grew up in an under-invested neighborhood in London that is just a stone’s throw away from the current site of the Olympic Park. As a young boy from a disadvantaged background, Tunji was not exposed to many opportunities, until the day that representatives from IBM came to his school for a demonstration and presentation. As an 11-year-old, Tunji decided then and there to pursue a career in engineering – and has striven every day since to go ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ in order to make that dream a reality.
“I only needed that one engagement to set my life’s path,” Tunji says. “That has given me the energy and the passion to make sure I provide that engagement opportunity to other children. It’s so important to ensure that less advantaged individuals have the chance to engage with large companies, and know what is available to them in order to reach their full potential.”
With that passion to pay it forward driving him, Tunji – along with the support of Cisco – founded a collaborative social enterprise called Your Future, Your Ambition (YFYA). The initiative, which was launched at Cisco House during the London Olympic Games, aims at inspiring, exciting and engaging more schoolchildren and students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Created in 2012, YFYA is now one of the largest STEM initiatives of its kind in the United Kingdom.
Through his work over the past 20+ years mentoring young, diverse talent from mainly disadvantaged backgrounds, Tunji has certainly touched the lives of many more than just one child. In addition to his work with YFYA, Tunji also sits on the board of Teach First – one of the largest education non-profits in the UK, which strives to remove inequalities in education for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
For his extensive work with mentoring, as well as YFYA, Tunji was awarded the 2015 National Diversity Award and named one of GQ Magazine’s 100 Most Connected Men in the UK. And now, he can add to his list of accolades – Torch Bearer at the 2016 Olympic Games.
For an Olympic fanatic such as Tunji, the opportunity is almost incomprehensive. He was in attendance for Usain Bolt’s record-breaking performance in the 100-meter finals at the 2012 Games in London, and says the magic of that evening has been hard to surpass. But this might just do it.
“I love this company,” says Tunji, who has been at Cisco for almost 17 years. “It’s been good to me. Just when you think it can’t get any better… to get this [opportunity] was very emotional. I really did want it. This is a chance to realize your dreams and be recognized for things I do from the heart and I enjoy doing.”
Humble to the last, Tunji says he simply hopes his story inspires young people to see that anything is possible through education. His two children - Niah (10) and Tyrell (8), along with his wife Lorna – are his motivation to leave the world better than he found it.
“My role as a parent is to give them an education and make sure they use that education to give back, help others and have an impact on this world,” Tunji says.
When he accepts the torch in Brazil, he will do so proudly representing the thousands of children who have gone through YFYA and been engaged and inspired to pursue a career in STEM. And while the 800 meters may be far from the longest run he has ever taken – he completed the 2014 London Marathon and raised more than 4,000 British pounds for charity – it certainly will be the most meaningful.