How growing up in an intellectual household helped set Charles Adu Boahen up for success

Former Ghanaian finance minister Charles Adu Boahen has found success in his academic life, the private sector, and in government. A graduate of the University of Southern California and Harvard Business School, he has also been an investment banker in the US, Johannesburg and his home country of Ghana. In part, Charles Adu Boahen credits his success to his upbringing in an intellectual household.


The foundation for Charles Adu Boahen’s success was intellectual curiosity at an early age 

Charles Adu Boahen grew up in what he calls an intellectual household, where his dad was a professor, teacher and historian at Ghana’s premier university. 


“It was an environment where there was always a healthy debate going on at the dinner table, but then also, it was an environment where we were encouraged to read. So I feel like I started reading from a fairly young age, and really enjoyed reading. It was a form of escapism for me,” Charles Adu Boahen said in a recent interview.


But what he didn’t realize was that all that reading and intellectual conversation was was also a way to expand his vocabulary as well as really become knowledgeable about a wide variety of things, which he said have served him quite well in hindsight.


“It’s quite interesting when you are in a meeting and somebody uses some idiomatic expression or some analogy in reference to some piece of literature or writing, and you happen to know exactly what he’s talking about, because you read it,” Charles Adu Boahen said.


He recalls his time in college in the United States as a young twenty-something student.


“We used to play Trivial Pursuit. I used to work part-time in the fundraising team, where I would call USC alumni trying to raise money. And as part of getting people to engage, we used to play this Trivial Pursuit game in between calls,” Charles Adu Boahen said. “The questions were so random, and everybody was so amazed at how I could answer some of the questions. My colleagues were looking at me and saying, ‘This guy just came in from Africa. How does he know all this stuff?’ But it was just because I used to read a lot.”


Charles Adu Boahen’s insatiable reading appetite helped him get a job

What Charles Adu Boahen read was wide and varied – not the things being taught in the classrooms in Ghana. His intellectual upbringing, combined with his insatiable appetite for reading as a child helped him in terms of being able to bridge the cultural divides in various countries, thinks Charles Adu Boahen.


“You’re very comfortable engaging with somebody in the boardroom in the United States. You can speak their language and you’ve read the same books they have read through school, so when they provide some kind of analogy, you know exactly what they mean. The same applies when you’re in London or South Africa, or wherever it may be,” said Charles Adu Boahen.


Even casting his mind back to his first job interviews when he was just out of college, Charles Adu Boahen recalls one or two other Africans in his class who he said really struggled with trying to get past not only the language barrier, but also connecting with the interviewers.


“I’d get a job offer and a lot of them wouldn’t. A couple of these guys were actually a lot smarter than me. And I remember there was this one guy who was in my chemical engineering program who I used to literally just stick to, because he was a super smart student. And he came out of school with 3.7 GPA, whereas I was about a 3.0 GPA, and he couldn’t get a job because he couldn’t transition from that book smartness to the personal skills-type, communication-type smartness,” said Charles Adu Boahen. “It’s one thing to have a brilliant idea. It’s a different thing to communicate that idea and let the other guy on the other side understand exactly what you’re saying and feel like you’re talking their language.”


Charles Adu Boahen on the difference between book smart and learned experience

Charles Adu Boahen thinks there’s a subtle difference between learning and education, and growing up in an intellectual household helped him intuitively understand the difference. 


“Where education is the formal roots, learning is more about experiences. It is a much wider set of attributes and experiences that contribute to that process. And some of them may be in the classroom and some of them may be outside of the classroom. Some of them may be in your personal life, some of them may be in your professional life,” said Charles Adu Boahen, adding that his time in politics and government brought that insight to the fore for him. “You realize that you have to really think about a myriad of things in terms of when you’re trying to understand what your purpose is as a politician or as a government official. Whereas if you’re in the capital markets or pure, private sector, the motivations are totally different. There’s a profit-driven motivation, you’re trying to maximize the return for your shareholders. They’re totally focused on the bottom line.”


Whereas in government, your shareholders are the people, and there’s a common denominator, that you have to make sure that everybody at least can get – whether it’s healthcare or three meals a day on the table or basic education – you have to have a different type of intellect than just book smart to problem solve.


“You realize that the book learning alone is not enough for you in that environment,” said Charles Adu Boahen. “You have to bring other things to bear in order to really be able to provide or deliver what you need to deliver. That’s why I feel like, yes, education is important, but it’s only as important as how you sort of translate it into real life.”


Read More On Wordsjournal