The Chief Inspiration Officer

Winter 2016

Devin Hughes ’91

Devin Hughes illustrated as a super hero

Devin Hughes as illustrated in his comic The Crusaders.

As Americans engage in dialogue about diversity, Devin Hughes ’91 is facilitating conversations for a range of groups, from kindergarteners to corporate staff.

A professional speaker, author, and executive coach, Hughes has embraced his nickname “the Chief Inspiration Officer.” He freely admits, though, that he wasn’t always so inspirational. “I was a horrific student,” he said. “I had so much self-doubt.” He explained that the root of his unease was that “my father’s black, my mom’s white, so for most of my life, I never felt like I fit in.”

Following graduation, a series of circumstances led to Hughes’s “awakening.” The first was the chagrin he felt over his poor academic performance. Then his mom passed away. Finally, after cycling through an estimated 25 unfulfilling jobs, Hughes decided that “something’s got to change.” In 2011, he began writing Contrast: A Biracial Man’s Journey to Desegregate His Past (Writers of the Round Table Press). The yearlong catharsis turned into a career: “My book forced me to confront some of my demons, and I’ve used that to help others deal with some of their issues,” he explained.

Through his company, Devin C. Hughes Enterprises, he is hired by organizations to bring employees together and improve morale. Happiness is an area that’s “really, really hot right now,” Hughes emphasized. His work in positive psychology started when he worked in sales, because he’d often share uplifting messages, articles, and videos with his team — which is how he earned his moniker.

Today, Fortune 1000 companies also bring Hughes on board to lead diversity workshops and training. “We’ll map out [timelines] to foster real-world behavior change,” he explained. “We create cross-pollination through new work streams and new work groups.” In addition, Hughes explores stereotypes and unconscious bias with clients. To shine a light on biases — without casting judgment — he’ll facilitate roleplaying or create a flip chart on which people list stereotypical characteristics of different groups. “It’s uncomfortable,” he said. But, “If we can knock down some of these self-imposed beliefs and barriers, people will come together; then, trust, respect, collaboration, and productivity improve.” There can be a whole cultural transformation, he added, “which is fascinating, especially with the backdrop of everything that’s happening right now with race.”

Outside the boardroom, Hughes unpacks social issues for the younger generation with his books and comics (which he writes and a friend illustrates). His newest release, Moon Patrol, teaches the importance of heterogeneity. Hughes has previously tackled such topics as bullying and self-esteem as well as more controversial subjects like police bias and the Confederate flag. He’s currently working on a coloring book series titled Agents of Change; the first edition will profile 14 African Americans.

“I want to create kids books that reflect them, so they can look at their heroes and see themselves in literature — especially for kids of color,” he explained.

His own four daughters with wife Suzanne (Bowen) ’91 (whom he met at Colgate and, like him, was a basketball player) provide Hughes with a more informed perspective on youth. “They definitely have given me an appreciation for growing up in the new now of 2015,” he said.

As for his internal struggle, Hughes said, “I still have my insecurities and my warts, but I don’t hide from them anymore.”

Now that he’s more comfortable in his skin, he’s passing the positivity onto others: “I get jazzed up dealing with people, helping them come out of their shell and realize they can be more than they ever thought they could be.”

— Aleta Mayne