Allison Kugel: You’re working in Corporate America for Xerox. What gave you the power of belief to make the leap from a stable corporate job to pursue the music industry, with Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé, and then for Solange? Was it blind faith?
Mathew Knowles: I call that the “Jedi Mind Trick,” Allison. Unfortunately, that is the story that the media has painted and it’s not accurate. It’s not even close to being accurate. I worked at Xerox Corporation for ten years. For eight of those years, I worked at Xerox Medical Systems. We sold diagnostic imaging for breast cancer detection. Because of my success, being the number one sales rep worldwide for three years in that division, I was able to then go with Phillips Medical Systems to sell CT and MRI scanners. After 6 years of having success, I had headhunters calling and I went to Johnson & Johnson as a neurosurgical specialist. Then because of managed care, I was told by a neurosurgeon that he couldn’t use my instruments because of the cost associated with them. It was a defining moment and I had to decide what career path I wanted. As a kid I did things like deejay for my parents, I was in a boy band, and I had this passionate love of music. There was this young man in Houston who had asked me a couple of times to manage him. The first artist that I got a major record deal for was not Beyoncé. It was not Solange. It was a rapper named Lil’ O. MCA records was the number one urban record label at the time with Puffy, Mary J. Blige, and Jodeci, so you see how inaccurate that story is?
Allison Kugel: You got your foot in the door with MCA Records, managing rapper Lil’ O, prior to launching Destiny’s Child. We’re busting apart the myth right now.
Mathew Knowles: Yes (laughs). I also went back to school, because I believe knowledge is power. For 15 years I’ve been a college educator, and so I went back to college and took three courses. I went to every seminar I could. I began to build every relationship that I could. You have to understand, skills are transferable. I was able to transfer my skill of being the top salesman in corporate America to the music industry.
Allison Kugel: That’s important. People may not realize that whatever their skill set is, that experience is transferable and can be used to pursue additional opportunities or careers.
Mathew Knowles: If you talk to anyone that worked at Xerox or Phillips and knew me, they would say, “I’m not surprised he was successful in the music industry.” Then, of course, I had this amazing talent to work with. Let’s not leave that out of the equation (laugh).
Allison Kugel: Yes, you did. I don’t know if anyone has ever asked you this before, but did Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé, Solange, or you for that matter, ever experience any racism within the music industry?
Mathew Knowles: Yes, absolutely. In the ‘90s, record labels had their urban division, or sometimes it was called the Black music division. There was segregation inside of these major record labels. Because I also managed white artists, I got to see all of the budgets. There was a great difference in a Black artist’s or “urban division’s” marketing budget from that of a white artist’s budget and the regular pop music division’s budget.
Allison Kugel: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Mathew Knowles: When you live your passion, you never work a day in your life. Find that thing that motivates and inspires you. Find what adds fuel to your excitement. That is the thing we should be working towards. Not what our parents want us to be, or what society wants us to be, or what our husbands or wives want us to be. It should be that thing inside of us that we are passionate about. Normally, that gives us success, not an overnight success, but over time. If you follow your passion, every day you wake up you will be excited.
Allison Kugel: What do you think you came into this life to learn, and what do you think you came here to teach?
Mathew Knowles: It would be to educate and motivate people. I grew up poor, yet I never knew I was poor until I was in my mid-20s. My parents were such great parents that they never made me feel less fed than any other kid. I had wonderful parents that motivated me and supported me. I come from a family of entrepreneurs on both sides of my family, so I had that foundation. I have always wanted to educate and motivate people. That’s why I think I always did so well in sales and marketing because I understood how to motivate and educate with knowledge. I love coming from a place of knowledge. I don’t shoot from the hip. My dad made $30 a day driving a produce truck and convinced the company he worked for to let him keep the truck. He would then go tear down old houses and he would sell all the copper and metals. He would buy old cars that were abandoned and sell all the parts. My mother was a maid and she made $3 a day. She convinced the white woman she worked for and the woman’s white girlfriends to give her all their hand-me-downs, and on the weekends, she would make these beautiful quilts with two of her own girlfriends. My parents made six to ten times more on their second jobs than they did on their day jobs, and so I watched that. I watched them being entrepreneurs and thinking outside the box.
Allison Kugel: By the way, there is a strong connection between financial empowerment, a belief in one’s future, and the desire to look after one’s health, which I am sure you know.