Rodney Gullatte Jr. is president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce, a certified ethical hacker (he’ll explain), CEO of Firma IT Solutions, on the board of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC and the Colorado Springs Conservatory — the list goes on.
On April 12 at Almagre, he’ll talk with Managing Editor Helen Lewis about his journey to leadership, today’s challenges and a whole lot more. (Find tickets below.)
Rodney Gullatte Jr. has been in Colorado Springs for only seven years, but he’s made a big impact.
As founder, president and CEO of Firma IT Solutions, he provides businesses with critical cybersecurity and IT services.
As president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce, he has rebuilt that 30-year-old organization from the ground up to work on behalf of Black businesses and their supporters — and to transform this community into something better.
A native of Marietta, Georgia, Gullatte is an Air Force veteran and a certified ethical hacker, and he’s always been a tireless advocate for community-building, supporting businesses, promoting equity, and closing gaps. So when he came to Colorado Springs from Key West, Florida in 2015, he got right to work.
“The first week I got here, I joined the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance,” he recalls, “and I became an ambassador with the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC.” He’s been making bold moves and breaking barriers ever since.
In 2020 Gullatte was the first Black president in the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs’ 104-year history; he was honored with the 2020 Mayors Young Leader Award; and last year he was a Colorado Governor’s Fellow. He serves on the board of directors for the Chamber & EDC, Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, and Colorado Springs Conservatory — and in every organization he throws his energy into collaboration and change.
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What attracted you to the IT field?
Video games. I’d play games like Oregon Trail and Zork and Jungle Book [on an Apple IIe]. My mom … ended up buying a Compaq Presario 954C and made me read the MS-DOS 6.22 book. I just started trying out commands, seeing what they did. And whenever they would do something or break something, I would reverse my way out. I just kept doing that for a long time. I started learning about viruses. I really got interested in that.
In 1992 I went on the internet, I looked at how much people get paid that work on computers. (I was 12 years old.) I’m also a musician. I grew up as a youth minister of music in the AME church. I play piano or keyboard, sax, trumpet, drums, read, write and play by ear. The music was really big; I competed in a lot of talent shows.
So I had a choice — either go in and make this guaranteed money or go into music and take a higher risk. I chose the computer thing. My first job out of high school was doing Y2K compliance for Lotus Notes for Emory Healthcare. So I was 18 with that job, while a lot of my other friends were bagging groceries or working at McDonald’s.
I’m still an avid gamer.
Why do you think it’s important for a leader to engage in volunteer activities?
You know, there’s more to life than just making money. And the legacy you leave — for many of us, ain’t going to be a money legacy, it’s going to be, how were you able to change the fabric of society? How were you able to erase hate? How were you able to bring people closer together? And you find a lot of that in your community service. It’s the law of reciprocity, you know — give and you’ll receive; sow your seeds and you’ll reap. … And when people talk about networking — those boards you sit on — that’s a new network right there. Talk to those people; see what they need, see how they’re doing. I’m always thinking about that: How can I use what I have access to and work with other people to make it better for everybody?
Let’s talk about the role of the Black Chamber.
I don’t know the last time we’ve had Black-owned businesses have commercials shown on movie theater screens. We’ve been able to facilitate something like that. We did movie screenings for The Woman King and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. … The next movie we’re going to do is Creed III, and then The Little Mermaid.
I want to do something different that my other chambers of commerce aren’t doing. This organization was rebuilt from scratch in January . And the team — which is the most important thing that’s behind this — we are all committed to the equity and the diversity and inclusion of not just our people, but everybody.
These are institutionalized systems in place. So if you’re going to break a system, it starts with education. It starts with economics. It starts with a very hard push, a relentless push to fight against those things — and a Black Chamber of Commerce. Our job is to help our people, and people who want to be associated with us understand that we can break those systems for the betterment of everyone — that if we’re all up here [at the top], think how much better we’ll be as a country.
What characteristics does a successful leader need to have?
You need to be a good listener. You need to be empathetic. You need to have a balance of caution and fearlessness. You need to surround yourself with good leaders as well. While you’re out doing your impactful work and your community leadership, be looking around at other people who are also leaders, and when you’re looking for a team, call those people.
Courage is another thing that you need to have a leader, because it’s scary when you see Club Q, it’s scary when you see De’Von Bailey. When you think of what happened in the past, with our own federal government targeting the leaders who were trying to move this country into a positive direction — you know, racism has just evolved, and [now] you’ve got people that don’t want you to know the full history of the country.
How would you characterize your own leadership style?
I put value in others more than I do myself, and I know I don’t have to be in charge to be a leader. If I just do something that sets a good example, people will start to follow you.
I think of all the people that came before me like Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.], Malcolm X, and [Barack] Obama, and [Marcus] Garvey, James Baldwin, and Angela Davis — they went through a lot harder struggles than I’m having to go through, but they set me on a path to be able to take the next step further. So leadership for me is like an obligation. It’s never about me. It’s always about the other people around me. So I’m cool being in charge and cool not being in charge. Whatever is needed, whether that’s in charge or being a worker bee or being a planner, I just get it done.