When one door closes: Alumna creates her own pathway to success after setback
Altimese Nichole Curry (B.S.’07/MC) is a South Carolina-based author and CEO of Altimese Nichole Enterprise LLC, a digital strategy company providing social media advertising and management, brand publicity and communications support and leader of the VCU Alumni Lowcountry Chapter. She returned to campus for Homecoming, Nov. 7-9, and took over our Instagram account on Nov. 8 to share her time at the events.
Why did you choose VCU, and what was your experience like at the university?
I applied to four schools, and VCU was my top choice. I fell in love with its diversity and its passion for the arts. I remember the day my mom took me to tour the campus and my heart leaped with confirmation. I looked at her and told her I had found my university.
During my four years, I was very intentional with school, worked hard and played harder and met some of the most amazing people in my life. My friends from college are still my friends now. We love and support each other without judgement on the time in between phone calls. As our roles and responsibilities expanded, so did our grace on friendship expectations.
It’s a time in my life that I hold dear to my heart, and if I could do it all over again, I would, and I wouldn’t change anything in the chapters.
What sparked your interest in marketing and branding?
I majored in broadcast journalism and left Richmond three weeks after graduation to move to Atlanta. I wanted to work at Cartoon Network. I had no idea how it was going to happen and I had no job lined up, but I had no doubt that I would fulfill that dream.
I thought that I would be working in programming, and I entered into the brand of Turner through CNN’s public relations department. It was the best, and most unexpected, shift in my career. I learned quickly to be strategic about my moves while being open to new possibilities. My foundation of PR taught me the industry side of advertising. When I decided to shift to marketing, it gave me a unique perspective because I could convey a message to industry peers and consumers while understanding the differences required.
Social media fell into my lap. No one wanted to use it when I started out and would say, “Altimese, do you want to run the social media?” My answer was always yes. I had a mentor early in my career that told me to take the things no one wants and master those things. It’s precisely what I did, and it’s been one of the most powerful skills that helped me grow my career.
How did you come to open your own business?
I started my business in 2016 and around the same time I started writing my first book, Brandticity: The Power of Branding Through Authenticity . My initial plan was to become influential in corporate America, and I made it my mission to break stereotypes and stigmas about people and women who look like me. That same year, I was offered a role as a director of social media with a creative agency in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
I soon realized that the barriers to success were deeply rooted because of a lack of education on cultural differences. I recall an employee coming into my office, gently closing the door and thanking me for wearing my hair natural, which gave her permission to do the same. If I’m honest, I thought to myself, “If only I had done it sooner, regardless of the stares and off-putting comments.”
The layoff [from the creative agency] was so unexpected, but as I received the news, I heard in my heart as clear as an audible voice that “it’s not what it looks like, it’s not what it seems.” I remember the senior vice president and HR representative crying as they presented me with a severance package. I kept my head high, and no tears fell. I was grateful for the opportunity, and all I could give in that moment was gratitude.
I went in at 9 a.m. and was home by 11 a.m. with my things from the office. I spoke with my husband and immediately shifted gears and focus. I would be lying, and giving a false perception of myself, if I failed to acknowledge the feeling of falling without knowing when you will hit the ground. I am in awe that I still haven’t hit the ground. I think somewhere along the way I started using wings that I never knew existed.
What’s your favorite part of your job as CEO of Altimese Nichole Enterprise?
My favorite part of it is that it’s mine. I never wanted to be a full-time entrepreneur; I wanted something “stable and secure” where I could essentially build additional streams of income. In February of this year, I quickly realized that stability doesn’t exist unless it’s yours. My layoff was an unexpected blessing that allowed me the freedom to build my agency from two clients to more than 10 in eight short months. I’ve met some of the most remarkable people, and my brain is still in shock at times from the sudden, beautiful shift in my life.
I want to show my daughter that there’s nothing that can stop her and that she can build [a business] on her own if she wants to just like her mom and dad. It’s a pleasure to work with amazing entrepreneurs and small business owners and develop my team while maintaining a focus on strengthening my processes and business structure so I can continue to grow.
Do you have any advice for students wanting to break into branding?
Always be authentic to who you are while understanding that perception is reality; the view others hold of you is their reality of you and it matters. It doesn’t matter in shaping who you are as a person, but it does matter when considering the opportunities you’ll be offered. In your career, you have something called P.I.E.: performance, image and exposure. Your performance accounts for 10% of your career growth, image is 30% and exposure is 60%.
Consider yourself as a representation and hold yourself to a standard of excellence, and don’t be afraid to make your own lane! I have friends who make my former annual salary in one day through online courses and other avenues of passive income online. As an entrepreneur and small business owner, P.I.E. still applies but it is in a parallel path that’s filled with other like-minded business owners and your success is in your hands and not someone else’s.
Accept life’s curveballs. They’ll feel like a game of dodgeball, but each hit will propel you to greatness if you surrender to the process.
– Interview conducted by Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC).