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Realizing that education was the key to a better future for his family, Dr. Jacinth Agbolou Kokou, left his African home to pursue new opportunities in America.

Jacinth Agbolou Kokou, DM ’11, knows great sacrifice. Growing up in Togo, Africa, and despite being armed with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in economic science from the University of Benin, Kokou knew he had to come to America.

The social, political and economic instability in Africa led to a dearth of opportunities for the educated, which motivated Kokou. So, despite being a newlywed of a year, in 1996, he left his wife and baby daughter behind and came to the United States to make a way for his family. He and his family would be separated for 10 years before being reunited in America.

Even though he only saw his wife and daughter once a year or every two years and sent money back to support them, Kokou has never regretted the decision. “The United States of America offered unique opportunities to further my education and to have a career. My kids (he now has two daughters, ages 16 and 4) will have a better chance to succeed,” he says.

Knowing that education was the key to his success, Kokou, a native French speaker, immediately began an English language course at the University of Delaware and then transferred to Rutgers University Program of American Language Study.

Starting out

After two years learning English, Kokou began his career in retail as a shipping assistant with Mirage Inc. before spending three years in progressively higher positions with Retailers & Manufacturers. In 2003, he joined Macy’s and has been with the company ever since. Today, Kokou is Director of Financial Reporting & Forecasting for Macy’s Logistics & Operations. He is responsible for 17 distribution centers nationwide.

In his role, Kokou compiles data for all key performance indicators that show trends in performance. He takes that raw data and puts it into a matrix that senior officials use to make a wide variety of business decisions.

“There have been several occasions where our reports helped senior management make key decisions,” says Kokou. “We have a weekly rolling operating forecast system that gives the senior management team more visibility to take appropriate and timely actions.”

The reports allow for Macy’s to make optimum decisions, flex its gross expense and improve productivity through better staffing in order to increase overall performance.

Forecasting in retail is a hot career choice this decade. “It’s important because of the ongoing fast pace changes in today’s economy,” says Kokou. “Organizations need to anticipate the future so they can design a suitable strategy to gain a competitive edge or keep their momentum.”

Some of the broad industry trends Kokou is seeing in retail include growing consumer confidence reflected by increasing sales, and the shift from traditional brick-and mortar sales to online sales.

Continuing education

Education drew Kokou to America and it has since been his calling. He credits his mentor Dr. Gerald Wright, a director of operations at Federated Logistics and Operations, with persuading him to pursue his Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership degree.

In Africa, Kokou only had one choice for higher education. Consequently, he experienced overcrowded classrooms, lack of seats for every student and no flexibility because teachers were scarce. The University of Phoenix was quite a different experience. “I had flexibility, thanks to the hybrid education of taking classes at the campus and online, which allowed me to keep my job and afforded me the luxury of getting a higher education at the same time,” he says. “The support of the faculty and cohorts was always there.”

Kokou’s doctoral thesis centered on the relationships between emotional intelligence competencies and job satisfaction among employees of a retail distribution center within the context of organizational change.

“Emotional Intelligence is the ingredient that enables individuals to effectively manage themselves and interact with others to perform to their full potential,” explains Kokou. “In today’s ever changing workplace, we are required not just to be adaptive and flexible to [the job’s] demands, but also to send a message that resonates with others. Without these skills, we may miss critical personal and business opportunities. I use EI to understand and manage my own emotions and those of others to improve performance.”

Forecasting in retail is a hot career choice. “Organizations need to anticipate the future so they can gain a competitive edge.” Jacinth Agbolou Kokou, DM ’11

Looking forward

While a doctorate isn’t a requirement for his position at Macy’s, Kokou says he is always looking forward and knows that his knowledge in organizational leadership will allow him to pursue opportunities in his field and to explore his goal to become an academic, conducting research and teaching at the university level. It’s been quite a journey for this boy who grew up in Togo and made enormous sacrifices to get where he is today.