Crummer Connections Podcast & Video Series: Tadar Muhammad MBA’17
Tadar Muhammad shares powerful business insights with Crummer Connections
August 24, 2020
Tadar Muhammad is the Senior Vice President of Workforce Development at Home Builders Institute, which serves to advance and provide education, career development, training, and placement of men and women serving the building industry. In this interview with J.B. Adams of Crummer Connections, he shares how HBI creates value during this challenging time, describes early business influences, and explains how getting his MBA made a difference in his career and his life.
Part 1: Tadar Muhammad at Home Builders Institute
Home Builders Institute is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1968 as part of the National Association of Home Builders. Its headquarters are located in Washington, D.C., but Muhammad conducts his role in central Florida.
J.B. Adams: Let’s talk about HBI and what you do there. What’s the mission?
Tadar Muhammad: The mission is to change lives every day by educating, inspiring, and preparing individuals for careers in the building industry. That’s what we do every day.
J.B. Adams: I’m very intrigued by your title because you don’t see a lot of senior VPs of workforce development. What does that mean for your role?
Tadar Muhammad: Day-to-day, I oversee the operations and execution of contracts that we have across the country that are specific to various populations. Those populations include individuals that are transitioning out of the military, veterans, justice-involved youth and adults, secondary and post-secondary schools, and then community programs, programs that are just in the community, that are taking in students every day. The overarching issue of what we do is to help them prepare to be a better workforce overall, particularly in the building industry.
This interview was conducted in mid-June of 2020, a time when organizations were responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
J.B. Adams: How are these crises affecting your business?
Tadar Muhammad: We work with a population of students that come from various backgrounds. And so our opportunity in all of this, through the pandemic as well as social unrest and injustice, is providing them an opportunity to become gainfully employed. For those that are unemployed, we help them find employment, provide them with training, and place people in jobs. And so, obviously, if there are challenges with that, as the unemployment rate goes up, as things start to challenge within our community, that affects what we do every single day. So it has a dramatic and direct effect on our work and our students that we serve across the country.
J.B. Adams: And you operate as a nonprofit. So are these crises affecting how you get the funding to in order to continue?
Tadar Muhammad: No doubt about it. As states and locals start to constrict their budgets, that has a direct effect on whether our contracts are funded or not funded because those priorities shift. The same is true for private unrestricted funding opportunities. They slim because they’re looking at priorities that are different than what we might have within the organization.
J.B. Adams: Did you have a backup plan ready in place for situations like this, or are you adapting on the fly as everyone else is?
Tadar Muhammad: A little bit of both. So there’s an unknown, and based on that unknown we did some projections and we worked on our projections every month. I talk to my CEO every week and we strategize on a regular and consistent basis with our board. But frankly, there are so many unknowns that we are, to some degree, working and trying to figure out things as we go. But also, I think that we’ve been successful in the fact that we’re strategic enough to keep thinking about what the future is beyond the pandemic. What were we going to accomplish, long term, is still what we do every day.
J.B. Adams: Excellent. You’ve been with his organization for 18 years. Tell us what you love about being the senior V.P. of workforce development.
Tadar Muhammad: Oh, it’s the ability every day to be able to wake up and know that you’re changing someone’s life. That someone is coming to your program and they are learning a skill that they can use for the rest of their life. And not only that, you have the staff that is often eager to support the same thing. They want nothing more but to see these individuals get a job and be able to self sustain themselves in the future.
To me, that is what I love about my job. It changes every day. It’s not the same. There are new challenges every single day. That helps me to not focus on one thing, but to continue to work to improve the lives of others. I mean, our slogan basically is “building careers and changing lives.” And I think that’s what we do. So that, in and of itself, is everything for me, because I believe that to be true in my personal life. But I also believe that in my work every day.
Part 2: Tadar Muhammad’s Backstory and Early Career
Tadar Muhammad was born on the south side of Chicago and grew up in Orlando, Florida. In sharing his backstory, he describes the early experiences and influences that shaped his approach to business.
J.B. Adams: So let’s go back to the very beginning. What kind of business examples where you exposed to as a young person?
Tadar Muhammad: My mom was a manager for Ponderosa [restaurants]. And my dad was always an entrepreneur. He has constantly had three or four different jobs at every moment. You can guarantee that he was working in various jobs, but a lot of it was in journalism. You know, he was a photographer … a lot of gigs all the time. My stepfather was a police officer as well. And so all I knew was that work ethic. You got up every day to make sure that you took care of your family. You go to work, you provide the very best you can. Having a job means that you’re always able to be self-sufficient in that regard.
My mother sacrificed everything for her children. That’s how I ended up in Florida to begin with. My whole family was in Illinois, and she said, “I want better for my children. I’m going to move them away from the south side of Chicago and I’m going to move them to Orlando.” So that sacrifice is what I hold dear every single day. She was working for Ponderosa, she had gotten a promotion and it was either Tampa or Orlando. Orlando won and that’s how we got here.
One of Muhammad’s earliest jobs as a young person was in a front-line position at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. His career lesson came when he was let go for attendance issues.
J.B. Adams: My philosophy is, if you’re the wrong fit for a role and then you get fired because of it, that person just did you a favor. Because it lets you go out and figure out, “where do I belong?” I want to hear your take on that.
Tadar Muhammad: Absolutely the same. Disney did exactly what they were supposed to do. Disney said, “These are the rules. This is the policy behind the rule. If you don’t come to work and you don’t follow the attendance rule that you were given, you’re going to be fired.” And I didn’t follow that rule. I was 16 years old … I was a kid. So, you know, “you’re not going to fire me. This isn’t gonna happen.” Oh, but when you cross that threshold of ten absences, you lost your job. And that prepared me to say, OK, got it.
I was a great employee. I did great every day. I didn’t have anything other than attendance issues. But that was the one thing that took that job from me.
J.B. Adams: Getting fired is humbling. Once you have done a number of jobs that don’t work out, you really get fine-tuned on finding the job that does work out. So let’s talk about … what was the time where you knew like, “this is where it’s starting to click? This is where I belong?”
Tadar Muhammad: I had taken a job in Maryland. I had no idea about working with kids. But one of my best friends, he had gotten a job working as a youth counselor. And essentially he said, “You should come up and try this line of work.” I said, “I don’t know. I’m a kid.” I was young, 21. “What do you mean? Come and work with other kids that are like 18, 19? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that.”
But I absolutely loved it. I enjoyed the ability to give someone else life lessons that were mistakes that I had made and to help them not to make those same mistakes. And then, to motivate and inspire them to be better. … I should tell people, “You’re paying me to do what I enjoy doing every single day.” So that opened my eyes to opportunities. And frankly, I’ve done that line of work ever since.
J.B. Adams: What’s the takeaway or your advice to a young person who is trying to figure out where they fit in in a career?
Tadar Muhammad: In this case, I didn’t know what I was going to do. And so moving from Florida to Maryland, you had no money, you had no idea what you were going to do or what job was really going to entail. So to me, the takeaway for sure was … when you can take that risk, take that risk and recognize opportunities that might be before you.
But take that risk, because you never know, it may be everything that you wanted it to be. If you don’t take that risk, you’ll never gonna know that it wasn’t.
J.B. Adams: Let’s talk about one more quick one. The next big transition in your career is the decision to join the Home Builders Institute. Tell us about that transition and why this was the right move for you.
Tadar Muhammad: So I was working, as I told you, as a youth counselor, and I had worked my way up pretty well as a manager, managing facilities and environments. But what was missing from me was the ability to give people, young people, something tangible. And so what’s tangible? You know, I told you that I would inspire them. I would help them. I would give them advice, mentor. I would do all of that. But none of that was tangible.
So what HBI gave me was tangible. Tangible was … “I’m not just going to help you. I’m not just going to inspire you. I’m going to help you get a job that will change your life, too. I will give you the skills and the soft skills to be able to help you make that difference in a person’s life.” And for me, that was what was the game changer about HBI was — it’s not just me talking. It’s tangible.
It’s real. “You’ve got a job. You’ve got a paycheck. You can take care of yourself. Now you can go on and do whatever it is that you want to do in your life.” Being able to share those experiences that I had with others, and being able to make a difference.
Part 3: Tadar Muhammad’s Crummer Experience
Tadar Muhammad describes his decision to pursue his MBA at the Crummer Graduate School of Business, and what he gained from the experience.
J.B. Adams: Give us a little background on where you were at in your career when you decided you needed to go back to school. What went into that process?
Tadar Muhammad: It actually started with a conversation with the CEO. [He] and I were talking about ways that we could enhance my professional development opportunities. He was adamant that he wanted me to go back to school … that I needed an executive-type leadership course. I worked with the H.R. department and said, “I don’t want just to go to an executive course … I wanted to be face-to-face with someone. I wanted to be among other leaders.
Now, I told you my background was giving to others and helping others. So clearly for me it was, “What can I get done that I can give to someone else?” And so that’s what it was for me … what could I get that I could translate into helping not only myself, but who else could I help within the organization? Who could I help within my community? What could I do? How could I use that as an advantage? So that’s where it started for me. And then when I started to research other schools.
I got a random email from Crummer. It was about preview Saturday. … When I got the email, I actually took that email seriously and I gave it to my H.R. department. And turns out they supported it and that’s how I ended up going to preview Saturday, where I began to think about [it] even more. So what do I want? Does this really fit? Can I actually do this?
But when I went to preview Saturday, I was like, whoa! I brought my family too, which made a difference. Because I didn’t make the decision on my own. I made it as a family.
J.B. Adams: What advice would you give to a current student who’s studying now? What would help them get through this experience?
Tadar Muhammad: I would say to stay the course. Oftentimes, you would think back and say, “Oh my gosh … I don’t know how I’m going to make it. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I know this isn’t working. I should know this. Why don’t I know it?” But stay the course.
You know, I can remember a mentor that formerly graduated from Crummer said to me, whatever you do, keep looking ahead. Don’t look back. Just look ahead. Don’t spend your time trying to figure out what you didn’t do. Stay focused.
Part 4: Tadar Muhammad Applies His Crummer Learnings
Tadar Muhammad describes how he applied the education he received at the Crummer Graduate School of Business to his role at HBI.
J.B. Adams: Some significant things have happened since you graduated. How did some of the things that you learned at Crummer apply to the things that have happened in your career since?
Tadar Muhammad: One of the classes … that we took was around strategic leadership, with Dr. Loughrey. One of the things that we had to do was create a strategic plan for something. I chose my own organization as a strategic plan. And I said, what a great opportunity. We were in the midst of changing some things strategically. I took that opportunity to say, [no] better time to create a strategic plan.
As a part of that was to identify some key issues and some recommendations. One of the things I recommended was to create a department that focused on expanding products and services within the organization that utilized technology and online offerings. So I presented this to the CEO at the time and I didn’t get much feedback. [Later], I presented it to the new CEO and he listened to me, said, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And, you know, turns out today we just … launched a learning management system in April of this year, [and] created a new department about six months ago, all focused around technology and doing better with technology for online offerings that we’re going to expand and continue to grow. So that was … the epiphany for me. I thought of this four years ago, and here we are now where it’s coming to life. So that tells you something about … you know, either I was ahead of the schedule for Crummer or I was right on target for where I needed to be in terms of the job.
J.B. Adams: What it says to me is the plan had value in it, and it was worth waiting for because anything that is going to work, people are going to latch onto it and they’re going to notice it. You worked on it for a class, but it wasn’t just for a grade. It actually made a difference in the real world.
How do you think you’re different as a result of the Crummer experience?
Tadar Muhammad: Definitely, one hundred percent, a more well-rounded leader. Strictly from a business perspective, it has given me so many more tools in the tool belt for me to be able to use as a business leader and not just thinking about what happens in the world or in the United States, more about what that impact could be globally. Never would have thought in a global perspective. And it’s made me much more eager to indulge in entrepreneurship, managing businesses, looking at different opportunities in a way that I never would have done prior to Crummer.
J.B. Adams: Think back to that time when you were applying. What advice would you give to a prospective student who was considering an MBA?
Tadar Muhammad: Crummer will give you the courage to explore what you’re passionate about, that if you have a desire or a passion and you want to move forward with that, that there’s no doubt about it, that Crummer will give you that courage. And courage is a very important thing today. And hopefully, as prospective students look at that and they may be doubting themselves, Crummer will give you the courage to be who you want to be.
The Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida is consistently ranked as the number one MBA in the state of Florida. Crummer offers a variety of educational programs to prepare students to become global, innovative, responsible, business leaders.