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J. Ofori Agboka: Humble and hungry

Former LSU running back scores big at General Motors

Biography

J. Ofori Agboka
Human resources director for the General Motors Co. North America manufacturing strategy and global manufacturing staffs.

Hometown: Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Current city:  Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

School: Bachelor’s degree in psychology, Louisiana State University, 1998

Sport: Football

Fun fact: People would be surprised to know that he can still speak Chinese/Mandarin and Spanish pretty well.

J. Ofori Agboka isn’t just climbing the ladder of success, he’s moving up by leaps and bounds.

As the current human resources director for the General Motors Co. North America manufacturing strategy and global manufacturing staffs, Agboka attributes much of his professional success to lessons learned during his two years on the football field at Louisiana State University.

He was born in Lansing, Michigan. His father, a Ghanaian immigrant, and mother, a New Orleans native, met as students at Michigan State University. “My dad was a regional leader for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the state of Michigan, and my mother was a dietitian,” Agboka said.

Growing up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Agboka kept his father’s values of education and hard work in mind as he played football in middle school and high school, participated in track and basketball, and was a member of the National Honor Society.

“I thought I would be a doctor, a car designer or a professional football player,” he recalled. “When I was in 10th grade, Detroit Lions football player Jerry Ball, who lived in my neighborhood, gave me some advice I’ll never forget. He said, ‘For every player in the NFL, there are 100 starters who don’t make it. You must have a plan B.’”

With those words in mind, Agboka enrolled at LSU in Baton Rouge on an academic scholarship, was a redshirt freshman on the school’s Division I football team and contributed to the team’s 1995 rebuilding season as a reserve running back during his sophomore year. He graduated in December 1998 with a degree in psychology.

“I’d do it all over again,” he said. “With classes in the morning, stretching regimens at noon followed by warmups, drills, studies and meals, you had to manage your time wisely.”

Agboka took the importance of teamwork he learned as a college athlete into the business world, starting his professional career at GM.

“As a human resources leader, you truly appreciate the concept of a team,” he said. “You have to know your role, and to understand that everyone on the team has the same objective. Someone is always depending on you to play your position well.”

Beginning with an internship in 1996 while he was still in college, Agboka has built his entire career at GM, demonstrating strong professional loyalty. After his internship and graduation, he joined the labor relations team full time in Arlington, Texas.

“His first assignment was in my department,” said Carol Parr, GM director of global labor relations. “As a former student-athlete myself, when I see that on a resume, it does carry weight. I knew that Ofori would have the skills to be successful in crucial areas such as time management, working within teams and work-life balance.” 

Agboka quickly rose through the GM ranks, gaining valuable human resources and supervisory experience in a variety of positions in the corporate operations unit.

In 2007, Agboka and his family settled in Shanghai, where he spent the next three years in HR management roles in global product development.

“There was a lot in the press at that time about China being so competitive and many operations were moving overseas,” he recalled. “I wanted to understand why and asked to take an international assignment there.”

In 2010, with multinational experience in his professional portfolio, Agboka landed his dream job as the human resources director of global design, a role that allowed him to work with innovative car designers around the world. By 2013, he was globetrotting again, moving to Zurich to assume the role of HR director for Chevrolet and Cadillac Europe.

Agboka returned to Michigan a year later and assumed the position of GM’s human resources  director for U.S. sales, service and marketing. He stepped into his current role this past April, and was recognized as a 2016 Automotive News “Rising Star” for his increasingly influential efforts as a young executive leader, mentor and champion for organizational excellence.

“Ofori carries himself with confidence and has great poise under pressure,” Parr said. “His years as an athlete helped him with both of those attributes. In his role as an HR professional, the customers you support need to have confidence in your direction and guidance. Keeping the group focused through tough situations is a critical skill that he possesses.”

Agboka said he doesn’t dwell too much on where he wants to go from here, preferring instead to focus on the here and now.

“I’ve had great mentors encourage me to stretch and take on more than I might have thought I was capable of,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to the next challenge and getting to the next level, whatever it might be. You’ve got to play the game today to get to the Super Bowl tomorrow.”

To today’s class of student-athletes, Agboka offers sound advice.

“Be humble and hungry,” he said. “Everyone isn’t able to do what you do. Celebrate it, but don’t be arrogant. Be responsible for your actions, and be wise in your decision making. The same preparation you put in for a game or event is the same type of preparation you’ll need to use in your career. The skills you learn in college sports will be valuable to you for the rest of your life.”