Amazing Coach Max Ekesi

Today we celebrate an amazing coach – Max Ekesi.

“I put myself in other people’s shoes” recounts Max.  Empathy is speaking to courage and boldness and forgiveness and the capacity to be agile and to diversify.  I learned to navigate those different cultures.”  He connects multi-generationally across the generational gaps..  Max fosters an understanding and a respect for older people. 

His approach has helped him in taking a more positive and optimistic approach. In tough times he invites us to ask” how can you create an opportunity out of the situation? By helping others it’s incredible how much you help yourself.” There is nothing he loves more than getting involved with people outside of his professional work and helping to solve problems. 

Max’s story starts  a long way from Texas, in the USA. He was born in Lagos, Nigeria.  His father is Nigerian  his mom is from Rome. He grew up with his Italian grandmother, only speaking Italian, only eating pasta. Growing up in this way, helped him switch between cultures, between mentalities and to find common points.  “I’ve learned from my mom and my grandmother being very strong characters and everything, the respect I have across genders.”

He went to an American international school, had friends from all over the world, mingled with Arabic and European friends as well as  fellow Nigerians. There are a lot of viewpoints.  He did his schooling until 12th grade or high school in Nigeria.  In 1994 he came to USA .  His wife, Sarah is from the US. She is white. And adds to the multicultural aspect of things.“ Every interaction counts “ Max recounts. It comes as no surprise that success for him is if people can remember an encounter with him  as a positive interaction.


00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseLeads” with your host, Tesse Akpeki and cohost, Paula Okonneh. “TesseLeads” is a safe, sensitive, and supportive place and space to share, hear and tell your stories and your experiences. You hear how top experts and thought leaders are creating opportunities navigating diverse ranges of challenges and confronting their own dilemmas while shaping their futures. Our guest today is Max Ekesi. Max is always super excited and that’s a fact.
00:00:48 Max: I try my best.
00:00:52 Paula: He’s always super excited at the opportunity to serve the agile Austin community. He’s been an active agile Austin member since 2009 and has proudly served on the board as vice president but is now the president. He is so appreciative for everything agile Austin has meant to him and always looks for ways to give back. In his 20 years of I.T enterprise experience in Austin, he’s been a people manager, an agile coach, a scrum master, a program portfolio manager and is presently an I.T manager at PayPal, as we said in another interview with him, ‘that’s where the money is’. In his spare time Max likes to watch, he likes to play and he likes to coach soccer as well as travel the world with his wife and their two daughters. Welcome to “TesseLeads” and this time Max, we are going to hear all about you. So welcome.
00:01:57 Max: Thank you. I feel special. I feel special.
00:02:02 Tesse: Max, I am a superfan. I’m not a stalker by any stretch, I just really love your energy. The first time I went to Meetup and you were speaking and I thought must keep coming back. So I think that that did it, I just heard you speaking and said “there’s something here, there is just something”. So, you know, we have super, super curious about your story. When you think about growing up and where you are now, what’s your journey been like?
00:02:29 Max: Absolutely. Tesse, Paula it’s great to be here, speaking to you from sunny Austin, Texas in the US but my story starts on long way away from here. Away from Texas, the US. I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and I think it’s always important to emphasize my cultural and ethnic racial background. My father is Nigerian and my mom is from Rome. I’m like an Italian. And that has always helped me from growing up to be able to switch between cultures, switch between mentalities and always find common points. And I think that’s something about me, growing up in Nigeria I went to an American international school and so I had friends from all over the world, so that always gave me an ability to be able to mingle with my Arabic friends, European friends, my fellow Nigerians, Americans, et cetera. And so there are a lot of viewpoints I have, there are a lot of things that I always say my mindset is advanced, it’s too advanced for where we’re at now in the world but I’m patient with people. I’m patient. But I feel that I’ve been so blessed. I grew up, I did all my schooling until 12th grade, high school in Nigeria.
00:03:58 Max: I graduated, I came to the US to go to university in 1994 and ever since then I’ve stayed in the US because it’s a pretty cool place to be at. I’ve always felt that my journey in life will take me elsewhere, I would like to live in Asia and Singapore or something, but you know what? We make the best of the opportunities we have. We take it from, I’m not complaining. I could go into details of my journey and trip but that gives at least some context about my background. My growing up was very international. My wife, Sarah is from the US. She was born and grew up here. So she is white. So that adds to the, a multicultural aspect of things.
00:04:46 Max: We have two daughters, Sasha is nine. Simona is seven. And just something to throw in there is because I’m so involved in my daughter’s school and everything I joined the parent teacher’s association. So I happened to also be the president of the parents-teacher association. Somehow, I just love the drama of being part of organizations that work with people that you have to try to come together and solve things. I just feed off of that. It’s just something I appreciate.
00:05:20 Tesse: I still love it. I mean, I think in many ways we have so much in common because I feed off energy and yours comes for free, to me anyway and to Paula. So, I know that to PayPal and others, not so much.
00:05:45 Max: Don’t drain my energy! Don’t drain my energy!
00:05:46 Tesse: We of Nigerian heritage, we drain and we gain.
00:05:46 Paula: Yeah, this is amazing.
00:05:46 Max: I’m going to go place some of yours somewhere else too.
00:05:46 Tesse: We can swap my energies because I have mine too. Paula, Paula, you kind of like, I know that you want to ask a question, so I’ll share.
00:05:54 Paula: So, you know, I listened to him say that he’s the president of the PTA at his daughter’s school. He is the president of agile Austin. Are you planning on being president of the United States? just a question, I know it can’t happen because you weren’t born here.
00:06:11 Tesse: Amen! Amen.
00:06:12 Max: But I have you, you bring up a good question Paula because I have been asked by a lot of people, “why don’t you get involved in politics?” And I came across a gentleman just in the last few days at the soccer game of our kids. He comes up to me straight up, Brooklyn, New York guy here.” Hey, you know what you got to get in politics. I was a campaign manager for so-and-so as we are. We got to talk, we got a beer.” I’m like, “I’m trying to, I’m trying to coach the kid right now to go down the left wing. She’s stopping at midfield. I’m trying, Do you mind? Okay, okay, okay. I’ll wait. I mean game’s gonna what? Five minutes then. Okay. I’ll be here.” So I think that people are seeing something that I should also see and pay attention to. So I’m just going to say it will be interesting because I think that a lot of politics is also problem solving.
00:07:10 Tesse: Absolutely.
00:07:11 Max: People and having to work with people to influence and problem-solve can be a very challenging thing and not everybody has the skillsets or the character to be patient and tolerant and have a cool, calm, collected approach to it. And since I have that, I might consider that poll at some point, you never know.
00:07:34 Paula: You never know.
00:07:34 Tesse: I kind of like, what I notice and it’s what I noticed, you know, cause sometimes I come do Agile Austin events because I am a facilitator, coach and all that. So I come sometimes and I’m just looking and seeing what the dynamics is and I just see how people have fun in the sessions and cover a lot and have fun while doing it. I noticed how they gravitate towards your style of leadership and it’s gravitating towards rather than away from and I think what I also see is that they just adore you in a nice kind of way and I’m thinking what this guy got? Does he give them ice cream or something afterwards?
00:08:13 Paula: Let the truth come out now.
00:08:17 Tesse: They are happy bunch of people. Lovely people. You know, Paula.
00:08:24 Paula: Yeah, well, he said he may consider president of the United States. He wants to change the constitution.
00:08:34 Tesse: Congress, Congress.
00:08:34 Max: Politics, Politics. Local politics. Let’s start off with something we are more aware of.
00:08:39 Paula: All right. Local politics, good to know.
00:08:45 Max: I’m 45 years old. There’s time. There’s time.
00:08:51 Tesse: It might my, you know, my people they will say you are a Buba. That’s a baby. You are just five years old. Life begins at 40.
00:08:58 Max: Exactly, there you go.
00:09:00 Paula: So he’s that makes him five. Right?
00:09:02 Tesse: That makes him five, yeah.
00:09:05 Paula: So tell us, you’ve told us of your international and ethnically diverse background, which I think is amazing. I think it’s very good these days to realize that we are very similar, as human beings we are really very similar because we all want the same thing. We want safety, we want our children, if we have children to be safe and grow up in a safe world, we want them to succeed and ultimately, whether we are from Europe, we are from Africa, we are from Asia, wherever ,we all strive so that was the same thing. So with that being said, what has been some of the highlights of your life? I know you very, we can pick up a lot of energy from you, but what else?
00:09:55 Max: Yes. I think Paula, the one thing that stands out the most to me, what I’ve, I’ve learned the most and I’ve grown so much from was, I had the fortune that on my mom’s side, My grandmother, so my, the mother of my mother who was in Rome, moved to Nigeria to come and live with us so she could help take care of her grandchildren.
00:10:22 Paula: Fantastic.
00:10:23 Max: And when I grew up with my Italian grandmother, only speaking Italian, only eating pasta in the middle of Africa, I think that subconsciously it showed something to me, it showed something to me that I could switch between cultures. I connected multi-generationally. So there’s an understanding and a respect for older people, what I’ve learned from generational gaps, what I’ve learned from my mom and my grandmother being very strong characters and everything, the respect I have across genders, there are certain things I think that is because of my upbringing, is because of what I learned, that certain problems that I see in society. I don’t understand. I don’t understand.
00:11:19 Max: And so I always have to think about it from, let me put myself in other people’s shoes, let me empathize because I don’t understand why someone would look differently at someone else because of a different ethnicity or a different culture, a different race. But, you know, I always have to go down layers to try to understand that and I think that when I do that, I connect with people that are very diverse for me, because people start to say, well, you know, I shared my viewpoint with you max, and you didn’t stop talking to me. You didn’t judge me. Even though we don’t agree, you just sat down and you hung out and you support a different political party than I do, but we could sit down because I, I have that approach that, you know, I’m not going to take it personally, I’ve got to go, as long as you’re respectful about it.
00:12:12 Max: My pet peeve is when people are disrespectful. Like, we can disagree, you can have thoughts about me that a very negative, you can discriminate against me, I’ll let you know it’s wrong, but if you’re doing it in a respectful way, at least we can talk. At least we can talk. Right. I think that what I’m experiencing now, a lot of times in society, news, social media and everything, I sometimes have a hard time to understand things because I come from a mentality in the background and I’m blessed in that way. A lot of people don’t have the exposure. A lot of people don’t have the opportunities that I had, you know, growing up in a country where a lot of people did not have the access to good education, the access to be able to traveling internationally, the access to a bunch of things, which has helped me, especially in the American society, that can be very diverse, but in a lot of ways, people can stick to their bubbles.
00:13:16 Paula: Yeah.
00:13:17 Max: And I feel that, that is something that I bring to the table a lot of times and people for the most part have appreciated it. I think that that is important cause sub societies that might be out there as some places might not appreciate it as much. If you share a different cultural perspective, a different mentality, but in America because of the origins of America because how it is, I’ve always seen the people just gravitate and they appreciate the jolly manner in which the jolly and the respectful manner in which I engage with them and we go a long way together, we go a long way together. I feel as if it’s a bit of a political foundation,
00:13:57 Tesse: No It’s not, no.
00:13:59 Max: But it’s just what I’ve observed from my experience.
00:14:04 Tesse: Yeah. Well, I used to think about politics being about different parties, et cetera, because in the UK we have different parties, but now I see political as being different, in a sense, in a different way, as a sense of our viewpoints of the world and how we meet our needs. So I actually see the word political this small ‘p’ in its totally different way than I used to. And what you’re speaking to me. It’s speaking to my heart because it’s speaking to vulnerability, it’s speaking to authenticity, It’s speaking to trust, It’s speaking to courage and boldness and forgiveness and the capacity to be agile, the capacity to diversify. This is what is speaking to me and if that’s political, then I think we should be more political because what we’re doing and the discourse has got so angry.
00:14:46 Tesse: Just recently, we had a politician who was killed in his surgery. I mean, when it gets to that, yeah. When it gets to that one, we cannot tolerate each other. When we cannot care for each other, where we cannot see that people cannot be different in their viewpoint. We shut them down. We have a culture of cancel culture when it come to that and culture wars, I don’t get it either Max and I’m sure Paula, Paula, I’m speaking for you as you can see.
00:15:12 Paula: You are.
00:15:13 Tesse: What are your thoughts about that?
00:15:17 Paula: Oh, you’re asking me. Yeah. I think many times it’s based on something that Max touched on being exposed to different cultures and sometimes at a formative age. When you don’t know what you don’t know, then you can only relate to what you do know. And so when you have like he did and you and I did, you’ve had the opportunity to look at things differently because of your formative years were made up of different cultures, different peoples point of view, but because they were in one family, they had to stay together.
00:15:48 Paula: It gives you a different perspective on a lot of things, and that can even trickle down to politics, where you see, okay, that’s your point of view and that’s the way you see it, because that’s the only way you see but there are other aspects. There’s so much more to just saying I’m a Democrat or I’m a Republican in this country at least. When we look at the cultural and the social aspects and the economic aspects of it and then you realize that sometimes these things have to be put into consideration before you align yourself anywhere.
00:16:21 Paula: I, again, bring back my way of thinking and my outlook on bills of things based on their formative years where I lived in different countries with parents with completely different cultures who had to co-exist and those cultures came into plan. So we learned to navigate those different cultures.
00:16:42 Tesse: I still love it. Now, yeah Max, go on.
00:16:45 Max: I was going to say there’s something that has always fascinated me in my years that I’ve lived in the US right, because now I’m a citizen, I’m a part, I’m a fabric of society and everything so in a lot of ways, I’m American also, but what fascinates me and I felt this the, the instance I got here at 1994 to be a freshman at college at Syracuse university in upstate New York and I still feel it now like decades afterwards you know, in my even experience in my corporations in my professional work, is that the US influences the world everyday. The influence that the US has of the world is enormous and yet so many people in the US are ignorant about the rest of the world.
00:17:42 Max: I remember growing up in Nigeria, it was such a big deal when we had, we got the satellite dishes and we could watch like MTV. And we would, we would practice our dances, I can think, we’d all wear jeans. We would do all these things and how the US would influence us every time. The days of Michael Jackson and Prince were done through the music, through the movies, through the military, through so many things, America influences from like the dollar is the global currency, like everyday, and yet there’s so much ignorance about the rest of the world. What I’ve been amazed by is that when I meet Americans that have lived abroad or have done, even as a study abroad have done anything abroad, they bring back something, they learned something about it. So I would like, I always encourage people, do exchange programs, get an experience outside, sometimes it even helps if it’s outside your state or somewhere, but outside the country. So you get that exposure and it just baffles me how much America influences the world everyday and a lot of Americans are not aware of the rest of the world. The rest of the world is very aware of America.
00:19:02 Tesse: Absolutely. Absolutely. Have you ever been in the streets of Lagos and you see somebody with a very strong American accent, and then you say, “where did you grow up in America?” No, we learnt i it from the movies.
00:19:14 Max: we learned it from the movies.
00:19:22 Tesse: The movies. John Wayne. You know, but Max you know, you are bubbly person, very happy and you know, you just bring joy and lightness to everyone. Is it, have there been down times that you know, like when valley experiences that haven’t been so great to you that you’d like to share?
00:19:44 Max: Very good question. Right. I, yeah, I went through challenges when my grandmother passed away about 10 years back, but she was already 89 years old and going through bad health. So it was almost transitioning to a better place. I, but I honestly, and this might just be something that I have to be aware I’ve had it very good in life. I’ve had it very good. And even the challenges that I faced. Okay. Whether be it professionally, relationships or whatever the case it may be since they’ve never been that dramatic, I always think about, and this is something that helps me out. I put things together in a global perspective saying,” Hey, there are people in this world that don’t have a roof under which to sleep.
00:20:35 Max: There are people in ‘this world that cannot eat three good meals. There are people…” so as soon as I put things in this perspective, whatever I’m going through, a remodeling project of the house and we are behind and this is stressing me I’m like, hold on a second, it’s going to get done, not on my schedule but it’s going to get done. And I keep on putting things in perspective and this has really helped me because I am aware I’ve been exposed. I’ve lived in places where there have been people that a lot of their needs are not met and that kind of a psychological approach has always helped me in never having to dip too down in the valley. Always having to keep a mindset on, yeah I might dip a little bit because of things but i’m going to be back and I’m going to be better.
00:21:21 Max: And that has helped me really face challenges and get through them very quickly before they have an opportunity to get worse. Because, I’ll conclude with saying that happiness, sadness, all these challenges, they’re all a state of mind, that’s it. It’s a state of mind. So your mind has control over how you feel. You can choose how you want to feel. It’s a choice. And I think that my approach has helped me very much in taking a more positive and optimistic approach.
00:21:58 Tesse: Cause some people listening into this call, they’ve been through the pandemic, which we’re not out of yet and some people would have lost people in the pandemic and in the UK, we had a very high mortality rate so there’s hardly any family I know that didn’t lose somebody in the pandemic or through the pandemic. I lost so many people, and not from COVID, from other illnesses and incidences. It’s been a really sad time. So, and I know Paula, you have had your own fair share of loss and grief and stuff like that. I quite like what you were saying about state of mind and stuff like that. What would you say to people listening in now that have experienced,
00:22:39 Max: yes.
00:22:40 Tesse: These losses.
00:22:41 Max: Yes because, At that point you feel as if you’re at a point that you’ve lost something that you can never get back and it’s just a traumatic experience. The one thing I would say that if I’m in that position is, how can you create a, make an opportunity out of this? If someone that you’ve known, a cousin of yours passes away, if they have children, try to be a stronger kind of an influence to the children, because then you’re doing something about it. You take control of the situation and you’re saying, you know what? I don’t have control over everything but I have control over my actions and I want to help out, i mean the relative. If you have the means to do it, even if it’s time and effort, and it’s a simple phone call from time to time, you do something and that’s something can mean a lot to other people and to yourself, Right. Think about what you can do to help those that might have been impacted more so than you. And then of course, there’s the difference about if it’s a loss in the immediate family, you can do the same thing, but it’s a different approach and a different way to cope with it. But you always have to think about what can you do to move forward in helping others? Because by helping others, it’s incredible how much you help yourself.
00:24:10 Tesse: It’s just beautiful.
00:24:11 Paula: It’s incredible.
00:24:12 Tesse: Beautiful. I’m getting the sense of, you know, not just energy, but deep depths from you and then I’m just wondering hopes and dreams, aspirations. Max, what are your hopes and dreams? I’m just not just looking at you.
00:24:27 Max: What do I wanna do.
00:24:28 Tesse: Yeah!
00:24:29 Max: Buba! What does the five year old Buba wanna do when he grows up?
00:24:35 Tesse: You know what, I’m looking at you for people who are listening, we can see each other and I, what is cross, going across my screen is Dreams of my Father, you know, Barack Obama. Dreams of max, what are they?
00:24:53 Max: Mine are not too ambitious. Mine are not too ambitious. You see. But the one thing I know I have to be adaptable to change. I have to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that come around me. I’ve lived in my community now in Austin for 20 years, I’ve gotten involved in nonprofit I.T organizations like agile, Austin. It was here, it was available. I helped out, we built and grew things, I’m involved in the school PTA administration of my kids, then something else will come around. Cause the more you get involved in your community to try to give back the more things happen. So when you asked me what my dreams are, I don’t have a particular point, but I very much enjoy having to get involved with people outside of my professional work and try to help and solve problems. And my dream, if there’s any that I could say is I’ve been doing various things in 20 years, which have helped me become more financially independent, especially around investment properties. My dream is that my residual passive income from my investment properties cover all my expenses so I can leave a nine to five job. I love my job right now. I love being an I.T manager at PayPal.
00:26:31 Tesse: You better say that.
00:26:32 Max: I wanna stay in PayPal forever for the record. But if I had an opportunity to be financially independent, I would do community service work, problem solving and everything all the time. All the time.
00:26:50 Tesse: You know, just do it. Serve. Servant leadership. You are amazing. Paula, I’m going to share Max with you. Okay. Because,
00:27:00 Max: Well, you have to be financially independent to be able to do that. That’s my only goal I have to achieve first.
00:27:08 Tesse: it will come, it will come.
00:27:09 Max: It will come because I’ve got a plan.
00:27:12 Tesse: Paula?
00:27:15 Paula: I’ve been just so bowled over by everything I heard about you from you.
00:27:20 Max: You just don’t say that to all the speakers right
00:27:23 Paula: No, no no no no. I know you’ve been listening to our podcast, this is a test to find out how many of our podcast…
00:27:34 Max: I’m subscribing right after this. I’m subscribing.
00:27:38 Paula: And giving us a five star review of course.
00:27:41 Max: Of course. Especially on this session
00:27:44 Paula: So, we got to wrap up but before we do that quick question, do you consider yourself a success or lucky?
00:27:56 Max: Oh, I’m lucky for sure. I am lucky for sure. There are a lot of people, whether it be in Nigeria, where I grew up that have the opportunities that I had. There are a lot of people here in the US, where I’ve lived for now almost 30 years did not have the opportunities that I had. So I am lucky for sure. I took advantage of the opportunities that I was given to prepare myself, to build myself successfully for myself and for the next generation, my daughters. And I feel very positive of where I’m at. It’s a journey and along the journey, I think I was successful because by far the majority of people that I have interacted with, if they were to look back and say, “oh, how was the interaction I had with max? Oh, Hey, how are things that I did with Max?” I’m optimistic that a good majority of them would say, “oh, He’s a good lad. He’s a good lad.” That’s success for me. If people can remember you as a positive interaction, that’s a success. Now there’s always going to be the haters. There’s always going to be like a good chunk of people that like, ah, he talked too much and that’s it.
00:29:21 Max: Like, out of all the experience with me that’s only thing they took away. “I talked too much”. How about what I talked about, did it make sense? Or was it just bogus stuff? No, no, he talked too much, he was obnoxious. It was just like, we had a meeting and he did the majority of the meeting. Maybe I was facilitating and I had to pull stuff out of people and people didn’t want to talk so I talked a little bit more than I should have. You know, cut me some slack. But for the most part, I feel that the journey is still not done, but I feel that, Hey, you know, it’s been a successful fun one and more stuff to come. As I build up towards that point where I can truly do whatever I want, I think that that is the ultimate freedom. And I tried to share that with people cause I feel that people get stuck to whether it be a professional career or it gets stuck to goals and they’re always dependent on somebody else or some other company or something else that they can never truly make choices freely and that is something that in the long-term, I think that’s the most powerful thing to just be able to say,
00:30:32 Max: Hey, you know, if I’m not on board with maybe the direction of things and everything, Hey, I wish you the best and I will just take a different route, but you have to be in a certain stable scenario to be able to do that. So that would be my ultimate success of my point too, for myself and my family but we build towards that. I’m a five-year old Buba so we build towards this, we have a north star and we’d go towards. I’ll stop talking before it gets dark.
00:31:03 Tesse: You know Paula, I know you were going to close us up, but something that Max has just said, he said a lot of things, but one of the things is every interaction matters. Every interaction counts. And If people can leave me with a positive feeling about themselves and me, then that’s success and I think that’s awesome. Awesome.
00:31:30 Paula: I agree, I agree.
00:31:31 Max: It doesn’t matter who it is, a flight attendant that you’ll never see again, or someone at the school that comes up to you and says,” Hey, I’ve seen you do the zoom meetings of the PTA at every day. Yeah. What’s your name?” like just a small interaction and people leave with a positive vibe. That’s it.
00:31:52 Paula: That’s it. That’s it. My mom always used to say wherever you’re going, whether you’re walking down the road, always have a smile on your face because that can change someone’s outlook for the rest of the day. Just give them a smile. So, I agree.
00:32:07 Max: Absolutely.
00:32:08 Paula: So thank you. Thank you so much Max for sharing your journey with us, your personal journey. It’s appreciated.
00:32:17 Max: Thank you. I’d like to hear your journey someday. For a different time, not now. we don’t have time.
00:32:24 Paula: If you listen to the podcast you would hear our journeys. Let me wrap this up now. To our amazing audience as usual, your precious stories and lives matter. As you could have heard from Max Ekesi giving us a look into his personal life. So we ask you to please share your stories with us and for our listeners, please make sure you head over to apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts and please click subscribe. And if you find that “TesseLeads” has been helpful in anyway, please let us know in your reviews. If you’d like to be a guest on our show, “TesseLeads” head over to to apply. Thank you, thank you thank you again, this has been an incredibly wonderful whatever adjectives that I can’t remember.
00:33:28 Tesse: Max is joyful, joyful Max.
00:33:33 Max: Thank you for having me.