An African in the City: Claude Grunitzky
Togolese-born, French- and American-raised entrepreneur Claude Grunitzky has always been ahead of the game. His ability to spot what’s next long before anyone else is a talent that has served him well. It helpedTrace, a music/fashion magazine he created in the 90s and started out of his London bedroom, become the purveyor of international cool. If you were affiliated with Trace in any way, you were doing something right. Just ask acclaimed photographer-turned-director Andrew Dosunmu, whose beautiful stills graced the pages of Trace long before he directed his first film; singer Alicia Keys, whom Claude gave her first cover; or model Sessilee Lopez, a breakout star from one of his classic ‘Black Girls Rule’ issues.
It also helped him identify that it was TV that would help expand his business base. Co-founded in early 2000,Trace TV is now in 160 countries and has 80 million subscribers worldwide. Let’s not even talk about his former advertising company, True Agency, which was banking millions before the market crash of 2008. That Harvard Business School teaches a case study on Claude’s career every year in their “Power & Influence” class should tell you a little something about Claude the businessman.
But rather than rehash his resume, let’s get to know the man behind the brand.
Fortunately, Claude was able to take time out of his busy schedule to chat about his latest business ventures, his favorite city, and the African American woman who has served as his most influential mentor.
TAC: What are you working on these days?
Claude: I’m involved with projects all over Africa, but Senegal, Guinea and my home country, Togo, are the West African countries I have been working consistently in over the past six years. With my True company, my job is to work with local government, reputable organizations and large corporations to help make these countries more attractive to foreigners. Of course, the countries I have been working in, usually always at the level of Head of State or his cabinet, have health, education and infrastructure issues that sometimes feel insurmountable when you are on the outside looking in. But because I was born an optimist, I always start by looking at the country’s key assets, and with my team we find new ways to leverage that country’s assets. We’re rebranding, rewriting the narrative for these countries. I am also soft-launching TRUE AFRICA this summer. Within five years we are aiming to become the very best youth-focused digital media company in Africa.
TAC: What country are you in the most?
CLAUDE: Every month I’m in America, Europe, Africa. I was just in Togo last week, and I’m in London now.
TAC: What’s your favorite city?
CLAUDE: New York. The energy of the city is unique. It’s not as friendly to its creatives, but it still gives a sense of a certain world. I’m interested in media and how it intersects with culture. New York is still the center of gravity.
TAC: What’s your favorite thing to do in New York?
CLAUDE: Whereas before I was out every night, now that I’m older, I’m not as interested. I connect with a few people and I try to take in the cultural scene. I enjoy going to the Brooklyn Museum. The Chris Ofili retrospective at the New Museum recently was the best I’ve seen in years. I also like Kehinde Wiley. We share the same birthday and his father is Nigerian.
TAC: Do you have a mentor?
CLAUDE: If I look back throughout my 20-year career, the woman who has had the most influence on me was Bethann Hardison. She helped me understand the world through an African American point of view. Through her I was able to understand and embrace the fact that I was different. In France I was different because I was black. In America I was different because I didn’t really speak with an African American accent, and even going back to Africa I was a bit too American or European. Bethann helped me to understand that it’s okay to be different. The conversation we’ve been having over the past 20 years is about me being more comfortable with who I am and melding my African values with the more American, go-getting, extremely driven side.
TAC: So what’s next?
CLAUDE: I think in about ten years I will be ready to get into politics in Togo.
Hmmm….Claude’s father was minister of finance in Togo in the 1970s, before becoming Ambassador to the U.S., and his great uncle was President of Togo in the 1960s. The future looks good.