Brian Agnew

CEO of Sphinx Minerva Group

Sphinx Minerva Group is a boutique leadership and management consulting firm that provides support to for-profit and non-profit organizations. Its Chief Operating Officer and Managing Partner, Dr. Brian D. Agnew, is an experienced leader in campaign planning, the economics of higher education, crisis management, and diversity and inclusion efforts. Throughout his career, he has been fortunate to lead dynamic teams of fundraising, communications, and finance professionals to unprecedented success, raising more than $100 million to enrich the experience, access, and quality of higher education and patient care across the nation.

Dr. Agnew is a graduate of the prestigious postdoctoral Harvard University Institute for Educational Management (IEM). He holds a PhD in organizational leadership from the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, where his research examined the effectiveness of presidential leadership in higher education institutions. He received a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and Journalism from Utica College and a master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) in Organization and Management from Syracuse University.

Dr. Agnew served on the Adjunct Faculty at Montclair State University and has taught a number of courses at institutions like, Yale University, Rutgers University and Utica College. He was an inaugural Fellow of the Pre-Doctoral Leadership Development Institute (PLDI) at Rutgers University and often lectures on topics such as leadership effectiveness, the impact of equity, diversity and inclusion, fundraising, the future of higher education, organizational structures, crisis management, and successful change implementation.

In addition to his career endeavors, Dr. Agnew is a recipient of many awards, including being named among Diversity MBA Magazine’s “Top 100 Executives Under 50,” NAACP “W.E.B. DuBois Leadership Award, NJ Biz “Forty Under 40 Award”, the Network Journal “Forty Under 40 Award”, the Mohawk Valley “Forty Under 40 Award, the Utica College “Young Alumni Award”, and a Congressional Citation for outstanding service to his community. Dr. Agnew’s community commitments are also deep, having served on the STATE Theater Board of Trustees in New Brunswick, NJ, and as trustee of the Alpha Alpha Lambda Scholarship and Education Foundation. He has also been recognized three times by the Department of Defense as a Civilian Honorary Commander for Joint Base McGuire Dix- Lakehurst.
Dr. Brian Agnew is also a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., plays competitive volleyball and is a volunteer firefighter Captain in Piscataway, NJ, where he has received Meritorious Service Awards for rescue operations carried out during both Hurricane Irene and Sandy. He currently resides in New Jersey where he is a proud husband and loving father.

Where did the idea for Sphinx Minerva Group come from?

Sphinx Minerva Group was founded to support both for-profit and non-profit organizations in developing strategies that move them and their leaders from “Surviving to Thriving”! Most clients approach us when they are aiming to overcome challenges or want to create a strategy for being the best they can be. Our goal is to be a partner to our clients in promoting organizational success across all aspects of their business. Our practice areas include: Equity Diversity & Inclusion, Organizational Effectiveness, Emergency Management and Preparedness, Fundraising Leadership, Integrated Marketing & Communication.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My days are always productive. I start by reviewing the days schedule. In addition to my role at Sphinx Minera Group, I am also an educator, a motivational speaker, an author, and volunteer firefighter just to name a few of the areas I am actively involved in. I care deeply about the work I do, and I am committed to making meaningful connections within my community. Being charitable and giving back is an important part of that as well.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I like to have collaborative discussions with my team. When you have an idea that you are excited, present it to others and see that they share the same excitement for the idea, you start to see a spark ignite. It breathes life into the concept and as the discussion ensues, the end result is far greater due to the team-driven culture at Sphinx Minerva Group.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Consumers seem to be paying more attention to the company behind the brand. I think there is an appreciation for businesses that do go above and beyond in their efforts to be ethical and to be inclusive. The greater the appreciation and awareness there is, the more we can get companies to understand the importance of these issues as well.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I make it a habit to always follow through on my word. I certainly want to have a reputation as someone that can be relied upon. I think what makes that easier is that I am very committed to my job, I love what I do, and I am very devoted to the work.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Find your ‘True North’. A mentor once told me that and I had no idea what he was talking about. He explained that your True North is the grounding force that centers you when (not if) things don’t work out the way you planned. For some it’s family or religion or exercise or reading, so whatever it is for you lean in when necessary to remain your best self! I am happy that my mentor explained it to me when he did but if I had the opportunity to tell that to my younger self so that I had that direction sooner in life, I think I would have benefitted.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

As a motivational speaker, I can remain positive during just about any situation. So many individuals today spend so much of their time stuck in a negative mindset. They think being positive takes a lot of work, but it really doesn’t! You just have to start by making some small shifts in thinking and then you can tackle the bigger obstacles and before you know it, you can be a positive thinker too.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Volunteer. I am a busy person and volunteer firefighting can be hard work, but I am always left feeling uplifted after I give back. Whatever charitable cause you may be interested in, I would urge you to find time to get involved with it. As an entrepreneur, building strong communities builds stronger companies too, so although that shouldn’t be the motivating factor, it is a benefit of volunteering in the community. It will also help you grow as a person which will build better leaders and CEOs. So, volunteering in your community is definitely a must for any entrepreneur.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

We are very committed to community outreach and have gained new customers through these efforts. We have also gained clients through word-of-mouth referrals. I think it is very important to establish a good reputation in the community and to be also an active member of the community. Outside of work, I also do a lot of volunteering. I am a volunteer firefighter, involved in youth mentoring programs and a motivational speaker. I enjoy the experience of giving back and helping others succeed in any way I can, so the more involved in my community I can be, the better. That commitment and attitude is widely reflected throughout the company, which is why we have such positive client engagement.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure that made the greatest impact occurred during the process of acquiring another business. We were excited about the merger, conducted our due diligence and made it all the way to closing when we learned that a major piece of the puzzle had not been completed by the other party. All throughout the process, we had assurances that it would be handled, a signed contract outlining how it would be handled, but at the end of the day that party did not meet their obligations and the deal fell through.
While this was a disappointing and expensive setback, I learned that the person who loses the most is the person that never tries. I learned so much about contracts, raising capital, investor behavior, developing scale in your business, and most importantly that as an entrepreneur how to rebound from disappointment. I overcame this experience by learning what went well and where I could have done things differently so that WHEN (not if) another opportunity presents itself I’m fully prepared for the successful outcome.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I feel like there are a lot of opportunities presented by the pandemic, causing many professionals to shift into a work-from-home status. In some industries, remote work will become the norm and very little preparation was put into creating effective structures/systems/processes. Many of us took a corner on the dining room table with a laptop, thinking it would be a week and a year later we are still at that same table. My business idea is to provide professional coaching on “Productive Work From Home Techniques”. This is not broad, general advice but specific, industry based, 1:1 Executive Coaching to ensure success in this new work environment.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 I recently spent was on Amazon to pick up a number of different books. They were all recommendations from colleagues and friends with one purpose, to focus on my mental health. I cannot impress upon you enough the importance of taking a step back to enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass, listen to the birds chirping, turning your phone off, reading a good book that takes you to an imaginative place, enjoying quality time with your family and finding your spiritual center. These things will make you even better at your business because it will give you the opportunity to decompress so you “show up” more focused, clear-headed, and energized to be the best you can be.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Asana is an excellent task management software. You use it to organize information, delegate and track tasks to stay on schedule, and improve collaboration with your team.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Going for the Gold: How to Become a World-Class Academic Fundraiser by Jeffrey L. Buller Ph.D. I believe this book would be very valuable to those working in higher education that may not necessarily work in development. It’s a great source for understanding the basics of the importance of cultivating relationships. As Buller and Reeves states, if you work in higher education, regardless of your title, you’re a fundraiser.

What is your favorite quote?

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Key Learnings:

  •  Collaborative discussions with your team will help you breathe life into your ideas.
  •  Make a habit of always following through on your word.
  •  Find your “true North”.
  •  Volunteer often.
  •  Do not let the negative behaviors of others bring you down. Focus your energy on what matters and persevere.