Tony Selimi has been on an incredible journey. Born in Macedonia with a childhood disability he grew up to be forced to fight in a civil war he despised before ending up homeless on the streets of London. Tony turned his life around by doing odd jobs where he could, he got a job in an Italian restaurants kitchen which provided him with a room and meals. He then enrolled in a part-time Engineering course, which after graduating with top honours allowed him to get into UCL to further study Engineering. Working three part-time jobs to pay for his education, graduating at UCL set him up to work in a well-paying field before he turned to document his story and inspire others across the globe. Since then Tony has become a bestselling author, co-founded award-winning documentary Living my Illusion and appeared on over 100 TV/Radio stations across the world including being interviewed by Jack Canfield and the legendary Brian Tracy for ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX reaching over 50 million viewers worldwide.
What’s something about you that surprises people?
I think a lot of people assume there is a secret formula of luck and good opportunity that leads to success and this is no different to what I hear from people when I tell me story. So when I go on to speak about the journey that took me from living homeless, feeling broken, and abandoned to becoming a seven-time, international bestseller, yes, people are often surprised.
What inspires you?
We are born with an incredible power that only a fraction of people in the world have learned how to channel safely and for the greater good of humankind. In spending over 30 years in study, research and as a senior manager, I realised how the vast majority of people are programmed to try to divide that which is undividable, to forget that which is unforgettable, and to fear that which can help them grow the most. I have a desire to help people reframe what they see they are possible of, so they can make use of their God-given intelligence to win any battle life throws at them. I also love taking organisations on this journey through improving team productivity and organisational performance through defining clear purpose. You could say that is what inspires me gets me out of bed every morning; helping people find their purpose.
When did you learn you could be unapologetic about your diversity?
I knew I’d mastered being unapologetic about my diversity when I built up the courage to come out to my parents, family, friends, and leave an arranged marriage, accepting that I might never be loved by them again in the process. In facing all of my fears, and using all I have learned to heal every relationship with my family, I learned how powerful love is. How in accepting being abandoned by the very same people I loved the most, I was able to create the breakthroughs needed to be wholly acknowledged and loved by them as I am, and for all that I am.
How has your background and experience prepared you to be effective in business?
I grew up in a diverse family, neighbourhood, town, and society. From a very young age, I learned the importance of celebrating, dancing, and embracing differences and the similarities a diverse culture brings into our life. It is what helped me survive in the civil war, living homeless and later in life successfully managing diverse teams. As a leader, this made me a better communicator, more objective, and inspired me to be an early ambassador for the importance equality, diversity and inclusion play in every layer in our society, especially in the business sense.
My parents were farmers and restaurateurs who instilled in me work ethics, values, and business skills that to date I use. The customer is your king is something my parents ensured I knew from a very young age. Being a teenage soldier fighting in a civil war made more grateful, appreciative, and taught me tactical, strategic, and long term thinking. Homelessness taught me how to master my emotions and not let them distract me from what I am here in this life to do. Various roles as a senior technology manager taught me how to manage people, dissolving conflict effectively, programme-project management skills, be a better speaker, how to leverage technology to grow businesses, improve processes, sales, marketing, and drive long term company vision. I excelled by empowering my teams, so they too felt they make a difference in the overall organisational wellbeing and success. Most importantly, I now use all I have learned to drive business growth through purpose, value, and service. Having this in mind, I created a growing educational consulting business that can serve a more significant amount of people.
What does it mean for you to have a commitment to inclusion?
I know first-hand what it feels to be excluded because of your ethnic background, creed, religious beliefs, and most importantly, my sexual orientation. For an organisation to thrive in today’s consciously aware generation, it is essential to commit in being leaders in diversity and inclusion (D&I), where all of the people in the company can be appreciated, celebrated, and encouraged to be themselves and feel empowered to succeed. I know that diversity makes any company attract the best talent, drive innovation, and deliver the best experience for their clients but without inclusion, none of this is sustainable.
What made you dare to be different?
My parents gave me the tools I needed to dare to be different. They seeded my curiosity to find answers to life’s greatest mysteries. While on the one hand, my hard-working parents provided the best life a child could have, on the other hand, I saw my mum undergoing emotional and physical abuse by my dad’s younger brothers and grandfather—the very same people she fed every night at the dinner table.
Emotional and physical abuse were the tools many people in the ’70s used to make you conform to their way of thinking. Despite all of that, my parents, my mother, ensured they provided me with the best education possible and instilled in me the importance of a strong mind and strong spirit in fighting every battle life throws at you. I knew they wanted different outcomes for me, and so they prepared me for a different life.
As young as seven, I knew this was my destiny. I knew one day I would travel the world to make a difference in people’s lives. My parents made sure I understood the principles of humanity, respect and hard work. The love they gave me offered me the toolkit I needed to thrive and transcend what many would have considered my destiny at birth. They enabled me to dare to different.