From car wash attendant to tech executive: the story of Tony Prophet

BY Abu Mubarik August 8, 2023 4:53 AM EDT
Tony Prophet. Photo Credit: Keterring University

In an industry where black representation at the C-suite level remains notably scarce, Tony Prophet’s remarkable journey from a car wash attendant to a seasoned technology executive stands out. While his path was unconventional, it eventually led him to becoming one of the select few black executives who have ascended to the prestigious C-suite at a tech giant, working at companies such as HP, Microsoft and Salesforce.

Prophet’s journey began shortly after high school when he secured a job at the now-defunct General Motors Institute. His role involved meticulously cleaning the cars of executives in the wash rack. It was during this time that he made a personal commitment to excel in his role, vowing to become the best car wash attendant possible.

 “I said to myself, if I’m the best car washer then next I’ll get a better job. Whatever I am given, I’m going to be the best. I’m not going to complain, I’m going to do my best,” he told Fast Company in an interview.

His dedication shone through, as every car he washed bore his signature mark of impeccable cleanliness, from the wheels to the license plate frame.

This same spirit and enthusiasm accompanied him daily to the wash rack, propelling him to believe in his ability to excel and replicate excellence in any future position. This mindset proved fruitful when he transitioned to study Industrial Engineering at Keterring University, and when he became a consultant at Booz Allen, a prestigious American Management Consulting Services Company. Through dedication and hard work, Prophet swiftly ascended from an associate to a partner, setting his sights on even greater professional achievements.

Prophet’s ambition and commitment were evident when he joined United Technologies, where he assumed a role overseeing global supply chain operations for the Carrier Corporation. As a part of the top-level management team, he contributed to decisions impacting a global workforce of 30,000 employees. His trajectory of success continued to grow more pronounced.

From his humble beginnings, Prophet’s rise in the corporate world was undeniable. He eventually held the prestigious title of Corporate Vice President of Microsoft, including the role of CVP of Windows Marketing. His influence extended beyond his official role, as he pioneered the creation of “Blacklight,” an employee group aimed at empowering black marketing professionals within Microsoft.

Prior to his tenure at Microsoft, Prophet served as a Senior Vice President at Hewlett Packard, where he was entrusted with crucial decisions concerning global PC and printing supply chain operations. His responsibilities extended to Central Direct Procurement and Logistics across all of HP, encompassing more than $50 billion collectively. Notably, his journey was not without challenges. At Microsoft, he navigated declining sales of Windows PCs and fierce competition from Apple and Google in the realm of smartphones and tablets.

At HP, he faced human rights concerns and established rigorous standards for staff adherence. Prophet’s approach to challenges was characterized by transparency and directness, firmly addressing issues head-on. He earned a reputation for taking a firm stance on societal matters that others may shy away from. His participation in a pride march in San Francisco, donning pink attire to make a statement about LGBTQ+ rights, highlighted his commitment to such causes.

Throughout his career, Prophet prioritized the interests of organizations and their staff, consistently finding innovative ways to overcome obstacles. He cultivated these character traits by upholding values of respect and empathy, which he considers essential in all interactions within an organization.

Prophet’s dedication to fostering inclusivity, respect, and empathy culminated in his appointment as the first Chief Equality Officer for San Francisco at Salesforce, the world’s largest cloud computing company, in2017. His legacy at Salesforce includes championing an environment that promotes diversity and inclusiveness, as reported by The Independent.

While not everyone may have recognized his impact and contributions, Prophet continually made headlines as a shining example of equality and inclusion in the workplace. His inspiring journey stands as a testament to the power of determination, resilience, and unwavering commitment to making a positive impact in the corporate world.

Prophet left Salesforce in 2021 and now serves on the board of several organizations including Aviso AI and Dolby Laboratory.