Driving Disruption: Jessica Lewis Of Mobu Enterprises On The Innovative Approaches They Are Taking To Disrupt Their Industries

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

We were more than a company; we were advocates, educators, champions of a world living in harmony with nature. We built not just with steel and glass but with a firm belief that every stroke of the hammer, every turn of the wrench, was a stride towards a better future.

In an age where industries evolve at lightning speed, there exists a special breed of C-suite executives who are not just navigating the changes, but driving them. These are the pioneers who think outside the box, championing novel strategies that shatter the status quo and set new industry standards. Their approach fosters innovation, spurs growth, and leads to disruptive change that redefines their sectors. In this interview series, we are talking to disruptive C-suite executives to share their experiences, insights, and the secrets behind the innovative approaches they are taking to disrupt their industries. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Lewis Co-Founder of Mobu Enterprises.

Jessica Lewis is an ambitious self-made businesswoman and serial entrepreneur from Philadelphia, PA with over 20 years’ experience in Real Estate, Management Consulting, Project Management, Public Speaking, Corporate Training, and Commercial Lending. Jessica is also the CEO/Co-founder of Mobu Enterprises where she and her business partner, Ibrahim Smith have shifted the perspective of traditional housing by building disaster-resistant homes out of shipping containers, also known as “green construction.” In her business, the multifaceted entrepreneur focuses on supporting cross-functional teams to increase customer satisfaction through process improvements, which cuts the development time in half, making Mobu Enterprises one of the most efficient black-owned companies building shipping container homes in less than 90 days with a comprehensive team of general contractors, engineers, and interior design team making them a one-stop-shop for buildouts.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about disruption, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I used to work for companies that were shipping container builders and found that they were income over impact and did not maximize the use of this product to its maximum capabilities, especially in the social impact space. We left those company’s and started our own. We are social entrepreneurs and knew if we solved a problem everything would fall into place.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Once upon a time, in a world increasingly conscious of its environmental footprint, I founded a visionary company named Mobu Enterprises. Situated in the bustling heart of the green construction industry, Mobu was no ordinary firm. It was the realization of my dream to redefine how we build our homes and workplaces, a dream vividly painted in shades of green and sustainability.

In the realm of construction, where traditional bricks and mortar were the norms, my company, Mobu Enterprises, dared to be different. We recognized the overlooked potential in the sturdy, weathered shipping containers that traversed the globe. These steel giants, retiring from their sea voyages, were reborn under our care. We transformed them into innovative, eco-friendly homes and offices, each with its unique story, each a testament to resilience and ingenuity.

What made Mobu Enterprises stand out was not just our use of unconventional building blocks but our deep commitment to a greener world. Repurposing each container meant using fewer resources, reducing our carbon footprint, and distancing ourselves from the environmental impact of traditional construction. Our structures, emerging like phoenixes from the ashes of industrial refuse, stood not just as dwellings but as symbols of sustainability.

The magic of Mobu extended further. Our creations were marvels of energy efficiency, outfitted with solar panels to harness the sun’s energy, green roofs that brought nature into urban settings, and insulation that preserved both warmth and coolness. These homes cared for the earth as much as they provided for those residing within them.

Witnessing Mobu Enterprises bring these visions to life was like watching a harmonious dance of cranes and craftsmen, creating something beautiful and meaningful in a fraction of the time and cost of traditional construction.

What truly set Mobu Enterprises apart, though, was our spirit. We were more than a company; we were advocates, educators, champions of a world living in harmony with nature. We built not just with steel and glass but with a firm belief that every stroke of the hammer, every turn of the wrench, was a stride towards a better future.

And so, the story of Mobu Enterprises was not just about building; it was a story of transformation, of reimagining the possible, and of leaving a legacy that would inspire generations to come in the ever-evolving tale of our planet.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The success of Mobu Enterprises can be attributed to several key character traits, but three stand out as particularly instrumental to our long term growth strategy: Innovativeness, Sustainability-Focused, and Resilience. Let’s delve into stories that exemplify each of these traits.

1. Innovativeness

Story: The First Modular Marvel

In the early days of Mobu Enterprises, the construction industry was saturated with conventional methods. The company, however, saw potential in something entirely different — shipping containers. Their first project, a small office space in an urban area, was a gamble. Skeptics doubted the feasibility and aesthetics of using shipping containers for such purposes.

Undeterred, we set to work, transforming these steel boxes into a modular marvel. They introduced fold-out sections, innovative insulation, and solar panels. The result was a sleek, modern office that stood out for its unique design and efficiency. This project became the talk of the town, showcasing Mobu’s innovative spirit. It wasn’t just a building; it was a statement that innovation is the key to breaking new ground.

2. Sustainability-Focused Story: The Eco-School Project

Mobu Enterprises once undertook a project to build a school in a rural community. Instead of following traditional construction methods, we focused on sustainability. We used repurposed shipping containers and integrated eco-friendly features like rainwater harvesting systems and solar-powered heating.

The school became a hub of environmental education. Children learned in classrooms that exemplified sustainable living, surrounded by vegetable gardens and renewable energy sources. This project demonstrated our commitment to sustainability, not just in construction but in fostering an eco-conscious mindset in the community.

3. Resilience

Story: Overcoming the Economic Downturn

During a particularly harsh economic downturn, many companies in the construction sector faced significant challenges. Mobu Enterprises was not immune to these hardships. Projects were put on hold, and the future looked uncertain.

However, instead of succumbing to the pressure, we adapted. We diversified our portfolio, buying 1200 acres, targeted smaller residential projects and temporary installations, which were more viable during the economic slump. We also optimized our operations, focusing on local markets and reducing overhead costs. This period of adversity highlighted our resilience, their ability to adapt and thrive even in challenging conditions.

Each of these stories reflects the core traits that have been instrumental to Mobu Enterprises’ success. Innovativeness allowed them to break new ground and stand out from the competition. A focus on sustainability ensured that our projects not only respected the environment but also educated and inspired others. Lastly, resilience in the face of adversity kept our company steady and adaptable, enabling us to navigate through turbulent times and emerge stronger.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

As the CEO of Mobu Enterprises, I recently faced a challenging decision that tested our commitment to sustainability. We were offered a lucrative contract to build a large commercial complex. This project promised significant profits but required methods and materials that contradicted our core values of green construction. The dilemma was stark: accept the project for its financial benefits or decline it to uphold our sustainability principles.

Confronted with this decision, I called a meeting with my team to deliberate. The finance department laid out the potential profits and growth opportunities, while the sustainability team raised concerns about the environmental impact and deviation from our mission. I found myself torn between the allure of immediate financial gain and our long-term vision.

After careful consideration, I chose to decline the project. This decision was based on several crucial factors:

1. Brand Integrity and Mission: Mobu Enterprises was founded on sustainable construction principles. Accepting a project that went against this would compromise our brand integrity and the trust we’ve built with our customers and partners.

2. Long-term Vision: While the project offered short-term financial gains, it risked damaging our reputation and alienating our core customer base, potentially leading to long-term financial consequences.

3. Employee Morale and Company Culture: Our team is deeply committed to sustainability. Pursuing a project that contradicted these values could demoralize our staff and undermine the culture we’ve cultivated.

This decision underscored several key aspects of my leadership at Mobu Enterprises:

1. Commitment to Core Values: It reinforced our unwavering dedication to our founding principles, even in the face of tempting opportunities. This decision was pivotal in fostering a culture of integrity within Mobu.

2. Long-term Perspective: It emphasized the importance of prioritizing long-term viability over short- term profits, an approach vital for sustainable business growth.

3. Stakeholder Trust: Upholding our sustainability ethos not only maintained but also strengthened the trust of our stakeholders, including our customers, employees, and the wider community.

4. Empowering Team Input: The process highlighted the value we place on diverse perspectives, ensuring that every voice is heard and contributing to a collaborative leadership style.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. In the context of a business, what exactly is “Disruption”?

In my experience in the business world, I’ve come to understand “disruption” as a significant change that dramatically alters how an industry or market functions. This change usually results from introducing a new technology, product, service, or business model that fundamentally challenges the existing norms of market leaders and industry practices. I relate this concept closely with “disruptive innovation,” a term made popular by Clayton M. Christensen.

From my perspective, the key aspects of business disruption include:

1. Innovation: I’ve observed that disruption often originates from innovation, which can be technological, like the introduction of the internet, or conceptual, like the sharing economy model exemplified by companies such as Airbnb and Uber.

2. Market Impact: In my experience, disruptive businesses or technologies don’t just compete; they create a new market and value network. Over time, they tend to displace established market leaders. This isn’t about competition; it’s about redefining the market itself.

3. Accessibility and Affordability: I’ve noticed that disruptive innovations often make products and services more accessible and affordable, reaching a broader customer base. For instance, smartphones have made computing capabilities available to a much wider audience than traditional PCs.

4. Value Shift: Disruption often leads to a shift in value from existing solutions to new ones. I’ve seen customers or clients migrate towards newer, more innovative offerings, which typically provide greater convenience, functionality, or efficiency.

5. Industry Transformation: From my viewpoint, true disruption eventually leads to the transformation, or even the creation, of an industry. A prime example is digital streaming services, which have fundamentally changed how people consume music and video, impacting traditional businesses like record stores and video rental companies.

It’s crucial to understand that not all innovations are disruptive. In my experience, if they simply improve upon existing products or services without radically altering industry operations, they’re not truly disruptive. I’ve also observed that true disruption is often initially underestimated by established players, as it may start in a small market segment before rapidly expanding and redefining the industry.

How do you perceive the role of ‘disruption’ within your industry, and how have you personally embraced it? Is it a necessity, a strategy, or something else entirely in your view?

In my role within the shipping container building industry, I’ve come to recognize the critical role of ‘disruption’ in shaping our approach and success. Here’s how I view it:

1. Innovative Approach to Construction:

• To me, disruption is an essential catalyst for innovation. The very foundation of our industry, repurposing shipping containers for living and working spaces, stems from this disruptive thinking. It’s about seeing potential in what is typically considered industrial waste.

2. Sustainability and Eco-Friendliness:

• Our industry disrupts traditional construction methods by offering a more sustainable alternative. In my experience, using shipping containers significantly reduces the demand for new materials, lowers carbon footprints, and often integrates eco-friendly elements like solar panels or green roofs.

3. Cost-Effectiveness and Efficiency:

• I’ve seen firsthand how shipping containers can cut down both construction costs and timelines. This efficiency disrupts the market, appealing to those seeking quicker, more affordable building solutions.

4. Versatility and Scalability:

• The versatility of shipping containers, serving both residential and commercial purposes, challenges conventional building norms. Their modifiability and transportability are aspects I often highlight to clients seeking flexible solutions.

From my standpoint as a leader in this field, embracing disruption is not just a choice but a strategic necessity. It began with recognizing the potential of shipping containers and has evolved into a continuous pursuit of innovation in design, functionality, and sustainability. This involves:

• Integrating Smart Technologies: We’re constantly exploring how IoT and smart home systems can enhance the living experience in container homes.

• Expanding Market Reach: Our target audience isn’t limited to the eco-conscious. We’re also reaching out to those seeking affordable housing, unique commercial spaces, and even temporary installations.

• Investing in R&D: Ongoing research into new insulation methods, space optimization, and modular designs is crucial to stay ahead.

In my view, disruption in the shipping container building industry is both a necessity and a strategic choice. It’s necessary due to the challenges of sustainability, cost, and efficiency in traditional construction.

Strategically, it differentiates and positions our company in a competitive market.

Moreover, I see our disruption as a catalyst for broader change in the construction sector, pushing the industry towards more sustainable and innovative practices.

What lessons have you learned from challenging conventional wisdom, and how have those lessons shaped your leadership style?

1. Value of Open-Mindedness and Flexibility

• My experiences have taught me that challenging conventional wisdom often reveals how rigid adherence to traditional methods can hinder growth and innovation. I’ve learned the importance of being open-minded and flexible, always ready to consider and experiment with new ideas.

• Impact on My Leadership Style: This understanding has shaped me into an adaptable and responsive leader, fostering a culture of continuous learning and innovation within my organization.

2. Importance of Vision and Conviction

• In pioneering new approaches, I’ve often gone against the grain, facing skepticism and resistance. This has underscored the importance of having a clear vision and the conviction to steadfastly pursue it, despite doubts.

• Impact on My Leadership Style: Consequently, I’ve become a more visionary and decisive leader. I inspire confidence in my team by staying committed to our goals and guiding the organization with a strong sense of purpose.

3. Balancing Innovation with Practicality

• I’ve realized that innovation for its own sake can lead to impractical solutions. Balancing the excitement of new ideas with practical considerations like feasibility, cost, and ROI is something I’ve learned to do.

• Impact on My Leadership Style: This has led to a pragmatic leadership style where I value innovation but also ground decisions in practicality. It ensures that new ideas are not just creative but also actionable and beneficial for the organization.

4. Embracing Diverse Perspectives

• My journey has shown me that challenging conventional wisdom often highlights the limitations of a single perspective. I’ve come to value diverse viewpoints and incorporate a range of insights into decision-making.

• Impact on My Leadership Style: As a leader, I foster an inclusive and collaborative environment. I ensure different ideas are welcomed, and team members feel valued for their unique contributions.

5. Resilience in the Face of Adversity

• Innovation is often accompanied by setbacks and failures. I’ve learned that resilience and the ability to learn from mistakes are crucial for long-term success.

• Impact on My Leadership Style: This has nurtured a resilient and persistent approach in my leadership. I view setbacks as learning opportunities and emphasize the value of perseverance.

Disruptive ideas often meet resistance. Could you describe a time when you faced significant pushback for a disruptive idea? How did you navigate the opposition, and what advice would you give to others in a similar situation?

When I proposed integrating advanced AI technology, like robots, machine learning, and AI, to automate certain production processes in our traditional manufacturing setup, I faced significant resistance. The workforce was concerned about job security, and senior management was skeptical about the investment and the radical departure from established practices.

To navigate this opposition, I took several steps:

1. Understanding Concerns:

• First, I acknowledged and understood the concerns of both employees and management. I empathized with the workforce’s fears about job displacement and addressed management’s doubts about ROI and the challenges of implementation.

2. Effective Communication:

• I organized meetings and presentations to explain the benefits of AI integration for the company and its employees. I clarified that AI would augment the workforce rather than replace it and presented data on long-term cost savings and efficiency gains to management.

3. Pilot Project:

• To demonstrate the feasibility and benefits, I proposed a small-scale pilot project. This approach minimized risk and allowed everyone to witness the practical results before a full- scale implementation.

4. Involving Stakeholders in the Process:

• I involved employees and other stakeholders in the planning and implementation process, making them feel part of the change rather than victims of it.

5. Training and Development:

• Offering training programs to upskill employees for new roles created by AI integration helped alleviate job security concerns and prepared the workforce for the future.

6. Gathering Support:

• I identified and worked with internal champions and influencers who saw the potential benefits, helping sway opinions and gain broader support.

From this experience, my advice to others facing similar situations includes:

1. Listen and Empathize: Understand the concerns of those resisting change, as resistance often stems from fear or misunderstanding.

2. Communicate Clearly: Articulate the benefits and address concerns using data and examples.

3. Start Small: Implement the idea on a small scale first; success in a pilot project can help win trust and reduce opposition.

4. Involve Stakeholders: Make people feel they are part of the change, as involvement leads to ownership and reduces resistance.

5. Provide Training and Support: Support your team in adapting to the change. Training is key for a smooth transition.

6. Be Patient and Persistent: Change, especially disruptive ones, takes time. Be prepared for long-term efforts in getting everyone on board.

7. Stay Open to Feedback: Adjust your plans based on valid feedback and concerns.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Innovative Approaches We Are Using To Disrupt Our Industry”?

1. Modular and Scalable Design Innovations

• My approach has been to emphasize the modular nature of shipping containers to create scalable, customizable designs. These can be easily expanded, reduced, or modified.

• Example: At Mobu Enterprises, we developed a residential complex where each unit was a single shipping container. The innovative design allowed each unit to be effortlessly connected to or detached from its neighbors, enabling residents to expand their living space as needed. This flexible approach to housing became a game-changer in urban areas where space and adaptability are crucial.

2. Integration of Smart and Sustainable Technologies

• I’ve incorporated smart home technologies and sustainable solutions, like solar panels and rainwater harvesting systems, into our shipping container constructions.

• Example: One of Mobu’s projects, an office building, was equipped with a smart climate control system that adapted to weather changes and occupant preferences, optimizing energy use. It also featured a green roof and a system for collecting and reusing rainwater, setting a new standard for eco-friendly commercial buildings.

3. Use of Cutting-Edge Materials and Insulation Techniques

• My focus has been on researching and utilizing advanced materials and insulation techniques to enhance the energy efficiency and durability of container structures.

• Example: Mobu Enterprises tackled the challenge of extreme temperatures by developing a new insulation material made from recycled materials. This not only provided superior thermal regulation but also enhanced our sustainability credentials.

4. Development of Disaster-Resistant Structures

• I have focused on designing shipping container structures that are exceptionally resilient to natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods.

• Example: In a hurricane-prone region, we constructed a community center from shipping containers designed to withstand high winds and flooding. The center served as a crucial shelter during emergencies, demonstrating container construction’s potential in disaster management.

5. Community and Urban Regeneration Projects

• Using shipping container construction as a tool for community and urban regeneration, we’ve created affordable, sustainable living and working spaces.

• Example: We launched a project in a neglected urban area, transforming abandoned lots into vibrant community spaces using shipping containers. This included affordable housing units, community gardens, and local business incubators, revitalizing the area and displaying innovative construction’s role in urban regeneration.

Through these approaches, I’ve demonstrated how leveraging the unique properties of shipping containers can bring disruptive and beneficial changes to the construction industry. Focusing on adaptability, sustainability, resilience, and community impact, Mobu Enterprises has set new standards and led the way in industry innovation.

Looking back at your career, in what ways has being disruptive defined or redefined your path? What surprises have you encountered along the way?

Innovation as a Core Principle:

• My career has been deeply influenced by embracing disruptive ideas, like using shipping containers for building homes and offices. This innovative approach steered me away from traditional construction practices and towards sustainable, eco-friendly, and innovative building solutions.

Redefining Market Expectations:

• Being part of the disruptive field of shipping container construction has redefined how the market perceives building solutions. My role has been to move away from conventional construction methods and lead a trend that prioritizes sustainability, affordability, and creativity.

Changing Industry Dynamics:

• My engagement in disruptive practices has involved altering the dynamics of the construction industry. This meant challenging established norms, pushing for regulatory changes, and advocating for the broader acceptance of alternative building materials and methods.

Surprises Encountered: Market Reception:

• I was initially surprised by the market’s reception. There was skepticism about the viability and durability of shipping container structures, but over time, the market showed a growing interest in sustainable and innovative building options, leading to increased demand.

Regulatory Challenges:

• Navigating building codes and regulations not initially designed for unconventional structures like shipping containers was a challenge. The surprise was in both the complexities and the opportunities to influence regulatory changes.

Technological Advancements:

• The rapid advancement of technology in areas like sustainable materials, insulation techniques, and smart home systems was surprising. These advancements continuously redefined what’s possible in shipping container construction.

Broader Impact Beyond Construction:

• An unexpected aspect of working in a disruptive field was the broader impact on societal views regarding sustainability and housing. My work has contributed to a shift in how people think about and approach their living and working spaces.

Collaborations and Partnerships:

• Surprising opportunities for collaborations emerged. Partnerships with technology firms, environmental organizations, and even governments opened new avenues for growth and impact.

Beyond professional accomplishments, how has embracing disruption affected you on a personal level?

In your role as a C-suite leader, driving innovation and embracing disruption, what thoughts or concerns keep you awake at night? How do these reflections guide your decisions and leadership?

1. Adaptability and Resilience:

• Personal Growth: Continually facing and adapting to change can enhance one’s resilience. It encourages a mindset that is not just reactive to changes but anticipates and embraces them.

• Life Applications: This adaptability can spill over into personal life, making an individual more adept at handling life’s uncertainties and challenges.

2. Innovative Mindset:

• Creative Thinking: Regularly challenging the status quo can foster a deeply ingrained habit of thinking creatively and looking for innovative solutions in everyday life.

• Problem-Solving: This mindset can transform the way one approaches problems, not just at work, but in all aspects of life, seeking out-of-the-box solutions for various challenges.

3. Sustainability Consciousness:

• Lifestyle Changes: Working in a sustainable industry like shipping container construction can heighten one’s awareness of environmental issues, leading to more eco-friendly lifestyle choices.

• Advocacy: This can also ignite a passion for environmental advocacy, inspiring one to educate and encourage others about sustainable living.

4. Risk Tolerance:

• Comfort with Uncertainty: Embracing disruption often involves taking risks and dealing with uncertainty. This can help in developing a comfort with not knowing all the answers and making the best decisions with available information.

• Personal Decisions: The increased risk tolerance can be reflected in one’s personal life, such as in financial decisions, travel, or even trying new experiences.

5. Empathy and Leadership:

• Understanding Diverse Perspectives: Working in a disruptive field requires understanding and valuing different viewpoints, which can enhance empathy and emotional intelligence.

• Community and Family Leadership: These skills are invaluable in personal relationships and community involvement, leading to stronger connections and a more inclusive attitude.

6. Learning and Growth Orientation:

• Continuous Learning: Disruption often necessitates ongoing learning and skill development, fostering a mindset geared towards continuous personal and professional growth.

• Applying Knowledge: This orientation towards learning can influence personal hobbies, interests, and the pursuit of lifelong learning goals.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The Go Green or Die movement. This concept of throwing trash out the window, polluting, and blatantly disrespecting mother earth is overdone and we could really use a do-over so that future generations can live on. The Go Green or Die movement would encourage people across diverse backgrounds to get creative on creating generational green initiatives around how to reverse global climate change in a fun, educational, and rewarding way. It can give incentives to those who participate like money (recycling plastic or glass at 25 cents per bottle for example). We can start in the home via composting and recycling methods amongst people in a family, then the kids can instruct other kids and teachers, and it becomes a trickle effect. This is the simplest way to encourage generational green initiatives with minimal efforts. Municipalities can start larger programs and get money from the federal program to start and maintain such programs. The Goal: To expand human life cycles beyond the next ten years because if we don’t, we will not make it past that time frame. Scary, but necessary.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please visit www.shippingliving.com and Follow us on IG and YouTube under @shippingliving Linked In and Facebook is Mobu Enterprises

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.