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Ayo Haynes '90, MBA '92: A Life Well Improvised

Written by: 
Jennifer A. Spira

One could argue that Ayo Haynes ’90, MBA ’92 is the embodiment of Bentley's liberal-arts-meets-business philosophy..

Growing up in East Harlem, N.Y., the natural beauty and gifted athlete dreamed of becoming an actress one day. Her mother imagined a path that started with a college degree.

“We made a deal," remembers Haynes. "I would get a degree, then take five years to see if my acting career took off."

Challenging Perceptions

Academics, proximity to home, and a full scholarship brought Haynes to Bentley in 1986, eager to pursue her varied interests.

“I definitely have a creative side, but I also possess a business side,” says the alumna, who played tennis and ran track for the Falcons. “Some of my fellow students would wonder, 'Why are you here?' But the entertainment industry is filled with businesspeople. I wanted to challenge perceptions.”

The ambitious Haynes landed an internship at the Art Institute of Boston, and signed with a Boston area talent agency. Faculty and staff provided a steady source of support for her atypical career plans.

“They weren’t judgmental about my goals, even though I was ahead of my time,” says Haynes, the first African-American to graduate from the Five-Year BA/MBA program, with a BA in liberal arts and an MBA in marketing.

She walked off the commencement stage and onto another. Winning a role on the kids’ Saturday morning show Way Cool was "the pat on the back I needed to tell my mother and myself that I made the right decision."

Production Values

Haynes's dream continued to play out, as she acted in commercials, voiceovers and soap operas. The latter included As the World Turns, where she spent two years as Assistant District Attorney Evelyn Hart and earned a seat at the 2005 Daytime Emmys with her cast mates.

Success as an actor notwithstanding, Haynes cast a wide net in planning her future. “I’ve always thought that it’s necessary to be as diverse as possible and have multiple streams of income,” she says. “That’s my business background in action.”

In 1995, she combined her talents in marketing and performing to launch a company: ah, joy! Productions. The bulk of the work was casting for small movies;she also ran workshops on corporate networking and diversity for Fortune 500 companies. The pace was daunting even for a confirmed multitasker, so she applied the brakes and returned to acting.

New Territory

A commercial shoot for Marriott Hotels would offer Haynes's next big break. Her co-star in the Marriott spot was routinely on his cellphone between takes, working out deals as a real estate agent in New York City. He convinced Haynes to try her own hand at selling.

She put herself through real estate school, earned her license, and in 2006 joined one of New York's top real estate agencies, Halstead Property. Since then, she has closed more than $53 million in sales, working with buyers, sellers and developers. She has a special talent for partnering with high-end developers of new construction -- and applies her business skills every step of the way, from creating branding and advertising strategies to selecting fixtures and finishes.

"Bentley gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams, no matter how unconventional," says Haynes, who continues to do voiceovers for Lowe's, Family Dollar, McDonald's and other clients. "We all have the power to live the life we dream of and which makes us happy. So while I have reached many of my goals, there is much more on my list to look forward to and accomplish."

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