Since Alero Akuya was a little girl, her life has revolved around being creative. She journaled and wrote stories from a young age, dreaming of one day becoming an author, and participated in her school choir. While Akuya, now the vice-president of global brand development at the LEGO Group, is no longer a little girl, she stays connected to her creative inner child and seeks to empower others to do the same. It’s all part of the job when you work at the LEGO Group.
Before relocating from Los Angeles to Copenhagen, Denmark, when she joined LEGO in 2021, Akuya spent over ten years at Nike. While there, she created its purpose-marketing division, working with athletes like Serena Williams, Kobe Bryant, and Colin Kaepernick to further social-justice initiatives and give back to local communities. Now, at LEGO, Akuya is gearing up to celebrate the brand’s 90th anniversary in an impactful way.
Akuya’s life is very structured, as she tells us. She loves to exercise, stick to a schedule, and packs her days with meetings. Still, the key to success for this hard worker is a lot of play. From making friends abroad to how her idea of work has changed throughout her career, here’s how she gets it done.
On her morning routine:
I wake up like clockwork every day at 5:30 a.m. If it’s Danish summer, the sun is blaring through, but if it’s Danish winter, it’s super-dark. I pretty much jump up, put on workout clothes, and head to either a Pilates class or to work out with my trainer. My dog’s typically still asleep as well as my partner. I’ll come back, put a pot of coffee on, then grab my sheepadoodle puppy, Zoro, and take him for a really quick walk.
On where she gets inspiration:
I’m constantly reading. In order to ideate, you need fuel and you need to be constantly inspired, so I’m constantly reading articles. I’m spending time with kids. I’m exploring, and I’m trying to get a pulse on what broader trends are; what’s driving culture, basically, is what I want to know and understand. It’s evolving day-to-day.
On making time for play:
The best part about the job is that at the end of the day, we’re talking about play. And we get to play all day long if we so choose — it’s really welcome in the workplace. We have LEGO bricks in every conference room, table, or desk. It’s encouraged in meetings that we make playful games and incorporate that into our dialogues, or we think playfully about the ideas that we’re developing. For me, it’s the playfulness of the work environment and the playfulness of my colleagues that’s really enjoyable.
On staying connected to her inner child:
What was the thing that you were so into when you were 6 years old? I liked writing. I liked dance. I loved double Dutch. And it’s like, Okay, let’s do that thing. Let’s take turns and do that thing and bring it to a team meeting or do it in our next off-site or find it throughout your day, reminding ourselves we’re not that far from that 6-year-old boy or girl.
My younger self loved to write stories. She loved to write fictional stories, and that’s something I still do. I also journaled a lot as a young girl, almost every day for six or seven years. My dad, when I was a kid, would make me come home after school and write my day down and then present it. That was a daily occurrence. I guess he was preparing me for boardrooms, you know? Shout-out to Dad, because it paid off.
On making the decision to move to Denmark:
When the opportunity came to move to Copenhagen, I was like, You know what? Life is meant to be lived, and it’s time for some adventure. Being an expat, regardless of where you land, is a master class in learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s also about putting yourself in situations where you don’t really know what the outcome is going to be. In the process, you learn so much about yourself.
On building a community abroad:
Any time I saw someone or met someone with a similar interest, I immediately did what people would classify here as the “American thing” and introduced myself, said where I was from, said I loved what they were wearing or the thing that we were doing. Or I was like, “Oh, you’re another really incredible Black woman. Where do you get your hair done?” I would try to find a connection or link to see how people would respond. And sure enough, there’s plenty of people seeking the same level of connection and relationship here, whether they’re an expat or even just someone that’s lived here for an extended period of time. So if you ever see me in Copenhagen, I’ll probably walk up and introduce myself.
On the importance of nurturing creativity in kids:
[In elementary school,] I had this incredible music teacher. She saw something in me and asked me to try out for choir. What I thought was just gonna be an after-school thing that I did once or twice a week ended up opening a world of possibilities to me. We started performing nationally and then globally, and I learned that I had so much more to give creatively.
It was such a gift to have a mentor in that way and to meet other like-minded students. It was a transformative period in my life. Growing up, there’s so many stressors and challenges around you. There’s a lot of self-doubt, and you’re still trying to find yourself. I was trying to find my voice. I was privileged to have this program that helped me find not just my singing voice but my persona of who I wanted to be.
And I just thought it was important that every kid has that opportunity to be the best version of themselves to reach their full potential. So I think it’s just really important for me to see the growth and the opportunity over time for kids.
On what she learned from taking time off:
I had been at [Nike] for about ten years, and at your ten-year mark, you get a sabbatical. I took my time off. I traveled the world. And when you have that amount of time to take a break, you have time to think and settle. And I thought to myself, The only thing that I wish I could do more of was give back to the community.
When I first started at Nike in 2007, my job was to make sure that playgrounds came to life across Los Angeles. I got to meet the local community. I got to spend time in the community programs and then I would work with the vendor to build a skate park, and we’d partner with Paul Rodriguez, or we’d build a tennis court and partner with Serena [Williams], or we would launch a basketball court and do that with Pau Gasol or Kobe Bryant. It was such a fulfilling time in my career. That was year one. Fast forward ten years, when I got back from sabbatical: I was like, I want to do more of that, but I wanna do it in a different way.
On how her outlook on work has evolved:
It’s changed quite a bit, and that’s partially due to COVID but also the culture change in Denmark. I feel like there’s such a wonderful quality of life here because there’s a true balance of life and work. There are standard working hours. There’s a level of respect that when you’re off, you’re off. If you’ve left the office for the day and you’re cooking dinner for your kids, your family takes precedence. Work is just something that I do and I care deeply about, because there’s a purpose and a mission behind it, but I am also equally as passionate about — and empowered to take — time for my family and myself.
On dealing with criticism:
The best way to think about it is, What can I learn from what I had just heard? And sitting with the feeling. It’s okay to be sad and disappointed. I don’t think it’s something that we can just hear and pass right by. Then, create the space to think about how you would go about addressing this and asking for advice. Clearly if I’m getting the criticism, I don’t have all the answers. So are there mentors and people within your network or your life that you can kind of share and bounce that feedback off of and get their perspective in a sound way?
On how she winds down each day:
What I like to do is as soon as I’m done with the [last] call, I close my computer. If I’m home, I grab my dog and we go for a long walk or a run. Then when you come back into the house, it’s a bit of a reset: You’ve got fresh air, you maybe have your blood pumping, and you can kind of then transition into what’s next, whether that’s making dinner, whether that’s going out to meet up with friends, etc. But really [it’s about] finding something that breaks from what you did for the last eight hours.