For Alexander “Alex” Bamfo, working at Howard University is a full-circle opportunity.
Though 45-year-old Bamfo was raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, he was born in the Howard University Hospital. With roots in the University and in recognition of Howard’s rich legacy, Bamfo takes great pride in being the general manager for the Barnes & Noble Bookstore at Howard University.
The bookstore is located on Georgia Avenue right next to Starbucks. The ground floor is complete with rows of Howard apparel and paraphernalia, while the second floor has shelves of various books and school materials.
On any given day, when not in meetings or holding events, Bamfo can be found right alongside his employees working to ensure the bookstore is running smoothly.
Since Barnes & Noble at Howard is one of the many Barnes & Noble university-affiliated bookstores in the city, Bamfo likes to make sure that when someone enters the store they receive good service and leave having a pleasant experience.
“It differs on a day-to-day basis,” he said of a typical day at the bookstore. “…but typically the day-to-day is just to make sure first of all, we’re providing good service to students, the alumni, or even the general public that comes in.” Bamfo and his team are also responsible for putting out merchandise on the two floors.
According to Bamfo, the bookstore is among one the best-selling college bookstores for Barnes & Noble, ranked among schools with larger populations such as Georgetown University and Pennsylvania State University.
“We’re one of the top 20 general merchandise stores in the company,” he revealed. “Howard being an HBCU and getting that representation of being one of the top schools to sell a lot of clothing merchandise is a great accomplishment.”
“I want Howard to do well,” Bamfo said. “In our company Barnes & Noble, [I] make sure we’re mentioned with the top schools. If I see something and we’re not on the list, I say something.” His constant promotion of Howard has led Barnes & Noble to begin showing off Howard merchandise at trade shows, another thing Bamfo considered a “great accomplishment.”
Bamfo also shared that his drive for success stems from another place besides his pride for the University, “I’m also a competitor. I always want to try to be the best or up there so that always drives me on a daily basis.”
In the bookstore, friendly competition is encouraged among bookstore associates. For example, pushing associates to be creative with their sales or seeing which associate can sign up the most students for the Barnes & Noble homework tool, Bartleby.
Hope Maiden, a graduate student in the program of sociology and criminology who works in the trade department, said that while Bamfo is an “extremely” competitive person, as a boss he’s very “caring and accommodating” and “knows how to switch the hats when the moment is right.”
“He’s a great boss, and he puts education first,” she said. “Yes, he’s your boss and you work for him and he wants you to put as many hours into the store that you can, but it’s always school first.”
The bookstore’s manager of operations, Justin Wiggins, similarly described Bamfo, but also added that Bamfo is normally, “the most serious one in the room.” He also said that working with Bamfo has taught him to become a better manager. “Whether that’s timing, counseling employees, you know stuff like that, how to go about certain businesses…he definitely taught me how to be a better manager for sure.”
Competition is embedded into Bamfo’s DNA. Growing up watching sports and participating in football, basketball and track, Bamfo dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player. The dream took him to Montgomery College where he played basketball, but ultimately he transferred to the University of Maryland for his last two years to major in marketing, knowing he wanted to go into business.
“Everybody started chasing the hoop dreams or wanting to become a professional player,” he said. “At some point, you know, you have to go with your Plan B and this was my Plan B at that particular time.”
He started working at Howard in 2009 when the bookstore was independently owned. He worked as the assistant manager and system operations manager. He was promoted to the head manager, or general manager, role in 2014 when Howard partnered with Barnes &Noble to revamp the bookstore. When asked about his plans for the future, Bamfo noted that he hoped to own a business one day though he’s unsure exactly what the business would be. At the moment he’s focused on running the bookstore and coaching a youth basketball team in Maryland.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee