‘Value transcends colour’: Godzspeed CEO Thomas Cumberbatch reflects on a trailblazing career

Thomas Cumberbatch, creative director and CEO of Godzspeed Communications and chairman and co-founder of Studio 20/20. (Supplied)
Thomas Cumberbatch, creative director and CEO of Godzspeed Communications and chairman and co-founder of Studio 20/20. (Supplied)

Growing up in Ottawa, Thomas Cumberbatch’s world revolved around football. It was the first thing on his mind every morning when he got up.

After he finished high school, Bishop’s University recruited him to join the Gaiters. What he lacked in height, he made up for in skill and determination. At six-foot-one, the defensive linesman was considered to be on the smaller side.

So dedicated was Cumberbatch to the sport that he devoted his summers to remaining at school instead of returning home, in order to concentrate on his football training. 

OBJ360 (Sponsored)

The sport was what defined him back then. “I said at that time, ‘I love football, I’m doing football, so that’s who I am,’” said Cumberbatch, 40, creative director and CEO of Godzspeed Communications and chairman and co-founder of Studio 20/20, in a recent interview with OBJ. 

He did a brief stint playing arena football in Peoria, Ill. As well, he was invited to conduct a private workout with the B.C. Lions offensive line coach. He also got noticed by the Toronto Argos. In the end, his dream of a career did not come true. 

He remembers waking up one morning without a passion for football. “That was the first time it happened since the time I was 13.”

Next came the tricky part: deciding on a new course of action. “It wasn’t until football was no longer going to be my pursuit that I understood it wasn’t who I am,” said Cumberbatch. “That shocking reality was a blow to the gut because I knew that, if I didn’t figure it out, it would lead to a meaningless life. I would always be hoping that I was playing football, when it was not my reality anymore.

“I knew very quickly that I had to get over it. Simple as that. Get over it.”

Facing an identity crisis, Cumberbatch returned to his parents’ home in Ottawa. He was happy to be home with his family but not playing football, not knowing what was next, and not knowing who he was outside of football resulted in some depressing times for him. 

His parents, Winston and Katurah, were more than encouraging and, to this day, remain his biggest role models. His Barbados-born father made history as the first black employee of OC Transpo in the 1960s, later becoming a pastor after retirement. His mom, originally from Jamaica, had a career as a nurse at St. Patrick’s Home. 

Reflecting on their impact, Cumberbatch said: “I have amazing parents who refused to allow me to be less than God has ordained me to be, so they were on me. My dad would push me by saying, ‘Get up, go do something, go grab a résumé and hand it out.’ I would joke, ‘Dad, they use the Internet for that now’.”

Ultimately, Cumberbatch felt compelled to do something meaningful and started asking himself deeper questions, like when was he happiest, outside of football.

That’s when he realized his passion for photography. In university, he used to slip away from his football pals and their video-game sessions to work in the dark room, located in the school library. He had signed up for a photography course on a whim and loved it. Cumberbatch had majored in English with minors in film and business.

Cumberbatch turned to his parents for support. “At the time, I was as broke as a joke. I said, ‘Look, I need to borrow, like, $1,500. I need to buy a camera,’ and the rest is absolute history.”

So began Cumberbatch’s journey into storytelling, capturing the essence of brands and individuals through the lens of a still or moving camera.

“We believe the soul of a brand is everything,” said Cumberbatch of the brand strategy and creative firm he launched in 2010, before expanding in 2013. He has a core team of 14, along with a vast network of strategic partners. 

Godzspeed has done work with Habitat for Humanity International, the National Arts Centre, Canada Post, Nike Canada, Invest in Canada, Diving Canada, FINCA Canada, United Way, Causeway and the Ottawa Public and Catholic school boards. 

Godzspeed is dedicated to a unique philosophy that’s led to the development and trademarking of The Soul Guide and Soul Branding, a holistic branding system that helps clients unearth and illuminate their soul and define their vision, said Cumberbatch. “A clear vision is one of the greatest gifts you can have as a founder or a leader.”

He also runs Studio 20/20, a 6,000-square-foot space in downtown Ottawa. The versatile venue serves as a hub for photo and video shoots, brand launches and special events. The studio is located on the top floor of a two-storey building, offering an abundance of natural light and a variety of backdrops and props. “Some of the city’s best creators have shot here,” said Cumberbatch.

Cumberbatch took over the space in early 2020. He has an unexpected yet genuine relationship with his landlord, Paul Bregman. “We’ve developed a really interesting friendship. He’s taken me under his wing and been an integral part of my growth, personally and professionally. I’m blessed to know him.”

The married father of four young sons has also emerged as a Black leader in the community. He was the first to head the Ottawa chapter of Black Boys Code, a national organization dedicated to introducing young Black boys to coding. It now has a program for girls, as well. 

In reflecting on his identity, Cumberbatch said: “My perspective on my Blackness is that it’s secondary to my ‘Thomas-ness.’”

Value transcends colour, he added. “What comes first is who I am. Someone will hire you because you’re good at what you do, and that’s us, and that’s me.

“I say that with humility,” he continued, quickly acknowledging the support he has received.

“Every day that I get to go out in the community and engage people with authenticity and love and respect and a talent that’s undeniable – because my team is as ‘boss’ as they come — that puts my people on the map.

“That encourages the next young Black hopeful to go out into the world and put their foot in the door with confidence.”


Get our email newsletters

Get up-to-date news about the companies, people and issues that impact businesses in Ottawa and beyond.

By signing up you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.