Nearly 18 years ago, I experienced one of the proudest days of my personal and entrepreneurial life. It was the day my son Earl Jr., better known as Butch to family, friends, and business associates, joined our company. It was a special time for me. I don’t think there’s a father out there who doesn’t dream of working side by side with his son. Butch’s induction into the company signified that the next generation would fully participate in the growth and development of our flagship publication, BLACK ENTERPRISE magazine, as well as our business as a whole. He assumed the position of vice president of advertising and marketing with energy, confidence, and an uncompromising commitment to excellence — character and management traits that led to his rise up the ranks.
It has been no easy feat for him. Those who advance at Earl G. Graves Ltd. — whether family or not — must earn their position. And, over the last two decades, he has had to deal with an ultracompetitive and rapidly changing publishing environment; covert and overt racism that continues to pervade our society and institutions; and, lastly, a boss — me — who can be quite an unyielding taskmaster. But not only did Butch thrive despite the challenges, he grew into a leader and change agent within our company and the industry.
So this moment represents the culmination of 35 years of hopes and dreams, planning, and hard work. I had always envisioned BE becoming one of America’s enduring institutions — one that would give African Americans a road map to entrepreneurship, career advancement, and wealth-building for generations to come. And now I beam with pride as I achieve a major milestone in my personal mission. On Jan. 5, Butch’s 44th birthday, I enthusiastically turned over the reins of leadership to the second generation as I named him CEO of our company.
Of course, I have looked forward to this day, but I must admit the announcement came with a bit of trepidation. How can they possibly run this operation without me? I am, however, still around — Butch hasn’t sold the furniture in my office yet. I continue to serve as chairman and publisher of BE, playing the role of a rainmaker who identifies new business opportunities as well as a counselor to Butch as he faces myriad business challenges. I know my son is comforted by the fact that he’s not alone and can always draw upon support from my wife, Barbara, who to this day serves as our intellectual and moral compass, as well as his brothers, Johnny, who continues to be a force in the business, and Michael, BE’s executive vice president of corporate sales. That’s why this announcement is of great significance to me. As parents, Barbara and I can hardly contain our unabashed elation — tempered by humility — at the interest our three sons have taken in our business and the fact that our eldest son has chosen to make our life’s work his own.
I also view this seamless transition as a