Reinventing Black Business

At our inaugural CEO Roundtable, top business leaders offered their strategies on how to best transform today's BE 100s and develop tomorrow's crop of entrepreneurs

their comfort zone.

“My experience has been that black entrepreneurs do not want to be outshined and therefore, when they start to grow their companies, they don’t try to hire the very best talent,” Mays says. “They don’t want that person to be perceived as more knowledgeable, smarter, or more skilled. I see time and time again where the entrepreneur is skilled in one or two disciplines but not willing to bring on folks skilled in other areas.”

John A. James prescribes to the age-old philosophy of the late A.G. Gaston. “One of his principles was that if you really want to grow, go out and find somebody who you cannot afford to pay and hire him anyway. I think there’s a lot of truth in that,” he says.

Whether a chief executive is running a bare-bones operation or a corporate behemoth, he or she can’t overcome business challenges with an employee mentality. Our roundtable participants were in unanimity on one edict: every CEO must have a clear vision for his company. Moreover, it must be effectively and consistently communicated to each employee. It may sound a bit simplistic, but heads of the world’s largest companies have spent days in collegiate think tanks scratching their heads over vision statements.

“As a CEO you have to manage the company, but you can’t spend all your time on that. You have to have time to envision where the company is going at the next level,” says Thomas D. Boston. “What does the business model look like as we grow to the next level and in which direction? What should we be developing and what should we be phasing out? It really takes a lot of time to think through that. And you can’t do that if you’re engaged in managing that company on a day-to-day basis.”

Identifying top-flight individuals is only part of the equation. Bringing them together as a cohesive unit is another. As a private equity veteran of 25 years, Laurence C. Morse has thoroughly examined companies for fissures that will foretell their collapse. At Fairview Capital, a firm that creates and manages private equity funds, he has found that management teams represent one of the most important factors in “pre-wiring” a company’s success.

“To present a compelling value proposition in the marketplace and develop a product or service that’s truly unique requires more than the intelligence of a single individual,” says Morse.

“We are in the business of backing teams of people whose business itself is to build companies. No matter what’s happening in the marketplace or the business cycle, what we have found is that the focus is team-oriented: both in the venture practice as well as in the companies they’re attempting to grow,” he says. “What becomes obvious over time is that there are folks who have built networks of relationships along each of those dimensions.”

As CEOs work to fortify their operations, Russell T. Wright suggests they engage in one meaningful act: take

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  • Jay

    I appreciated the article. I would agree that access to capital and networking seem to be among the most challenging aspects when starting a new venture. I only hope for a day that the BE 100s establish an angel investment network for aspiring, black entrepreneurs.