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

a long look in the mirror. He learned that powerful lesson when his father handed him the keys to Dimensions International in 2003. “One Sunday morning I got the call from my father saying ‘I’m going to turn the business over to you.’ I asked why. He said, ‘Because at my age, I’m risk-averse. I’m too afraid to pull the trigger, and I think I may impair the business because of my age.'”

The elder Wright thought Dimensions’ new CEO would be more prone to make the bold moves needed to advance the company and “if it all happens to go bust tomorrow, you’ll just start over.” Wright agreed: “To a large degree he was absolutely right. Because risk can be managed, it can be quantified. We took a risk and acquired SENTEL. We almost flipped over in that acquisition. It was 85% our size.”
But Wright’s philosophy isn’t restricted to age. Experience counts as well. “You bring in better talent to move the company to the next level,” he says. “If I were to take DI public, I’d get a Wall Street-savvy CFO because I need that knowledge base.”

Roundtable participants agreed that black entrepreneurs and corporate professionals must build a solid network. “I don’t think we sit in a room enough and talk about how we work together to go after the other piece of the pie,” says John F. Carter, an advocate for small groups of BE 100S CEOs playing golf
together like he does with head honchos of majority institutions. “It gives you another way of judging that person. I’m not a great golfer, but I play golf with every single person I hire as management. I want to see how they’re going to be for five hours with no cell phone. You get to understand them. I don’t think we do enough of that. We see each other at a conference and talk for a minute, but you don’t get to know someone that way. If we don’t know each other, we’re not going to trust each other enough to do deals.”

Rodney P. Hunt believes the development of a powerful network is needed to expand the deal pipeline between African Americans as well as majority corporations. “I think to a larger degree we don’t know enough about what’s going on outside our own business base to see where those opportunities are.”

One issue was a source of contention for most of the CEOs assembled: Why do African American companies have such a difficult time developing partnerships with one another? If fact, BE’s CEO Butch Graves maintains that the lack of such collaborations has retarded the expansion of black wealth: “The average dollar in the Jewish community turns over six times before it leaves that community. In the African American community, it turns over less than half. In other words, it never lands before we’re spending it with somebody else. We have not solved that puzzle yet.”

For more than a decade, Shawn D. Baldwin says he

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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.