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

has courted black banks, investment banks, and broker-dealers as merger partners but “came up goose eggs.” Eventually, Baldwin says, he was able to acquire a broker-dealer and a hedge fund from majority institutions. “I think sometimes our egos get in the way,” he says. “To a large degree, we can’t get beyond putting ourselves aside for the well-being of the company.” Hunt agrees: “Why not get five or six minority-owned companies or women-owned companies together and form a half-billion-dollar company?”

There’s no maxim that rings with more truth in business than: Start with the end in mind. It goes to the heart of the most important and introspective question an entrepreneur can ask: So why did I start this business in the first place?

Entrepreneurs need only look to billionaire entrepreneur Bob Johnson as a model. “Because there are people who are very successful in business, they just want to be in that business and that, in a sense, is their employment contract,” says Fairview Capital’s JoAnn H. Price. “There is nothing wrong with that. But it is important that we have someone who understands that it’s not just important to own the business. It’s important how you exit the business and how you are able to return capital to investors. Bob Johnson has created a lot of very wealthy people. When he went to the bank, a lot of people went to the bank with him.”

Black businesses must operate in a flat world, and that means reaching across international borders. For James to grow his logistics business, he must find viable offshore partners–a reality that leaves him conflicted.

“I’m in competition with companies for global business. So I can go and team up with a lot of other companies my size, minority or otherwise, but it won’t give me the global footprint I’ve got to have to compete,” the CEO says. “But how do I bring in either mergers or other kinds of relationships with other black enterprises and at the same time reach out to get this global footprint that I need?”

For Morse, the answer is simple: “At some point, you will either die of atrophy or be eaten alive. When you look at it that way, it’s a matter of survival and increasing prosperity. That to me kind of allows a lot of baggage to be left behind.

Nothing stops you from engaging in dialogue with those global competitors because they’re interested in you as being successful and getting the business.”

The roundtable viewed access to capital and contracts as major hurdles for black entrepreneurs. However, they felt those problems could be remedied through the creation of informal mentorship-protégé programs across sectors and generations. Younger entrepreneurs can benefit from the old guard’s acumen, contacts, and investment, while established companies can gain fresh perspectives, technological innovation, and entrée to new markets. A graduate of the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program, Hunt now offers subcontracting and mentorship opportunities to smaller, minority-held companies through a link

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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.