Beefed-Up National Business League Aims to Empower Black Entrepreneurs

Fortified with new ownership and leadership, the 117-year-old National Business League Inc. is getting an extensive makeover for future growth. It will stem from the acquisition of the NBL, a business group founded in 1900 by Booker T. Washington, by the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce. The MBCC will transition to the National Business League and use its name. Ken Harris, the chamber’s co-founder and CEO, has become the new NBL’s president and CEO.

Boosting Membership

He says the merger will boost the chamber’s capacity, scope, and scale from 3,200 members to an estimated 15,000 members of the league connected to 365 chapters nationally. Both groups have parallel missions of being advocates for black businesses. Harris swears the new entity will remain the nation’s largest black business organization.

In its prime, the NBL had more than more than 600 chapters before it stopped flourishing.

Harris says the group lost momentum due to outdated vision, no leadership succession plan, changing demographics, and not meeting the needs of the 21st-century entrepreneur, which has been the demise of many historic black organizations. “Our goal is to return the NBL back to its status as the preeminent organization for black business throughout the country and globally,” he says.

Mark A. Douglas, president of BE 100s company Avis Ford Inc., , says the merger is significant because it could help local companies such as his to do business with other black businesses nationally, regardless of their specific industry. He says NBL members in different states might now be able to partner, which will allow them to compete for projects on a larger scale that they may not be able to apply for independently.  

Douglas, who will become the NBL’s new national board chairman, added that the merger is needed because it offers black entrepreneurs a new resource to compete for various business opportunities. “The NBL can, and will, help us to be in that forever promised seat at the table, hopefully before the meeting has even been scheduled,” Douglas says. “Better still, perhaps we can even help to set and drive the agenda.”

The league has moved its national headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Detroit, also the (Midwest) regional office. Regional offices serving members will be opened in Atlanta (South), Washington, D.C., (East), Los Angeles (West) by this December. An international regional office in an African city will be announced later this year.

Ken Harris, the NBL’s new president and CEO (Image: Andre Terrell, photographer, NBL)

New Leadership Approach and Bigger Board 

The moves are part of an overall NBL restructuring expected to be completed by December 2018. Harris says the effort will include:

  • Reorganization of the NBL’s board of directors to govern local leagues nationally as opposed to them operating independently of the group’s revamped corporate structure. The NBL will also increase its board size to 36 from 21 members, comprising of active membership from each region.
  • Conduct an aggressive campaign to nationalize the organization by setting up and reorganizing regional, state, and local league structures under a new corporate identity and national brand.
  • Launch a national membership drive in the nation’s top black cities.
  • Ensure that the NBL focuses on five primary goals. They include restructuring the group to meet the demands of today’s black entrepreneur; move the organization into the 21 century using technology; provide comprehensive programmatic activities that provides access to resources and opportunities; create a pipeline for commerce-driven activity for; and, certify black businesses to meet the supplier diversity demand of corporate America. “The NBL’s ultimate pursuit is to provide black entrepreneurs solutions to solve their business problems,” Harris says.

 Access to Capital and Certification Among New Services

When it comes to expanding membership, Harris says the new NBL will offer value-added services for small businesses, corporations, and organizations looking to penetrate the marketplace. Those services will include providing a National Black Business Registry, access to capital and Black Business Enterprise (BBE) certification.

“The NBL will move business owners from a self-serving, individualistic mentality to a collective and cooperative mindset to achieve entrepreneurial goals in the black,” Harris says.

Additionally, the retooled NBL will have a broader socioeconomic platform for black businesses, providing them greater influence in the political economy landscape.

So what does the NBL merger mean for black businesses in the current era of Buy Black, Bank Black and more emphasis on corporate supplier diversity? Harris says it means that there is a need for a commerce-driven advocacy organization continuing Booker T. Washington’s vision, mission, and purpose, which is more relevant today than in the early 1900s. He added the merger also shows that the 117-year-old NBL must evolve in the age of technology nationally to be successful.