When I launched Black Enterprise in 1970, successful black entrepreneurship was measured by asking: How many people did I bring along with me? How many other African Americans have I employed, empowered, and uplifted?
Today, those measures increasingly seem to have been replaced with: How many people know who I am? How many African Americans can I convince that I am important? How can I be seen as a celebrity entrepreneur?
It seems to me that the true driver of business success, a resolute intention to make an impact, has been replaced by the breathless pursuit of attention, not for the sake of promoting the value of a product and services of a business, but as self-aggrandizement of the entrepreneur as a “brand.” Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost the understanding that the value of a business is rooted not in its public profile (including what the young professionals at Black Enterprise call a social media footprint) of its owner, but purposeful impact and service to others.
In June, more than 1,000 entrepreneurs will gather at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the 2018 Entrepreneurs Summit. (I certainly hope you will join us for this extraordinary event). While business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs will gain knowledge and master disciplines ranging from funding a startup and understanding cryptocurrency to leveraging data and using social media to grow revenues and profits, I challenge you to engage at the summit within the following context:
For the most part, entrepreneurs create businesses to solve problems, serve communities, and pursue passions. The most successful business owners have rarely launched enterprises just to become famous.
So what is your mission? What is the purpose of your business?
I invite you to examine the legacy left to you by the greatest entrepreneurs covered by Black Enterprise over the years.
The late TLC Beatrice Founder and CEO Reginald F. Lewis was driven not by a need for celebrity recognition, but a passion for generating wealth as a lever for philanthropic and progressive social impact, including leading the financing of the 1988 presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. Essence Communications co-founders Ed Lewis and Clarence Smith did not launch a magazine to make themselves household names, but to uplift, celebrate, and empower black women—a legacy that is now in the hands of Sundial Brands CEO Richelieu Dennis, a speaker at our Women of Power Summit, who acquired Essence last year.
Act-1 Group Founder Janice Bryant-Howroyd, who has recently come to national prominence as the CEO of the nation’s largest black female-owned company, is laser-focused on providing innovative workforce solutions that both employ people and drive innovation in companies, not becoming a celebrity entrepreneur. And my purpose for creating Black Enterprise was and is to empower, uplift, and drive the success of other black entrepreneurs, professionals, and executives, and to expand a culture of wealth-building for all black Americans. Any fame and fortune that I have personally been blessed with is inextricably tied to that purpose.
What I want you to take away from all this is that true entrepreneurship is about far more than fashioning and promoting yourself as a “brand.” A business without a purpose beyond the enrichment and ego-gratification of you as its owner brings no value to the marketplace and no benefit to African Americans, in particular.
To succeed as an entrepreneur requires you to have a sense of purpose beyond the pursuit of your own celebrity. I urge you to find and serve a mission for your business that is focused on delivering products, services, information, and resources for others, and the advancement, enrichment, and progress of African Americans in particular. Simply put, your business should make life better for someone other than yourself.