Earl Graves Said It: Success Principles From The Founder of Black Enterprise

Earl Graves Said It: Success Principles From The Founder of Black Enterprise

Earl Graves Said It - At Howard University
Whether during public addresses like this one at Howard University, or via his magazine columns and books, the words of Earl Graves will continue to inspire future generations.

Earl Graves said it. For five decades and counting, that was all millions of people needed to hear to harness the courage to start a business, raise their career ambitions, commit to multigenerational wealth creation, and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Whether people received his words via his uplifting public speeches, his award-winning Publisher’s Page magazine column, or his national bestselling, now classic business book How To Succeed in Business Without Being White: Straight Talk On Making It In America, the founder of Black Enterprise earned a level of trust comparable to—and often far greater than—that enjoyed by American presidents. The consensus is all but unanimous: If Earl Graves said it, you not only can believe it—you can count on it.

Although Graves passed away on April 6, 2020, he leaves a rich, living legacy, including advice and success principles that will continue to enlighten, inspire and empower generations to come. Here is just a small sample of memorable Earl Graves quotes shared during the course of his extraordinary life.


“In order to overcome, we must tie our identities not to failure and obstacles, but to our achievements, goals and limitless potential, and challenge the world to do so as well.”

“The glass is never half empty. It’s either full, or ready for a refill.”

“To have a successful career, you have to approach it as an entrepreneur, even if you are working for someone else. Your career is your own private business. You have to market yourself and your abilities and knowledge just as you would a product or service.”

“I have no patience with people who want to tell me what’s wrong. I only want to hear from the person who first tells me the solution and then fills me in on the problem. I don’t want to hear that your basement is flooded. I want to hear that you’ve found the number to the cleanup company. Then tell me why you’re calling them.”


“The white-dominated business world needs to understand that we don’t want charity. We want to do business. We don’t want guaranteed success. We want the opportunity to earn it.”

“I am not an assimilationist; I am an equal opportunist. I want smart black people who work hard to have the same opportunities as smart white people who work hard.”

“Business first. You won’t make it if you go into every sales presentation or job interview feeling you have to convince people that African Americans are wonderful people. This is about business, not race, unless one side or the other forces race into the picture.”

“Though African Americans have come a mighty long way, we have not overcome. But deep in my heart, with the ideas, ideals and energy of a new generation, I believe we will.”


“Family is a priority in my business. It always has been. It always will be.”

“Success can sometimes be nearly as lethal to black families as struggle. I know many African American men and women whose professional accomplishments have been offset and even undermined by family turmoil.”

“Far too many people in business see their personal lives and their careers as competing aspects of their lives. I don’t. They are each parts of the whole, with family being the most important.”

“If you are to succeed in the dog-eat-dog business world, particularly if your skin color is always going to set you apart, then you are going to need a deep reservoir of strength and determination. You are going to need principles and values, those guidelines that determine how you lead your life. Most important, you are going to need the lasting and unconditional love of family.”


“To network effectively, find a common interest—and don’t assume it is you.”

“What makes networking work is that it sets up win-win situations in which all parties involved get to take something home. Networking is a sharing process. Until you understand that, you won’t have much of a network.”

“Never forget that business is personal. The businessperson who builds the strongest relationships wins.”


“I believe that entrepreneurship is the ultimate smart money move and the surest path toward wealth for African Americans. Far fewer blacks than whites benefit from inherited wealth or assets. Entrepreneurship is the primary way to create the sort of wealth that can be passed on and built upon by succeeding generations.”

“Economic power is the key to success in a capitalistic society. Business is the means to that power. African Americans can play this game and we can win at it. You can succeed in business without being white.”

“Sell to their needs—not from yours.”

“If you are selling the black consumer market, sell its buying power, not your social consciousness.”


“Selfishness doesn’t last. Uncle Toms don’t last. Fearful people don’t last. It is rare for the individual who only cares about himself or herself to get very far in business.”

“If you love yourself, you will stand in harm’s way for other African Americans. If you do not love and respect yourself, then you will probably not feel any need to work for the greater good.”

“No matter where you are in your career or business, there is always something you can do and someone you can help in order to strengthen the entire black community. None of us can afford to say, ‘I’ve got mine, You get your own.’ Anyone with that attitude—and we all know people who have it—should be aware that the day will come when he or she will need help and there will be no one there.”

“It is the responsibility of all African Americans to help our young people understand the opportunities that entrepreneurship and business offer.”

“Excelling in business goes hand in hand with excelling at creating opportunities for others. Any entrepreneur can make money. The very best make a difference.”