Returning to the city where it all started, the National Black MBA Association celebrated their 40th Anniversary Conference in Detroit from September 25 – 29th.
Thousands of students, professionals, entrepreneurs, and employers filled the halls of the Cobo Center to connect with the world’s leading corporations, universities, and Fortune 500 executives. The conference theme, “One Voice, One Mission,” reflected the organization’s goal to promote education and economic empowerment for black Americans. “We are continuously building upon a legacy of excellence at each national conference. From career advancement to professional development opportunities, the ROI [Return On Investment] for every conference yields promises of learning the best practices in business, career strategies, and building lasting relationships with the best and brightest business professionals in North America,” says Amelia Jackson, President of NBMBAA Chicago Chapter.
Conference attendees had the opportunity to network and gain valuable advice from executives who have reached high levels of success in their career. “Getting the degree is one thing, but getting in the door is another,” says Michelle Gadsden-Williams, Global Diversity Executive & Author of Climb. She recommends that students ask themselves what’s their north star and what they want in their career — then frame out what needs to be done in order to achieve it.
Fortune 500 CEOs and CFOs were also there to give their insights on the business landscape. Walmart’s CFO Brett Biggs sat down with Award-winning journalist Ed Gordon to discuss “Transformation: Leadership that Works.” After the session, Ed Gordon provided key takeaways: “Being a transformative company is real in today’s world. Walmart, as we heard in this session, is not just a company that has big stores all over [the world]. They have broadened their scope and widen their aperture. That is how companies survive today. Many of the questions that were asked [today] were about how do I become a piece of clay and mold myself to make sure I don’t get lost and that I’m able to adapt to all of the changes and make myself marketable for employers.”
And if you’re an entrepreneur on the move, there were sessions for you, too. NBMBAA members participated in the Scale-Up Pitch Challenge sponsored by FedEx. The competition was designed to “make big ideas bigger” by encouraging members to create startups that were scalable. 10 semi-finalists were chosen to pitch their idea to a panel of judges at the conference and three finalists took home the top prizes of the evening. Kwame Bolar, the co-founder of Neu, won the competition and walked away with the Grand Prize of $50,000. Neu is a hotel-like turnkey solution for Airbnb and vacation rental hosts. Through tech and operations, the company gets apartments guest ready in between guest stays.
There were many other entrepreneurs at the conference who have created successful companies based on smart strategies. Tamira Chapman, entrepreneur and attorney, was tapped by Ford Motor Company to implement health care reform on behalf of their employees. She also runs a start-up that helps nonprofits understand how technology and data analytics can help them create sustainable revenue. Chapman recommends aspiring entrepreneurs to start smart when launching a business.
“One of the most important things we can do when starting a business is to look around and see what the market wants and what the market needs,” says Chaprman. “If you start off in an area where you are providing products that are already in demand to a group of people that want them, that gives you capital, access to opportunity, and momentum to put out something later that you may have had in your heart. We’ve got to start off smart first.”
The NBMBAA 41st Annual Conference & Exposition took place September 24-28, 2019 in Houston.