Private-Equity Firms Seek to Expand Influence in Obama Era

Private-Equity Firms Seek to Expand Influence in Obama Era

With the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first black president of the U.S. a day away, the historic occasion has been celebrated through a countless number of festive activities throughout the nation’s capital. But Sunday night’s Private-Equity Inaugural Gala attracted scores of BE 100s CEOs, heavyweight minority executives, and high-powered politicians to network and discuss business strategy as the Champagne and revelry flowed.

“This a time of great possibilities and great responsibilities. We can create great wealth or watch the nation slide into great despair,” N. Joseph Watson, one of the event’s hosts and chairman of the Marathon Club, a minority business development group, told the attendees in the ballroom at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. “We must step up and be a part of the solution.”

Watson said that although the Obama Era is one in which the new administration must heal an ailing economy, it also represents a period in which top minority financiers must take the lead the development of new businesses. Terry Jones, the event’s co-chairman and CEO of BE 100s private equity firm SYNCOM, said: “There’s billions of dollars in the room and the firms represented here are looking to put their money with the right people. [Black entrepreneurs] need to know the people in this room.”

The creation of mutually beneficial relationships and strengthening business coalitions was one of the core objectives of the gathering. Under the theme “Pathway to Minority Wealth Creation,” the event was hosted by the National Association of Investment Companies (NAIC), the industry group for minority-focused private-equity firms and the Marathon Club, a consortium that includes NAIC, the Executive Leadership Council (ELC), an organization composed of black corporate leaders, and the New America Alliance, a group that promotes economic advancement in the Latino community.

It was a Who’s Who of the rich and powerful, including JoAnne Price who runs Fairview Capital, one of the leading BE Private Equity Firms; Don Barden, CEO of Barden Companies, the largest black-owned gaming conglomerate, Jon Barfield, CEO of Bartech, another leading BE Industrial/Service company; Cathy Hughes, founder of Radio One, the black-owned radio chain; and  Sen. Mark Warner, the freshman from Virginia who was recently named to the Senate Banking and Commerce Committee. Warner said the attendees represented “the new face of business.”

Some say the new president will be more receptive to hearing the concerns of minority entrepreneurs and more inclusive in the development of small business policies.

“Change is on the way,” beamed Connecticut State Treasurer Denise Nappier, who oversees $56 billion in assets, as she addressed the crowd about the change in presidential administrations. ” What’s significant about Obama’s ascension is that we will have a friendly face in the White House. We will see a sea change in an attitude regarding diversity.”

Carl Brooks, chief executive of ELC, maintains that African Americans in corporate America and the financial services sector must drive the minority business agenda. “Barack