Tony Lynn: Helping Small Businesses Use Facebook To Flourish - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise magazine Fall 2019 issue

BE Modern Man: Tony Lynn

Tech executive; 35; Global Program Manager, Small Business Group, Facebook, Inc.

Twitter: @TheRealTonyLynn; Instagram: @tonyvlynn

My passion has always been expanding economic empowerment in marginalized communities. In my early career, I worked in public policy to push the government toward these goals. I had the great privilege to serve in the White House during the first years of the Obama administration after working on Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. I was eventually appointed to work for the Secretary of Commerce on his policy and strategic planning team, which focused on revitalizing the U.S. economy, including small businesses, during the Great Recession.

After earning an M.B.A. from the Yale School of Management, I transitioned to the private sector to work on broad problems impacting the global economy. While consulting at Accenture, I spent a considerable amount of time advising the World Bank on its digital strategy for helping global small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). I view small businesses as the lifeblood of the global economy, and I know small businesses serve an important role in creating parity in black communities. I continue to focus on SMBs in my current role at Facebook, where I work to build a customer-centric digital eco-system allowing all SMBs to grow. My work spans both Facebook and Instagram and I am most proud of the many stories I hear from our customers about how Facebook is helping their small businesses flourish.

I am also still very active in the community. I currently serve as chair for a global nonprofit startup called I Am, We Are (IAWA) which focuses on youth empowerment programming in South Africa. We are working to expand our footprint in South Africa and build programs in the U.S. and beyond.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN LIFE?

When looking at where I am now and many of my accomplishments, I feel truly blessed. So many of these goals were met with the help of my “village”: my wife, my family, and a strong core of friends who have all encouraged me and helped to shape who I am. So many of my best moments that I am very proud of—earning an athletic scholarship, earning an M.B.A. from Yale, working on President Obama’s first presidential campaign and in the White House, to now leading major initiatives at Facebook in support of small businesses—would not be possible without this team that supports and motivates me every day.

HOW HAVE YOU TURNED STRUGGLE INTO SUCCESS?

There have been many, but the most impactful example is how I became involved in politics. I was attending Dillard University, an HBCU in New Orleans, in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit during my senior year and decimated my college along with the city. After the devastation, I was unable to return to campus in the fall. I also witnessed firsthand how necessary and important effective government for communities truly is and what happens when it falls woefully short. Rather than accept this national disaster as a complete personal setback, I decided to spend that semester interning on Capitol Hill for my home state Sen. Bill Nelson. That semester I found my passion for economic policy and learned the vital role government can play in improving people’s lives at scale. As a result of those experiences from the fall, I was able to pursue my dream of competing for a Rhodes Scholarship, was honored as a Coca-Cola Community All-American and ultimately received a full-time job offer to join Senator Nelson’s staff when I graduated later that year. I was able to use these experiences to gain an impactful role on President Obama’s first presidential campaign and eventually a presidential appointment to the White House.

WHO WAS YOUR GREATEST MALE ROLE MODEL AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM HIM?

My greatest male role model is definitely my father, Mark Lynn. He lost his parents at a young age and was taken care of by family, then graduated from college with distinction after serving in the Navy. He always instilled in me a belief that I have a responsibility to make the world better than I found it. He taught me the importance of God, family, and education. I am who I am because of my father and my mother, Carolyn Lynn, who is also an incredible influence on my life.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE MANHOOD?

I define manhood as a conscientious choice to sacrifice personal gratification for the benefit of family and community.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?

My father has always been a great source of good advice. While growing up he taught me that true excellence comes from consistency and sacrifice. He would often cite a quote attributed to Aristotle to my brother and me: “You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I have always leaned on this wisdom whenever I have questioned whether I am working hard enough to put my best foot forward.

HOW ARE YOU PAYING IT FORWARD TO SUPPORT OTHER BLACK MALES?

Paying it forward to support other black males has been a conscious act for me throughout my career. Right now I am broadly focused on growing I AM, WE Are, a nonprofit that I am involved with that is focused on youth empowerment. In past positions, I led key workplace initiatives to support black men, including representing my previous employer, Accenture at the Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) pre-MBA conference where I focused on providing early training for MLT Fellows aspiring to break into management consulting. I was also on the Board for the Washington, DC Chapter of the NAACP, where I led civil engagement for the chapter. Aside from work with these great organizations, I am very proud of being able to help mentor many black men on their professional pursuits. I see helping others navigate their careers as my personal responsibility.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING A BLACK MAN?

Black men have a unique story of perseverance in this country. I have great admiration for all that black men have been able to contribute to our society [including as owners of small businesses] in spite of a troubling history of oppression. Many of us are leaders in our communities, we are growing in the executive ranks, and are continuing to grow our numbers in the educational, legal, medical, and STEM fields. It is inspiring to see that many of us are leading in the vanguard to push the U.S. to become more diverse and fair.

I believe in the limitless capacity of our community to create change and to flourish when provided with a fair opportunity. The next decade has to be about shifting the mental model for success to equity and ownership as our north star. Moreover, for black men to thrive in this rapidly evolving digital world we have to uplift one another, commit to building up our communities, and invest in expanding the STEM capabilities of our children. Technology is leveling the playing field in many ways, therefore, the ability to thrive in this new world will be directly correlated with an ability to understand how digital systems and software are developed and monetized. We all must educate our selves in these new fields and play an active part in making sure that the next generation is not left behind.

BE Modern Man is an online and social media campaign designed to celebrate black men making valuable contributions in every profession, industry, community, and area of endeavor. Each year, we solicit nominations in order to select men of color for inclusion in the 100 Black Enterprise Modern Men of Distinction. Our goal is to recognize men who epitomize the BEMM credo “Extraordinary is our normal” in their day-to-day lives, presenting authentic examples of the typical black man rarely seen in mainstream media. The BE Modern Men of Distinction are celebrated annually at Black Men XCEL (www.blackenterprise.com/blackmenxcel/). Click this link to submit a nomination for BE Modern Man: https://www.blackenterprise.com/nominate/. Follow BE Modern Man on Twitter: @bemodernman and Instagram: @be_modernman.