The virtual event offered networking opportunities and provided students and alumni with insights on navigating the business world.

Empowered to Lead, Equipped to Succeed: BMA Holds First Annual Conference

May 17, 2021 • By Sydney Charles

The Black Management Association (BMA) at The UCI Paul Merage School of Business held their first annual conference, Empowered to Lead, Equipped to Succeed, on May 1. The event featured a variety of speakers along with a career fair and social mixing hour for attendees to network and gain new experiences by being introduced to different career paths and opportunities.   

Sessions focused on different business topics to ensure career and personal success: how to maximize an MBA for career success, challenge meets opportunity in supply chain management, and behind the scenes of entrepreneurship and venture capital.  

The first event of the day began with an introduction from Professor Tonya Williams Bradford, BMA faculty advisor, where she mediated a conversation with Dean Ian O. Williamson and Jason Wright, president of the Washington Football Team. Wright, who earned an MBA himself, is the first Black president of an NFL team.

Wright also spoke on the importance of a diverse environment, and the experience of being an African American man in a position of leadership.  

He said, “I walked into an organization that had a patchy history of creating a healthy work environment, for everybody generally, but particularly underrepresented groups. So early on what that meant for my role, and this is a little bit about how I see business leadership, is that you can have a great commercial strategy, excellent products and you can ride those or some period of time, but eventually if you don’t have the underlying organization can culture and health, that value will erode.”  

Another discussion focused on the importance and value of supply chains for business professionals. Featuring Dr. Terry L. Esper, Kevin Austin, Felicia C. Alexander and Michelle Smith-Ballard, one of the topics discussed by the professionals was the onset of COVID-19 and how this has transformed the dynamics of managing interconnected supply chains. As sector director for global supply chain and logistics at Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems, Alexander learned the importance of connectivity and remaining in communication throughout the pandemic.  

“There’s been suppliers that were impacted financially as a result of Covid. We particularly were not impacted as greatly, but we’ve had to compensate and to help them with their sourcing and with their financial status, making sure they can stay in business and stay afloat. From an international commerce standpoint, we’ve been impacted because with Covid, there was an issue overall in meeting the demand of our deliverables,” she said. “All in all, Covid has brought awareness of all the different touch points within the supply chain, not just the transportation component.”  

The next session, moderated by PhD candidate Ella Turrene, featured entrepreneurs Jameela Bahar, Josanta Gray Emegano, Boye Fajinmi and Peter Swaniker. Finding community and remaining steadfast in your passions were some of the themes discussed within the group.  

“Community is so important, not just for learning, but I have found, for accountability. Sometimes we need other folks to help hold our feet to the fire so that we can do all of these things because it’s not an easy journey,” Turrene said.  

Swaniker added, “Being an entrepreneur can be quite a lonely journey because sometimes the people around you don’t know what you're going through or the challenges you’re going through, so having people around you that you can bounce ideas off of that understand what you’re going through and have ideas as well can be helpful.” 

Another session featured a conversation with business professionals Sandra Rosenfeld, Dr. Jennifer Pierre, Vanessa Williams and Jaime Lane. The panelists spoke on the importance of confidence in the workplace, startups versus large corporations and diversity in the technology workplace. For Williams, an inclusive environment is crucial for a culture of success.  

She said, “I think the thing that’s top of mind for me as a hiring manager, what I find now is, not only one we need to make sure that we’re bringing in Black candidates, underrepresented groups through the door, but pay equity. We need to make sure their salary is comparable to the rest of others at their level. But also, what is the environment and the culture we’re creating where they feel included and want to stay.”  

The event concluded with a keynote address from Barry L. Williams, retired managing general partner of the investment and consulting company that he founded, Williams Pacific Ventures, which focuses on startups, acquisitions and real estate.

Additionally, BMA announced the Bradford Fellows Fund, a scholarship for students active in the BMA or UCI's Black Thriving Initiative. The first Bradford Fellows Scholarship will be awarded in the 2021-2022 school year to a Merage School undergraduate or graduate student.

The Black Management Association (BMA) at the Merage School supports Black students and alumni in their professional goals through events, professional development, networking, leadership and service opportunities. They seek to amplify Black voices in business while building a community of inclusivity.