May 11, 2022 • By The UCI Paul Merage School of Business
During the second annual Black Management Association (BMA) Conference on April 30, several notable speakers addressed important business topics like inequity, personal finance and entrepreneurship.
The event, "Wealth for a Digitally Driven World", also provided attendees with strategies to counteract the wealth gap that pervades the country.
In addition to a host of prominent panelists, Maya Watson and Daryl Carter gave inspiring keynote addresses that touched on how to overcome the prejudices of the business world to further your career.
In beginning her keynote speech at the conference, Watson told the crowd that the average person has about 4,000 weeks of life in them. She said that this statistic is frightening, but it provides an important perspective—figure out your goals and work to achieve them.
Watson has had a storied career working for Oprah, President Obama’s campaign, Netflix and currently, the popular social audio application Clubhouse. But along the way, she’s had to reckon with tough questions that helped steer her towards her goals.
“Who do you want to spend your time with?”
“How will this moment define you?”
“What are you willing to sacrifice for your dream?”
Each of these questions caused Watson to think about her desires and how to achieve them.
“The things that have always led me are questions,” Watson said. “A lot of people are going to give you advice and a lot of people are going to tell you how to do certain things. But it's really important to get clear on your own wisdom and what's in your heart. The only way you can do that is to ask yourselves really powerful questions.”
During her speech, Watson discussed her time at Netflix, where she worked towards promoting diversity by starting a sub-brand at the company called “Strong Black Lead,” which amplifies Black stories and content.
“The more people see themselves reflected in a television screen, the more they believe it is possible for themselves,” she said. “So here I am at the leading purveyor of images on Earth and I said, ‘I'm going to make it my mission to make sure that our stories get told.’”
In concluding her speech, Watson quoted a part of the Mary Oliver poem “The Summer Day.” She read, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
During a lunchtime keynote address, Carter spoke about how his experiences growing up in Detroit gave him a profound perspective on what disinvestment in a community looks like. In that challenging environment, he also learned how to work through adversity.
Fueled by the resiliency he acquired during his formative years, Carter later founded Avanath Capital Management, a California investment firm that buys, renovates, and operates apartment properties, a majority of which are in “Black and Brown communities.” The business emphasizes affordable and workforce communities. Since 2008, the company has purchased $2.5 billion worth of properties throughout the country.
Carter said that his business respects the residents it serves, which is important because affordable housing sites and their tenants can often have a negative stigma attached to them.
“Now, there are a lot of myths about affordable housing,” Carter said. “People think of…a bunch of gangs shooting each other. That's the image that people have. But in reality, our residents are hardworking people who are pursuing the American Dream.”
Again emphasizing the respect his company devotes to its residents, Carter said that Avanath will be rolling out a new program later this year that will help ensure that residents eventually become homeowners.
“If we are able to pull it off, which we're getting close, I think it will be transformative,” Carter said.
During the first panel, Derek Powell and Orlando De Bruce shared insights on how the rapid evolution of technology is changing the face of business.
Bruce, who is Global Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Contrast Security, emphasized that big data is playing an integral role in the transformation of many industries. Corporations are seeking to gain insights from the enormous amounts of information that travel between electronic devices. It can impact how products are developed and how services are rendered to customers, among many other possibilities.
Bruce said that data has allowed corporations to remain agile, adaptive and relevant.
"I would say a traditional organization without digital transformation or without data analytics will find it very difficult to stay competitive with some of the emerging technologies," Bruce said.
The panelists also spoke about how businesses can diversify their workforce.
Powell, who is a partner at Altman Solon, said that it’s important to focus on solving inequity in newer businesses, like in the technology industry, because the future lies in those industries. Whereas, it doesn’t make as much sense to focus on diversifying older businesses because they tend to be stuck in their ways and will not be a defining part of the future of the business world.
"There's going to be a lot of legacy businesses that are just stuck in the way they are," Powell said. We can do diagnostics, initiatives and steering committees, but that's going to take a long time and technology moves pretty fast."
The second panel featured a few private bankers who discussed the fundamentals of amassing wealth and sound financial practices.
Maurice Murray, an executive director at JP Morgan, said that wealth is often acquired through tedious, repetitive methods. In other words, people do not get rich overnight.
“Oftentimes, it's boring, methodic and strategic, but it's the same thing over and over and over again,” he said, while espousing the need to maintain a budget.
Murray also pointed out that investing is a great way to grow wealth. He said that people should invest in products or companies that they have an interest in.
Malick Diop, managing director at Morgan Stanley, said that maintaining a budget, and tracking spending habits and investments has become much easier with the advent of phone apps.
“There’s a bunch of ways for you to start, almost in an entertaining way, to watch your money grow, and kind of gamify saving,” Diop said. “I think that's really important.”
The final panel provided important guidance on how to become an entrepreneur, including how to craft a business plan, attract investors and outline patterns of growth.
Chakema Clinton-Quintana, Vice President of Inclusive Small Business at Live Oak Bank, said it’s absolutely essential for entrepreneurs to craft a business plan to figure out the aim of their business and who their potential customers will be.
“Your business plan is a working document,” Clinton-Quintana said. “It's necessary because it will help keep you on track. But also, you can change it as you go along.”
Clinton-Quintana and Jaune Odombrown, chief executive of Smartpreneur, said that another important part of being an entrepreneur is having the drive to make your business successful.
“One thing I always talk to the students is, are you willing to wake up at four o'clock in the morning and do this entrepreneurial endeavor,” Odombrown said.
Confidence is another important part of corporate advancement and becoming an entrepreneur. But, many people from underserved communities tend to lack confidence, said Lance Holman, president and chief executive of Holman Capital. He said that ambitious business people need to maintain confidence and learn from their failures rather than succumb to them.
“If you think you failed, I would politely disagree,” Holman said. “I believe you've learned how to get better.”
He continued: “The question is, are you going to wave the white flag?”
Merage School’s BMA Conference was a success in bringing together thought leaders to join for a day dedicated to positive growth.