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Carole Brown (KSM '89), senior vice president at Lehman Brothers and CTA Board chairman, addresses Kellogg School students during her keynote speech at the 2004 Black Management Conference.

Black Management Conference touts using MBA as community tool

Annual Kellogg School event brings political and business leaders together

By Lisa A. Ditkowsky

3/1/2004 - The Kellogg School’s Black Management Association (BMA), in conjunction with the Evening Black Management Association , held its 17th annual conference Feb. 27 to 29 at the James L. Allen Center on the Evanston campus. This year’s theme, “Leaving a Legacy, Enjoying the Journey,” was reflected by the weekend’s many living examples of how success creates wealth, which in turn produces opportunities to effect change in the larger community.

The conference treated participants to keynote speakers such as Barack Obama, U.S. Senate candidate and current Democratic Illinois state senator from the 13th district; Carole L. Brown, Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) chair; and John Rogers, Ariel Capital Management’s founder, chairman and CEO. In addition to a career fair, social functions and networking events, panel discussions offered practical insights regarding how business school graduates can lend their leadership skills to community activism, entrepreneurship and wealth creation in the minority community.

Obama set the tone Saturday morning with his contention that the most successful business people and those who open the doors for wealth and opportunity “recognize that they’ve got to think broadly and stay … in touch with as many communities as possible, rather than to think narrowly and simply focus on their little piece of the puzzle.”

Obama advocated the importance of building institutions and uniting with commonality of vision and purpose. Accenting what emerged as a conference theme, he spoke of the importance of strategic relationships.

Entrepreneurs Frantz Alphonse and Richard Powell, co-founders of AP Capital Partners, emphasized that the odds of success multiply if one chooses the right partners who share similar values and visions. Said Alphonse: “If you are hanging out with people who are brilliant and visionary, it will rub off.” He encouraged students and alumni to recognize that “the decision to be wealthy is a decision that needs to be made now.”

Appointed chair of the Chicago Transit Authority by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Carole Brown is also a senior vice president for Lehman Brothers. She shared her belief with conference participants that to succeed, one needs to surround oneself with the smartest partners available. The strategy, she suggested, creates stronger teams and impressions for all involved. Well aware of challenges within the CTA, she said that she looks forward to leaving the organization better than she found it.

“And that’s the challenge I give to you — to improve the quality of life for your community and to leave it stronger than you found it,” said Brown.

BMA Conference Co-Chair Chaneice Brown ’04, who called Obama “an example of history in the making,” outlined the expanded objective of this year’s event. “The main purpose of the BMA is always to get alumni back together, to have a reunion, to share ideas, to learn and grow personally and professionally,” she noted. “This year we’ve added panels such as wealth management that are about extending your own vision” and creating a legacy.

Panel participants such as Bill Buckner, assistant to the president at the Chicago-based Safer Foundation, an organization that works to prevent criminal recidivism, spoke of how his network at his former firm, McKinsey & Co., wasn’t broad enough for his long-term goals. “I now have a corporate network, but I’m also well integrated with government, other nonprofits and social service agencies,” he said.

The consensus at the conference suggested that whether participants want to help their communities through volunteerism while working for corporations or by applying their MBA degrees by working in the nonprofit world, a business degree is valuable.

“ One of the things that we always needed [in nonprofits] is someone who understands how a business operates,” said Timothy M. Russell, a senior manager in community relations for Sara Lee Corp.

BMA Co-Chair Carmita Burnette ’ 04 said that the conference goals go beyond an MBA’s quest to make money. “We know that we have a commitment to our communities and our respective heritages, so [our efforts] are more about leaving that legacy,” she said.

Case in point: entrepreneur Powell, who came to the United States from Jamaica and invested wisely in the American stock market, remembered thinking, “I can be a closet entrepreneur trading and never have the opportunity to change people’s lives.”

Powell and most other invited speakers shared the perspective that the ability to attain success with an MBA is something of a given. Choosing to leverage that degree and the leadership insights that come with it to create wealth and opportunities within the larger minority community, however, requires a conscious effort from B-school graduates.

DeAnna McLeary, publisher and CEO of Chicago-based Melanin magazine, a periodical whose mission is to enhance ethnic pride for young women of color, is another conference participant trying to do just that. “A work plan is more important than a business plan,” said McLeary. While her business plan has made her a standout, she noted that her daily efforts to generate revenue and create more opportunity are what will allow her influence to spread.

Carole Brown echoed that sentiment, saying that having the BMA conference coincide with Black History Month is significant, as she can enjoy her success more because of those who have paved the way.

“I find this journey to be so much more rewarding when I’m using my success, my knowledge, my time and my energy to create wealth and opportunity for my community,” said Brown.