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“Success without leadership is a missed opportunity,” said CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien, a keynote speaker at the Kellogg School’s Black Management Association Conference.

Soledad O’Brien

'The real ROI'

The 24th annual Black Management Association Conference inspires attendees to empower future generations

By Hilary Hurd Anyaso

3/11/2011 - The new model for the 21st century business leader is to do good things for society by doing well for yourself.

This was the message conveyed to the nearly 200 attendees at Kellogg’s 24th Black Management Association Conference, held Feb. 25-27 and themed “The Real ROI: Maximizing Investments While Building Communities.” Kellogg’s oldest student-led conference brought together business leaders, faculty, students and alumni to discuss the importance of leveraging economic resources and human/social capital to strengthen minority communities and empower future generations to become successful leaders.

During her morning keynote address, Soledad O’Brien, award-winning anchor and special correspondent for CNN, told the Kellogg audience that “success without leadership is a missed opportunity.”

O’Brien said she chooses to lead by reporting on under-covered communities, making reference to her series of documentaries “Black in America” and “Latino in America.” O’Brien also said that tackling race, politics and identity in the documentaries was a win-win for both herself and CNN.

“We won in ratings, critical acclaim and audience engagement,” she added.

The conference also featured panel discussions on entrepreneurship, investing in education, and multicultural marketing strategies.

Moderated by Kellogg Professor Steven Rogers, the “Billion Dollar Roundtable” panel included three entrepreneurs who started their own financial services firms. Collectively, they are responsible for the management of more than $1 billion.

James Reynolds Jr. ’82, founder, chairman and CEO of Loop Capital Markets, said he stumbled into investment banking as a student at Kellogg. He went on to work for PaineWebber, Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney before going into business for himself.

“It’s much better to learn on somebody else’s dime,” he said, emphasizing the value of apprenticeship.

Despite the current economy, the CEOs said their firms have fared remarkably well, which they attributed to remaining flexible and hiring the best possible talent. Reynolds was joined on the panel by Quintin E. Primo III, chairman and CEO of Capri Capital Partners LLC, and John W. Rogers Jr., founder, chairman, CEO and chief investment officer at Ariel Investments.

At the “Investing in Education” forum, panelists emphasized that business skills are needed in the education field and encouraged attendees to consider how they might use their business expertise to bring about social change. Less than 10 years ago, the education sector attracted few MBAs, but now many education organizations now have MBAs on staff.

Darryl Cobb ’00 was one such MBA who was drawn to the education field after a career as a consultant. His goal: to make a greater impact on the lives of children in his neighborhood.

“Regardless of whether I had a good week or bad week (as a consultant), the conditions for the kids in my neighborhood on the South Side did not change,” said Cobb, now partner and vice president, Charter School Growth Fund.

Bridgette P. Heller ’85, executive vice president and president of consumer care at Merck & Co., delivered the afternoon keynote address. The conference concluded with the “Multicultural Marketing Roundtable,” which explored evolving strategies to attract multicultural consumers.

BMA conference co-chairs Stephanie Dorsey and Brianna English, both ’11, said the goal of the conference was to inspire attendees.

“Every keynote address and panel was too short and left the audience wanting more, and reinvigorated us all to work harder and do better in our respective fields and communities,” Dorsey said.