Earl G. Graves has been a tremendous force in leading the black business community to new heights. His most notable achievements began in 1965 when he served as administrative assistant to Senator Robert F. Kennedy through 1968. Following Kennedy's assassination Earl began a management consulting firm to advise corporations on urban affairs and economic development.
In 1970, Graves began to speak with prospective advertisers aimed at the market of black executives. He faced questions such as "What black executives?". It is true that the advertisers questions were a cause for concern. At the time only a handful of top executives in big business were black. The number of blacks pursuing higher education was steadily increasing and these would be the future of the publication. Graves had a vision and founded Black Enterprise Magazine.
With a $175,000 loan he started his publication. He was able to attract some large corporate advertisers such as IBM and others and became profitable in less than a year. This was an incredible feat for any publication, as magazines come and go regularly in this very competitive struggle for advertising dollars and readership.
His vision has stood the test of time. In 1996, with circulation of over 350,000, Black Enterprise market is continually increasing. The magazine has diversified into many issues including political, entrepreneurship, community issues and much more to enrich the business and quality of life issues for the black community.
Mr. Graves is a staunch advocate of higher education and equal opportunity. In recognition of his support for entrepreneurial education and his many years of contributing to Morgan State University, including a $1 million gift to advance business education, the university recently renamed its school of business and management the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management.
"I knew nothing about publishing, but that was probably an advantage".
He knew much later that understanding what he didn't know in the beginning could have paralyzed his ability to pioneer the magazine.
"In the early days, I was the advertising department, and I was also the guy who would get the lunch".
When a business begins we must be willing to do whatever work is needed to take us to the next level.
This is often much easier said than done for instance, as manager turned entrepreneur is accustomed to assistants and employees.
"I don't look back because they might be gaining on us. Besides, there's always going to be competition".
Several other magazines targeting small business and the black business person have entered the market.
Most seasoned entrepreneurs such as Graves welcome competition as it inspires a "do it better" mentality.
Entrepreneurship at an early age
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, "I was selling Christmas cards to neighbors when I was six years old. My sales territory was the square block I lived on".
Graves parents, both children of West Indies immigrants believed in higher education. One of Grave's motivators was the inability of his father to move beyond blue-collar employment despite a high school education. In 1957, Graves graduated from Baltimore's Morgan State University. The business school now bears his name.
He attended college through a ROTC program and rose to Captain in the Green Beret division. The Green Beret are among the most highly skilled in the armed forces.
Key thoughts for entrepreneurs
The following is an excerpt from Graves book, How to Succeed in Business Without being White.
Earl Graves is active in a variety of associations. Notable examples are the Boy Scouts of America, New American Schools Development Corporation, TransAfrica Forum, Glass Ceiling Commission, American Museum of National History and Planetarium, and Chairman of the Black Business Council.
"I feel that a large part of my role as publisher of BLACK ENTERPRISE is to be a catalyst for black economic development in this country. When I can act as an instrument to make it happen for legitimate and reasonable people, I do it. I try to be helpful and put people together, whether it's finding a candidate for a trustee position at Howard University or reaching out to the CEO of Motown Records to save a company that was at the forefront of black economic development in the early days".
It is clear from reading the above excerpt, his participation in Let's Talk Business Radio, as well as from his book that Graves is a man of foresight, community, and integrity. There are many people who will try to talk you out of things especially when introducing a product to a market that doesn't yet exist! Such derision is more common when mission and "foresight" might not be understood. The simple fact is that many people cannot see beyond their own condition, but those of you who can are among those who change the world. Graves is such a man. Additional excerpts in the book discuss the need to have solidarity in communities. The social responsibility we all share is paramount to each and every person's growth.
Let's Talk Business was honored to have the wonderful Frances Hesselbein, President of the Peter Drucker Foundation (possibly the top business visionary in the world) speak to our entrepreneurial support community. Frances spoke about Drucker's ability to "predict" events such as the end of the cold war in Russia and well as the fall of the Berlin Wall. How did he do it Frances asked? "I looked out the window" - Drucker replied. People such as Graves and Drucker have the foresight to merely look at the human condition and factors facing this condition from a point outside our daily lives and see the change taking place in business and society.