Lessons from 30 African Americans who have forged successful careers

Lessons from 30 African Americans who have forged successful careers

Bardwell, Chris B

For the 30th anniversary of THE BLACK COLLEGIAN Magazine we collected insight from 30 African-American men and women who have forged successful careers in Corporate America and in business over the past three decades. From seasoned senior executives to middle-managers, entrepreneurs and other professionals in fields ranging from business, finance, communications, criminal justice to technology, we asked these individuals to share with our readers the lessons or inspiring quotes they have relied upon in their climb to success. Here are their career lessons.

Amsale Aberra, president & creative director, Amsale Aberra, Inc., New York, NY. “Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned building my company is that to be successful you must have a passion for what you are trying to achieve. Success, whether it is financial or artistic, only comes from very, very hard work. If you do not have a burning passion, you cannot commit yourself.”

Robert Andrews, senior vice president, organization HR consultant, Dallas, TX. “To graduating college seniors: One of the most important functions you should continue or begin to perform is networking. In today’s business climate of mergers, acquisitions and downsizing, networking will keep you in contact with those that can help you or even your associates make future career moves.”

Deborah Beavers, executive director, The Career Planning Center, Inc., Marina Del Rey, CA. “My mother, the late Jessie Mae Beavers, always taught me that,’anything worth doing is worth doing well.’ This adage has been the basis or foundation that I have used to set the standard for the level of professionalism I continuously work to maintain. It helps me to compete against myself. As an administrator in the public arena for 30 years and currently as the executive director of a non-profit organization, this philosophy has served me well and continues to guide me in my quest for excellence.”

Dionne Q. Blackwell, president of Nirvana Retreats, Inc., Chicago, IL. “Your career life lessons are not as unrelated as they look! Everything you do has some bearing on what’s to come. As you move through your career, you’ll develop skills that appear unrelated. Over time, patterns develop. My career started in financial counseling and ended in personal development. Pay attention. Your life purpose will be revealed through the skills you acquire. A favorite quote of mine is “The unexamined life is not worth living” — Plato.

Nelvia M. Brady, Ph.D., author and columnist, president and owner of This Mother’s Daughter, Inc., Chicago, IL. “Goethe states, in one of his writings ‘that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. Whatever you can do, or dream you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.’ For me true commitment allowed Providence to move in my life and help me to complete a doctorate degree in two years, to become the first African American and the only female to serve as Chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago and later to launch a successful career in executive search with a very prestigious firm. Most recently Providence has moved as I have committed to and embarked upon a new career as an author and columnist and self-published my first book, This Mother’s Daughter.”

Jesse B. Brown, president of Krystal Investment Management, a financial advisory firm in Chicago, IL and author of the best selling book, Investing in the Dream-Wealth Building Strategies for African Americans Seeking Financial Freedom. “The next battle is for economic freedom. People love to talk about African-American wealth. ‘We are worth $500 billion,’ they cry. Great. But how much of that is invested? The African-American community is not invisible, but its investment earnings are barely discernible. Don’t let lingering racial insecurities or fear of discrimination keep you from claiming your prosperity birthright and participating in the American economy. A well-conceived investment plan is a form of life assurance. It takes a little money to get started, but it takes even more of an investment in the truth. Accept for the first time in your life that saving money is vital to your future happiness and security. Commit to making your money work for you.”

Monique Caradine, radio talk show host, WVON 1450 AM Chicago, IL. “One of the greatest career lesson’s I’ve learned is the importance of standing out —being different from the rest. If you understand the value of your uniqueness, success will be yours. I also follow the motto of a popular car manufacturer, which is: ‘In the relentless pursuit of perfection.’ Need I say more?”

Willie and Marian Carrington, seasoned, owners and principals of Carrington & Carrington, Ltd., executive search, Chicago, IL. With more than 20 years of placing high-level executives in Fortune 500 Companies, the Carrington’s have a wealth of experience in helping people shape their careers. They both believe that truly successful people understand the importance of mentoring, networking and assisting others along the way. “Don’t pull the ladder away once you have reached the top,” says Marian Carrington. “Lift as you climb” chimes in firm founder, Willie Carrington.

Cheryl Brown Henderson, founder & president, Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research, Topeka, KS. “Over the years I have learned many career lessons but the one that serves me best is a belief shared by my late father, Rev. Oliver L. Brown. His willingness to stand up for others led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Decision of 1954Oliver L. Brown et al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka et. al. I learned from him that each of us must live by certain principles and lead by example.”

Irmgard M. Cooper, president, IMC AUTOMATION INC, Chicago, IL. “My advice is to follow your passion, enjoy whatever you are doing and do it to the best of your ability even if it’s not where you ultimately want to go, and garner all of your skills, talents and resources so that most of your life can be spent enjoying what you do for a living.”

David E. Ellington, NetNoir, Inc., co-founder and former president and CEO, San Francisco, CA “Once you start your business always be prepared for personnel changes — that is normal. People will come and go in and out of the operation, that’s ok. It’s necessary for growth.”

Brenda J. Gaines, president and CEO of Diners Club North America, Chicago, IL. “It’s wonderful that this magazine and Diners Club share significant anniversaries this year. This fine publication is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and Diners Club is celebrating its 50th birthday of creating the all-purpose charge card industry. In an age in which the advantages of learning are leveraged in all industries, my biggest corporate lesson is simple: Seize the opportunity to perform, and demand that you be judged by your performance. Extend that demand to all that you hire and inspire, and give your people the opportunity to perform and prove themselves to the benefit of your customers and shareholders.”

Debrena Jackson Gandy, author of All the Joy You Can Stand and Sacred Pampering Principles, owner: Masterminds, Seattle, WA. “As an entrepreneur who has had internships, the Fortune 10 corporate experience, and the small corporate experience in my background, my career “journey” has brought me many insightful lessons that boil down to two key revelations: I’ve learned that 1) every work/job/internship opportunity offers personal refinement and personal growth opportunities. Be sure you know what each brings or has brought you; and 2) every work/job experience should move me closer (not farther away) to the point where I have a livelihood/profession based on the expression and contribution of my natural gifts, talents, and abilities. This is where I’ve finally arrived.

Hallelujah! It’s heavenly.”

Roberta Gutman, corporate vice president and Motorola director of global diversity, Schaumburg, IL. “Help thy brother’s boat across, and lo, thine own will reach the shore.” Anonymous. “In my career, this quote has been paramount to success. Ambition for one’s self should include ambition for others. We must never be so focused on moving ahead that we forget/neglect our responsibilities to pull other Blacks forward along with us. As African Americans, we have not invested enough energy into helping each other. When we do, we will surely experience success beyond our wildest dreams.”

Moses A. Hardie, Jr., assistant vice president – human resources, Allstate Insurance Company, Northbrook, IL. “Always look back and remember from whence you came. No matter how successful we become, don’t forget who you are. Reach back and help someone to achieve what you’ve achieved. You didn’t make it alone.”

Delbert Harrison, SPHR, human resource manager, Worldwide Sales and Services, COMPAQ Computer Corporation, “Inspiration Technology ” Chicago, IL. “When in a meeting, if there is any doubt in your mind about a statement you are about to make, don’t. At the same time participate confidently and intelligently. Do your homework, be prepared. When your manager calls you into their office, always, always, take a pad of paper and a pen. Whenever you identify and communicate a business problem, communicate a possible solution at the same time.”

V. Dion Haynes, national correspondent, Chicago Tribune Los Angeles Bureau, Los Angeles, CA. “In the competitive, fast-paced world of journalism, it’s a given that you have to work hard and possess excellent writing skills. But many young journalists seeking to move ahead in the business world mistakenly believe that their work will speak for itself. That is not always the case. Often the squeaky wheel gets the oil. It is important for young journalists to have a clear idea of what they want to do with their careers and communicate that to editors. Don’t be afraid to apply for a position that may be over your head. You may not get it the first time around, but at least you will plant the idea in your editors’ heads that you are ambitious and that they should keep their eye on you for the future.”

Karima Haynes, staff writer, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA. “The most significant career lesson I learned early on in my career as a newspaper reporter was to observe the work habits of the experienced journalists in my newsroom. From them, I was able to pick up the practical tricks of the trade that I couldn’t learn from a textbook as an undergraduate at Clark Atlanta University or as a graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL. I learned the disciplines of staying in touch with sources, writing stories under deadline pressure and reading publications of all kinds to find story ideas. They also taught me how to manage my time—for example, not goofing off during slow periods and then trying to rush as deadline approached, a nerve-wracking time when errors are easily made. My advice is to find an experienced colleague whose work you admire and adopt some of their work practices to your personal work style. It’s important to learn by watching as well as by doing.”

Phyllis Hayes-Heard, director of Distance Learning, Chicago State University, Chicago, IL, “Since the tender age of five when my father and mother (now both deceased) bought me a blackboard and some chalk for my birthday, I knew that I wanted to be a dynamic educator. An educator for twenty-three years now, I have experienced some wonderful circumstances and educated a few thousand students. As I look back and reflect on my salary as compared to the salaries of my friends who are doctors, lawyers and other professionals, I am probably the lowest paid of them all. But, when I think about the smiling faces of my special education students on graduation day from elementary school, (some were already 16 years old) I will always remember their personal sense of accomplishment. Therefore, my salary can’t be topped when it comes to helping folks achieve a goal that was accomplished ‘by any means necessary.’ Thank you, Malcolm X, for your legacy.”

Mellody Hobson, president, Ariel Capital Management, Inc./Ariel Mutual Funds, Chicago, IL. My career lesson is a quote: “If no one ever took risks, Michaelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor.” – Neil Simon, esteemed playwright.

Roxanne B. Jackson, vice president, human resources, L’Oreal USA -Soft Sheen/Carson Division, Chicago, IL. There are three career lessons I’d like to share: “1)When I’ve failed at something, it rarely meant that I was a failure. It simply meant that I had to prepare for a “stellar” repeat performance! 2) I’ve always dreamed my future and I’m living it now! and 3) Don’t cheat yourself by always taking the easy way out. Endurance to make it to the end comes from traveling the long hard road.”

Indigo D. Johnson, CEO of Careers In Transition, a training and development firm, Decatur, GA. “Standing at a career crossroads, a voice said, ‘Learn to listen to your inner voice for it is God whispering to your soul.’ I didn’t always listen to that gentle voice that tugged at my spirit. Now, I’ve learned to recognize and listen for that voice; it always speaks for my highest good in making career decisions.”

Maria M. Jossey, director Girls To Women, Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

Copyright Black Collegian Apr 2001

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