Celebrating role models and inspiring career journeys: EY celebrates black leaders with executive roundtable events
For the fourth year in a row, distinguished professionals, students and community leaders gathered in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle to pay homage to black leaders of the past, present and future as part of Ernst & Young LLP’s Black History Month Executive Roundtable series.
The idea was to celebrate history and different ways of thinking, and also offer tangible career advice to professionals.
These events started small—a grassroots effort. Over brunch, two EY professionals, Ibi Krukrubo and Nicole Felix, were chatting about what they could do for Black History Month in addition to acknowledging the accomplishments of the first black accountants. Before they knew it, they had planned a Bay Area roundtable, and the event quickly expanded to Los Angeles and Seattle.
Today, EY’s Black History Month Executive Roundtable series is a powerful annual gathering that the community eagerly awaits. It’s become a place where business relationships are born and where networks expand.
Here’s what some of this year’s panelists had to say.
Paying homage to role models
If Black History Month is about anything, it’s about celebrating those mentors, those role models who were hugely influential.
Panelist Daniel Boggan, Jr. remembers Miss Pearson, who owned a grocery store near his family’s home.
“When I was little, my mom would send me over there and Miss Pearson would say, ‘Daniel, I saw your name in the paper for getting straight A’s.’ And she’d smile, and when I walked out of that store, my head was definitely higher,” said Boggan, Interim CEO, Alameda Health Systems, and a Clorox Company board member.
For James White, Chairman, President and CEO of Jamba Juice, it was watching others succeed in the 1980s, as he was starting in business.
“Back then, there were maybe a dozen African-American vice presidents, so I saw the possibilities, but aspired for more,” he said. “My inspiration comes in so many ways — the more you see others doing it, the more you can visualize.”
Sheila Talton, EY alum and President and CEO of Gray Matter Analytics, a company she launched, serves on many corporate boards and counsels those companies’ CEOs about the importance of diversity.
“I tell them that if young people walk into their company and can’t see people like themselves, they won’t stay,” she said. “I say, ‘You will not get the best and brightest if you’re limited in this way.’”
Inspiring career journeys
Early in Boggan’s career, he was offered a job as a Deputy City Manager in Flint, Michigan. He told his father that he didn’t want to take it, because city managers positions are often vulnerable to the whims of city politics.
“My dad said, ‘Why are you afraid of being fired? You have an opportunity to make a huge difference to a lot of people who look like you. If you’re afraid of being fired, you’ll never be the person you’re supposed to be.’”
He took the job, and vowed to never let fear creep into his decisions again.
For Talton, it’s always been about what she can learn from others.
“I always say don’t worry about the job, worry about what you can learn from the people around you,” she said. “The minute I’m doing all the teaching and none of the learning, that’s when I decide to move on.”
It’s about controlling your own destiny, says Talton, and never making a personal career decision based on others.
Delvecchio Finley, CEO of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, gave some insight into what he looks for in new hires.
“I look for character aspects needed for an effective team: An early adopter, a devil’s advocate,” he said. “I am a believer that if we think the same, one of us isn’t necessary.”
The essence of these events, and Black History Month as a whole, was encapsulated by panelist Nathaniel “Buster” Brown, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, LHUI: “If it is to be,” he said, “it is up to me.”
Most of the panelists did not know each other prior to the events, but built an instant friendship by the time the events were over. And those who attended most definitely came away with insights about how to be your authentic self at work, how to persevere in the face of adversity and how to continually make positive change.