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February 12, 2021

4 Modern Black Wealth Pioneers and Lessons To Learn From Their Stories

In recent years, the number of Black-owned businesses has risen dramatically, with Black women leading the charge. These businesses have to face steeper challenges than their counterparts, but this is not new. The Black community’s long history of building wealth and resources in the US is marked by ebbs and flows – controlled by societal norms, geopolitical forces, and discrimination. In this climate, it’s important to honor and learn from members of the community who are telling their story.

There are a few resources to access this knowledge and to take a deeper dive into history than what is usually taught in school. Books like Black Fortunes,Black Wall Street, and The Color of Money do a great job of telling the stories of Black entrepreneurs, business owners, and millionaires. Many of the people in these books were barred from resources, denied loans, had their work copied or destroyed and generally put in disadvantaged positions. They managed to not only create wealth but also leave a legacy for others to follow. Let’s take a look at just a few of these pioneers in greater detail.

Robert F. Smith

You may remember Robert F. Smith from the viral video a couple of years ago when he pledged to pay off student loans for the entire graduating class of Morehouse College. Smith is the founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that specializes in software companies.

The son of two Denver-based schoolteachers, he earned degrees from Cornell University and Columbia Business School before forming his company. With a current net worth of $5 billion, Smith is making a dedicated effort to give marginalized groups more opportunities. For example, Vista hosts an annual conference where leaders from across the industry, representatives from Columbia Business School, and other tech executives discuss strategies for getting more women into their highest ranks.

In an interview with Business Insider, Robert Smith referenced his gesture and said: “I tell people there’s nothing greater than liberating the human spirit. Think about 400 young African American men who had just done the heavy lift. Many of them had college loans and parents PLUS loans coming out of their neighborhoods, fighting what they were fighting for, and then getting educated. Now they did all the heavy lifting. And I thought, what can I do to uplift their spirit that is already high? And I thought liberating 400 spirits 400 years after 1619 is probably a good, good thing to do.”

David Steward

David Steward is the founder and chairman of IT provider World Wide Technology. He’s atypical in the way he runs his IT company, bringing in his deep faith and beliefs into his work. He even  wrote a book called Leadership by the Good Book, about applying biblical principles to a business setting.

His company, now valued over $12 billion, is thriving in the current COVID-19 environment with over 5,600 employees and a roster of businesses in its client list. World Wide Technology is now the largest Black-owned business in America.

Steward once watched his car get repossessed from his office parking lot. He’s also quite proud of the fact that at one time, he was FedEx’s salesman of the year. He credits his success to the “Entrepreneurial zeal from [his] father, and such encouragement from [his] mother,” going on to say that his father was the first entrepreneur he ever saw:

“He was, out of necessity. He was a master mechanic, he was a bartender, he was a hunter, he was a security guard. You name it. He cleaned offices; he had a janitorial service. Because of racism, because of bigotry, because of segregation and all those things … He was the first entrepreneur I ever saw.”

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is a media maven who got her start in the entertainment and news industry, but leveraged that success into a business empire. Forbes first listed her as a billionaire in 2003 with a $1 billion net worth.

The internet is full of quotes attributed to Oprah Winfrey, who is one of the most celebrated and longest-running daytime talk shows in television history. She is also a  Academy Award-winner, Broadway musical producer, screen actress, author, and podcast host.

In an article on Oprah.com, she writes about her thoughts on money:  “For me, money has always been about an energy exchange, following the law of cause and effect. I give my energy to the work and in exchange am rewarded with a different form of energy—money. This in turn lets me acquire, create, and build other forms of energy, from the necessities of food and shelter to material possessions that enhance the quality of life to endeavors that help others reach their fullest potential.”

Michael Jordan

With possibly the most recognizable face and brand ever, Michael Jordan has a current net worth of $1.9 billion. He is not only regarded as one of the greatest sports players ever but is also a savvy businessman. Over the years, he has built his wealth through business deals, sponsorships, book deals, ad deals, and more.

It all began in 1978, during his sophomore year at Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina, when Jordan was not selected for the varsity basketball team. A relentless nature and a growth spurt ultimately got him to a level of athleticism and bravado he’s yet to descend from. Netflix docuseries ‘The Last Dance’ goes into the raw ambition and hard work that went into Michael Jordan’s journey. He reportedly donated $2 million of his earnings from the docuseries to Feeding America’s food banks. When it comes to money and wealth, Jordan’s diversified portfolio speaks for itself. In fact, it wasn’t until 2014, 15 years after he retired, that he achieved billionaire status. Previous reporting from Business Insider shows that Jordan has a plethora of side projects. He owns multiple restaurants, including one in Florida and two in Chicago. Jordan also owns a North Carolina Nissan dealership. When it comes to personal finance, race impacts the ability to build wealth and retain wealth. While it is important to learn money lessons where possible, it’s also important to acknowledge the specific issues that these Black entrepreneurs and leaders have faced, along with how they overcame them. However, if history is any indication, Black entrepreneurship will continue to grow and thrive in the coming years. We can all do our part to support this growing trend. To learn more, read our article on How to Invest in Black-Owned Businesses and Close the Racial Wealth Gap.

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