Thousands of future business leaders joined over 300 top organizations at the 2010 National Black MBA Conference, held this past weekend in Los Angeles, California. Those invited to the conference were a highly talented group of “diverse” professionals, most who were currently in business school, and others who were prospectives or recent alumni. Similarly, a majority of attendees were looking to make a difference not only in the business world but also in their communities.
I wrote a similar post on the event last year (click here for post) from New Orleans, but this year the conference was in Los Angeles, California. John Rice, founder of Management Leadership for Tomorrow was in attendance, as was Magic Johnson (a conference Co-Chair), Daniel Pink (author), and a long list of other prominent speakers (click here to see the list). Similarly, my good friend, and former Congressional candidate, Emanuel Pleitez was there, on behalf of his new company McKinsey & Company.
I spoke with John on two occasions, during events held on Thursday morning. In one event, MLT hosted a breakfast with a number of companies, some of which were conference attendees and others who came specifically for the breakfast. John Rice kicked off the event with a few words. Next up was one of Amgen’s Business Executives. And MLT’s president Ian Hardman concluded the session, before sending us off to our networking session.
After their respective remarks, about 200 MLT participants took part in a newtorking session with a few dozen employers. At the onset, I spoke with companies like Google and Mckinsey. I also had conversations with Booz & Company, The Parthenon Group, LexisNexis and Amgen, among others.
After the breakfast event with MLT, we joined the main part of the conference, which was the networking career fair with hundreds of companies on the main floor of the Los Angeles Convention Center. (Click here to see the list of companies in attendance). And this was a great way to have conversations with any company you might have been interested in.
In some of these conversations, participants experienced the typical questions you’d have with recruiters – what roles are you interested in? and why? — and in others, they were challenged to engage in more meaningful conversations. That’s because sometimes recruiters skip the easy questions and move more quickly into the harder ones, and so you have to be ready not only to have more meaningful discussions but also know more about the companies, tell a good story, prove fit with the company, and pull all of that together succinctly to give your pitch. And that message was true for all the organizations, public and private, and for-profit and non-profit.
In fact, there was an astonishing similarity in all my discussions with companies, regardless of industry, sector, and pay opportunity. The companies wanted candidates who were intelligent and capable, and someone who also was well prepared for these career discussions. And that’s especially true for not for profit companies in attendance like Education Pioneers, Broad Foundation, and Technoserve, where many people think that because these companies have the goal to relieve poverty and solve the education crisis, that the interviews or the jobs are easier. But these are big issues, and companies want people who are not only smart but also want to really do the work.
On both Thursday and Friday, after long days of talking to employers and watching people run around looking for jobs, the career ended at 5pm, at which point a lot of people went to company receptions. On Thursday, I went to Google’s private reception. The session was both fun and informative, and it turned out, I had pretty interesting connections with two of the three recruiters in attendance. After that, I went to Kellogg’s alumni reception, and after that headed out for a fun night on the town on LA. Friday night was more of the same, except I stopped by Wharton’s reception and Ross’s Reception before heading out for the night.
Students at Kellogg took flights back to Chicago Saturday morning – I was on a flight with four Kellogg people – to arrive home just in time to head to our annual CIM Ball formal reception in the city that evening.
Altogether, it’s been a long week and weekend, but the conference was well worth the time, whether you walked away with new job prospects or not. That’s because today in America, diversity is still a critical issue, and today, we are in a “race” to bring diversity to our professional communities (click here for a past post on that race). And even though we all know that diversity is central to the market place, at the top 20 MBA programs, there are still well under 10% blacks and Hispanics, and in the world of Fortune 500 companies and blue chip law firms, the percentage of CEO’s and Senior Partners is only about half that.
One step to helping a next generation of diverse leaders is to get together more often at venues like this. These venues help you re-engage with the idea that when we bring ourselves together around a common purpose, that we can effect change more broadly. Both because we have more hands to help and also because you can connect with with more people, and inspire them on a larger scale.
So in the end, not only will these conferences help attendees advance their own careers, but it will also advance the missions of their organizations and of the entire world in our “race” to bring diversity to international business community. Only time will tell how long that will take, but if you’re thinking about going to the NBMBAA conference in the future, you should consider attending. I am personally enlisting your help.
Do you have any other comments about the conference? What about on the value of having diversity in business?