One Billion Is Just a Number

In my special course for minority business enterprise owners at the Kellogg School of Management, I often state, “It is just as easy to run a $100 million company as a $1 million company.” After reading about some of the billion-dollar deals by Facebook, Google and others, I might have to change my statement to say a billion-dollar company.

I have been awestruck by the immense wealth generated by the Horatio Alger-type entrepreneurs such as Jan Koum, who immigrated to the U.S. at 16 and swept floors to make ends meet, but recently sold his firm, WhatsApp, for $19 billion, and Biz Stone, who was raised on food stamps and co-founded Twitter, a $20 billion company.

The frequency of these stories in the news has caused me to ponder why no minority companies are profiled among these mega deals. If the minority community did $20 billion deals, the effect on our community and society would be tremendous.

When a billion-dollar deal is consummated not only do the founders become unbelievably rich, but also the employees of the firm. If the owners are principled and philanthropic, society will benefit tremendously, as illustrated by the actions of Bill and Melinda Gates, who are working to eradicate malaria; the Pritzker family, who have positively affected the lives of tens of thousands of Chicago children; and Mark Zuckerberg, who provided Newark, New Jersey, schools with $100 million.

While I was on the Grinnell College board of trustees, our endowment increased from $26 million to $1.3 billion. The major reason was one of its members was Robert Noyce, who founded Intel. As a result of these gifts and grants from fellow trustees, thousands of students have received tuition-free education at an outstanding college.

Deep down I know within the minority community there exists a Bill Gates or Robert Noyce who has the potential to make a huge societal impact. As a community, we must do everything in our power to ensure these people are found and encouraged. Accepting that creating a billion-dollar company is an achievable objective, we need a collaborative agenda to develop these billion-dollar businesses. Educators, policymakers and entrepreneurs must share a vision of prosperity and accept the givens of the new global economy:

  • Growth-oriented industries will take precedence.
  • Old industries will need to become technically and digitally oriented to become more competitive.
  • Noncompetitive products will not survive.
  • Change is rapid and companies have to be more adaptable to survive.

Educators must prepare students for the changing global economy and adapt curriculums to incorporate the requisite technical education. Policymakers must pass new immigration laws to attract the brilliant professionals who will foster entrepreneurial growth. Educators and policymakers must pave the way for our successful future, and entrepreneurs should change their mindsets accepting:

  • Every business should have a written plan.
  • Strategic partners both in and outside a company foster the growth of most billion-dollar companies.
  • Outside counsel can provide significant return on investment and might be necessary to grow a business.
  • Owning 40 percent of a billion-dollar company is better than owning 100 percent of a million-dollar company.
  • Technology is key to growth and must be embraced.
  • Diversification is often the key to survival and profitability.
  • The proceeds of a sale can be reinvested to buy and grow bigger, better companies.

Just imagine the impact on our society if during the next five years we were able to produce two or three minority billionaires in 20 U.S. cities. Imagine the thousands of jobs created. Imagine the role models the CEOs would represent to our youth. Imagine the power of these individuals to influence political, social and economic change in their city. Imagine the extent to which mega deals and businesses could be created in the brown and black diaspora around the world. Imagine the multiple generations of leaders created. Imagine how the endowments of colleges and universities would benefit and minority students would prosper. Imagine the amount of equity capital available to large, sophisticated MBEs. Imagine how much the budgets of minority advocate organizations would increase and how many more people would be helped.

People say I am a dreamer and maybe I am, but one cannot deny that I am a big dreamer. Thus, I will devote the rest of my life to working with my fellow big dreamers who also believe and accept that $1 billion is just a number.