Category Archives: Business

The Conundrum Of HBCUs & American Campus Communities


Glorious shall be the battle when the time comes to fight for our people and our race. – Marcus Garvey

It is often preached that one of the major obstacles to African American economic development is the inability for the African American dollar to circulate within the community. This is often viewed on an individual level by where African Americans shop or eat, but what about at the institutional level? Do African American businesses and institutions like HBCUs also have a role to play in the circulation of the dollar? The answer is without a doubt, yes. Perhaps even more so and more impactful than anything individuals can do. Yet, it seems that when it comes to real estate development and student housing, specifically HBCUs have missed a golden opportunity to circulate millions of dollars within the African American economic ecosystem. To be more blunt, they have failed. That land development is not more revered is somewhat remiss given the lore of the 40 acres and a mule legacy within our communities, but our lack of strategic integration has become others opportunities.

American Campus Communities is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that was co-founded in 1993 by Bill Blayless. Its primary developments are as their name suggest focused on college and universities both on and off campus and primarily housing with some retail mixed in. They have built 206 developments spread across 96 colleges of which 11 have been built on 7 HBCU campuses. Prairie View A&M University, which has a twenty year relationship with ACC,  has the most with four developments with the most recent one opening in 2017. ACC as they are known by their ticker symbol is publicly traded with a market capitalization of $6.1 billion and annual revenue of almost three-quarters of a billion dollars. They have a unique niche in the campus housing development space. However, the story does not simply end there.

If HBCUs are going to do business with developers that are not African American and more importantly HBCU alumni, then there should be something that compels them to do so. A company with an outstanding track record for diversity, a stake of the company in their endowment portfolio, etc. Yet, further examination of American Campus Communities leaves serious questions about exactly who is making the decisions to use them for HBCUs. Of the company’s executive team, senior officers, and board of directors there is not one African American present and no HBCU alumni present either. In fact, there are no ethnic minorities period on the aforementioned groups and only a handful of women. What are decisions like this saying to our community that we so passionately claim to be saying we have the interest of? Are we to believe that there are no African American real estate developers who we trust or are worthy of such projects?

Don Peebles, Sharon Johnson, and Quintin Primo, three African American real estate developers with a combined net worth of almost $2 billion, have developed multi-faceted real estate development corporations and are nationally known certainly would seem more than capable of handling the multi-millions worth of development that happens at HBCUs. There are likely hundreds if not thousands of local African American developers as well like Sharone Mayberry in Houston, Texas who renovated Unity Bank, the only African American owned bank in Texas, and is leading the efforts of renovation in Houston’s historic Third Ward.

It is hardly a surprise that some of these HBCUs are being directed who to use or even having it chosen for them as six of the seven HBCUs who have ACC developments are state schools with Clark Atlanta University being the one private school. Being a public university means that public politics from the gubernatorial office and state politicians have a heavy influence on who receives government and public contracts for work throughout the state. This probably comes with a concerted lobbying effort by ACC to select politicians who make the decisions. The autonomy that state/public schools among the smaller schools (see HBCUs) often marginalizes their decision making while the state’s flagships tend to have the political capital to leverage their own autonomous decisions as it relates to almost every facet of their strategic decision making.

To be clear, this is not a suggestion that all American Campus Communities needs to do is add a token African American to their executive team or board and all is right in the world. That would still not create institutional circulation of the African American dollar and ultimately that is what this is about. If embracing the true circulation and creating a multiplying effect it would take HBCUs concerting with African American financial institutions to sell the bonds that would raise the funds for such construction, then taking that funding and having a request for proposals that ensured HBCU engineers, architects, and developers were a healthy percentage of those who were vying for the bid. Something akin to the Rooney Rule that the NFL uses in ensuring minority coaches get interviewed for head coaching positions that come available. The fact that HBCUs do not seem to be making a more vigorous effort to do this is troublesome.

Time and time again, African American institutions, be it HBCUs, churches, or businesses operate in their own bubble and are not more purposeful in integrating themselves, which makes the dollar within our communities even more difficult to circulate and therefore antagonistic to our institutional economic development. Alumni must deepen their resolve to be involved in not only fundraising for HBCUs, but auditing where those dollars go once they are received. It would be prudent if alumni demanded accountability of just how much of the annual services and products were bought from businesses owned by HBCU alumni. There is a long way to go in moving the needle on circulating our dollars more effectively, but a $10 meal at an African American restaurant versus hundreds of millions in development deals between HBCUs and our own real estate developers is a stark difference in getting us there.

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How To Work With Friends as Clients, and Not Kill Each Other In The Process


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By Jasmine Oliver

As a creative, it is inevitable that at some point in our career one of our close friends will either approach us for help with their project, or we will see how our skill sets could benefit their situation.

These can be tense situations to handle as there is more than just money on the table, a friendship is at stake as well.If these situations aren’t handled properly, you could lose a client and a close friend.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

1. Never work for free

One of the biggest mistakes that can ruin friendships and your business is volunteering your work for free. While we have the best intentions and want to help our friends, we are doing them an injustice if we don’t charge for our services.

If you’re a graphic designer looking for real-life advice and long-term success, The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Clients by acclaimed designer Ellen Shapiro is the book for you. Not only does she reveal the secrets behind getting the clients you want to recognize your name and brand, but she also discusses how to land those clients and create a positive and productive working relationship with them.

When you volunteer your work for free, you are putting that project at the bottom of your priority list.

Paying your bills will always come before doing free work for a friend.

Despite your good intentions, when times get tough you will end up pushing their project aside to get money in the door.

When you don’t charge your friends, you are disrespecting them and their business. This grave mistake has personally cost me several friendships over the course of pursuit to being a freelancer.

Every time I volunteered my work with true genuine intentions of helping the other person, but as paid clients picked up I had to prioritize my time on what was going to pay the bills.

Ultimately, my friends felt disrespected. They became very upset that I pushed their project aside and our friendship has never been the same ever since.

Never work for friends for free, its not worth it.

2. Only work with a friend if you truly believe you can provide value

Approaching friends as potential clients can be an awkward thing. Sometimes you may see a friend who could desperately benefit from your services.

But how do you approach them? Instead of thinking of approaching your friends as ‘trying to make a sale,’ try to think about it this way.

If you can really provide value to your friend, then you would be doing an injustice to them by not offering to help them. Never look at friends as just a source of income, only work with them if you truly believe you can benefit their situation.

3.Keep things professional

BAHHHH!!!! This part is hard, especially when dealing with friends that you even consider family. I know. I get it. Trust me.  When working with friends, it is essential that you keep things professional. You must treat your friends with the same professional care that you use on all of your other clients.Go through the same process and handle them just like you would with any other client.

Getting loose or unprofessional about the process with your friends is a quick way to bring uncertainty and doubt which can hurt the project and the friendship.

4. How to talk money with friends

Talking about the money, honey. Talking about the details with friends can be weird at first. As a result, many freelancers totally avoid this topic and end up with a loose scope or awkwardly dance around the money subject.

Instead of avoiding the topic, you need to face this head on and make sure everything is clear up front.

An easy way to do this is through e-mail. Having the money talk with a friend over the phone can be quite awkward, but doing it via e-mail tends to make it a bit less scary.

Whenever I send over my budget and proposal via e-mail I always give my friend the option out. I will say something along the lines of “If this project is out of your budget range, then no worries. I value our friendship more than this project and I won’t be offended if you say no.”

While that may not be the best sales tactic, it is essential in preserving the friendship.

5. Separate friendly talk from client talk

Another struggle for many friends is that working together can often mean that many once great friendships begin to diverge into a constant talk of the project at hand.

Set boundaries.

If you are out one evening having a good time, make it a rule to keep your work stuff out of the conversation. Or you can schedule regular work calls and keep those focused exclusively on the project at hand so that the rest of your life can go as normal.

Setting boundaries helps keep your friendships intact as the project moves forward.

6. Trade Agreements/ Bartering

Often friends can’t always afford to work with each other, but a trade of services may be something to consider.

Personal training in exchange for marketing.

Food in exchange for web design.

Accounting in exchange for business coaching.

Trade arrangements aren’t a bad thing, but the key is to make sure that you still structure those deals just like you do with any paid project.

Set clear expectations as to what each party will receive and put it in writing.

With trade agreements it is easy for one person or the other to feel cheated or undercompensated for their time. Get clear about what is being traded so that both parties feel equally compensated.

The bottom line

Working with friends as clients can be an enjoyable and profitable process. But you must handle these relationships with care because it is more than a project on the line, your friendship is at stake as well.

Jasmine Oliver is the creator behind VYRL CO. DESIGN. It is here that you will find a catalog of what inspired me, the struggles of growing as a creative and the joys, a place to share travels, and explore the journey of pursuing a beautiful and fulfilling life as a graphic/web designer and commercial photographer.  This rerun is with the consent of Vyrl Co. Design and may not reproduced otherwise. Visit her blog by clicking here.

Texas Southern Alumnus Sharone Mayberry & Mayberry Homes Renovating Unity National Bank


“We must keep on trying to solve problems, one by one, stage by stage, if not on the basis of confidence and cooperation, at least on that of mutual toleration and self-interest.” – Lester B. Pearson

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All too often we hear about the need for African American consumers to support African American businesses to strengthen our economic ecosystem, but all too often there is forgotten component of this economic ecosystem and that is the business to business relationships. It is another part of the value chain that is vital to circulating the African American dollar. After all, businesses too are consumers. Have you ever walked into an African American owned restaurant and wondered where they get their food from? Did they buy it from an African American owned wholesaler the likes of Sam’s Club or Costco? Did the wholesaler buy it from an African American farmer? Did the farmer buy seeds and feed from an African American owned agriculture supply company? By the time a product actually gets to the consumer it has gone through an extensive value chain of business to business purchases. The B2B market is estimated to be four times the size of the B2C market just in e-commerce and probably even larger in the traditional market. That is why seeing something like what is happening between Mayberry Homes and Unity National Bank is socially and economically very important.

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Mayberry Homes, a company owned by Texas Southern alumnus Sharone Mayberry, has been an active buyer of land and builder of homes in Houston’s Third Ward community. Bringing many of the community’s dilapidated homes in the area back to life as demand for property in Houston’s inner loop near downtown has skyrocketed in recent year.  Unity National Bank, founded in 1985 is the only African American owned bank in the state of Texas, is also headquartered in Houston’s Third Ward. If you ride around Third Ward, there are Mayberry Homes signs popping up everywhere so to see their in front of Unity National Bank was quite a statement. The bank’s building has not had a renovation in its thirty years of existence and with the recent surge in demand for accounts, an aesthetic that says to customers we are current and with the times is vital to the customer psychology and rapport. That the renovation is being done by an African American owned company also says to the trust that has long been believed to be absent among the community in trusting each other in business. This is an opportunity to show on an institutional level that we do indeed trust, need, and want each other. That is something that then flows down to the individual consumer level.

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This is something that should be being taught in HBCU b-schools. That to improve the communities we come from as we launch businesses in those communities that it is important to do business as a business with HBCU/African American owned companies. Although, with less than 1 in 4 HBCU b-school deans and chairpersons having an HBCU degree, it is likely a lesson likely not being taught. Our business schools are teaching business from a general and not from a community or African American perspective. HBCUs have often served as conduits of institution to institution commerce within our community, but rarely is that taught in the classroom as something that should be done. That is something that should and must change if we are too leverage this new found renaissance happening as we see our banking institutions start to actually have the capital they need to eventually make the small business loans back into the community.

Seeing the change that Mayberry/Unity are bringing should be a gentle reminder as we go forth that the best way to lift the great weight of economic empowerment and development is to do it together.

Merge Or Die: Radio One & Johnson Publishing Company


“Pride is a form of selfishness.” – David Lawrence

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There are two cars traveling across the United States of America. Starting off they they both think they have enough gas to go all the way, but about one-fourth of the way into the trip they realize they only have enough to make it three-fourths of the way there. The two cars had become acquaintances on this journey often seeing each other at the same rest stops and gas stations. From time to time they even exchange small talk and have a distant fondness for each other knowing they were on the same journey. As they finally approached the crossroad of a decision, just how would they make their decision? Well, if the goal is being their guide and not their ego, they decide to pool resources. They “merge” the two vehicles resources into one. In other words, they decide which car is in the best shape, siphon the gas from the other, take spare parts, and ultimately continue on their way. But someone must now give up their control to further this trip and that is ultimately where many African American businesses fail to ever reach the “destination” of becoming or remaining a viable and growing business.

In 2015, Johnson Publishing Company, African America’s largest owned publishing company, decided it needed raise more cash and was going to set about doing so under the direction of CEO Desiree Rogers’ leadership by selling 70 million iconic African American photos it has culminated since its founding for a price tag of $40 million. An amount roughly equal to almost half of the company’s current annual revenues. This follows on the heels of four years earlier the company giving up a 40 percent stake in the company for a cash infusion from J.P. Morgan Chase’s Special Investments Group also under the leadership of Ms. Rogers. The J.P. Morgan infusion clearly has not helped the company as traditional media companies are seeing print go the way of the dinosaur and JPC is no exception. Ebony Magazine, JPC’s flagship brand, saw ad revenue plummet 24 percent in 2014 versus Time’s Essence Magazine, which trails Ebony in average circulation, only saw its ad revenue fall 7.5 percent over the same period. Essence is benefitting by being a part of the larger Time umbrella that allows advertisers to buy spots in multiple publications and platforms offered by Time Inc. and its 90 diverse brands within the publishing juggernaut. Johnson Publishing Company has one. It had two, but Ms. Rogers also early on in her tenure chose to discontinue the historically popular JET Magazine. Now, the company consist of Ebony Magazine and Fashion Fair Cosmetics, a cosmetics company that JPC founded during the 1970s. Oddly, Ms. Rogers decided that keeping a cosmetics company as opposed to JET, even though reports say her strategy is to shore up Johnson Publishing’s core business.

And in the other corner, over the past few years there has also been a story of tumultuous change in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland at Radio One, Inc. The company founded by Cathy Hughes in 1980 and currently run by her son Alfred Liggins, III. One of only three African American owned publicly traded companies has seen its share price drop over 70 percent in the past couple of years. Rumors have it that prior to selling BET to Viacom, founder Bob Johnson, actually approached Ms. Hughes and Co. about a merger. How serious that conversation was is unknown, but what we do know is that it did not happen. Radio One’s leadership ultimately favoring a partnership with Comcast to launch TV One. It would ultimately buyout Comcast in the early part of 2015 after that ten year partnership and have a 99.6 percent controlling interest in the television station. As of its December 2014 10-K filing, the company owned 56 broadcast stations in 16 urban markets which is the core of the company’s business. It also owns some digital properties such as Global Grind, BlackPlanet, and a number of other marginal digital assets. There has been some belief that Radio One could be on the verge of a comeback after converting one of its radio stations from a news station to an 80s and 90s based hip-hop station in Houston. The station itself has received rave reviews from critics and listeners, but what it has seemingly failed to do is  land some of the industry’s blue chip advertisement accounts.

What do these two companies look like merged? Well, first they would have a combined $1.3 billion enterprise value and $540 million in annual revenues. There has not been an African American owned company to generate $1 billion in revenue annually since Virginia State University’s alum Reginald Lewis created TLC Beatrice in the late 80s. This would put the merged company well over half the way there. It would also expand both companies demographic reach. Radio One’s demographics are primarily 18-40, while JPC’s are 40 and up. Radio One’s younger demographic could be exactly is needed to pick up a new generation of readers for Ebony Magazine and may even allow for a relaunch of JET. JPC’s demographic, arguably a more mature, economically stable, and better educated demographic could be what Radio One needs to attract more well heeled advertisement accounts. It would also save the drastic mistake Johnson Publishing Company is making currently with the sale of its photograph collection which could be a source of revenue for the newly merged company across the plethora of digital platforms that Radio One has at its disposal.

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It is often baffling that African American businesses continue to get bailouts from companies like J.P. Morgan or Morgan Stanley, but will not consider a merger because everyone continues to want to be the general of a small (perhaps dying) enterprise instead of the soldier of a larger thriving enterprise. We saw it with Carver Bank in New York, once an African American owned bank, but instead of merging with One United in Boston found itself needing to be bailed out after the Great Recession from Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. Did it approach One United? No, in a “show” of sorts the bank’s CEO, Deborah Wright, tried to assure many of banks constituency that the institution had not lost its way. Radio One and Johnson Publishing Company are looking down the same road. Two companies that desperately need each other and African America desperately needing a sign that our businesses understand the bigger picture beyond egos. Otherwise, both may become historical footnotes well before their time was intended leaving a crater in the African American private sector that does not and did not need to be there. These two companies are heading to the same destination, but will run out of gas well before either reaches it if both are not willing to share the ride there.

OWN Programming STILL Fails To Excite: Women Are Beyond Soap Operas And Chocolate (Maybe Not Chocolate)


“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.” – Oprah Winfrey

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Five years ago, Oprah Winfrey hung up her crown as the greatest daytime host ever to assume the full-time CEO role of her then fledgling network. The Oprah Winfrey Network better known as OWN, a 50-50 partnership between Harpo Productions and Discovery Communications, was suppose to allow Oprah’s rabid fan base to transition from just a few hours of her a day to twenty four hours of programming laid out by the queen of television. You know when they say be careful of what you ask for? This became the question Ms. Winfrey had to be asking herself in the first few years of the new network. Filling twenty four hours of programming versus a few hours proved to be as expected quite a mountainous task. There was shakeup at the network not even one year into its debut as Discovery Communications flexed its muscle in the partnership influencing some changes in leadership. It has helped, but is OWN missing a chance to be a transformative platform for women that can also be a financial juggernaut?

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Filling twenty four hours of quality programming for women actually should not be that complicated. Unfortunately, OWN has reduced women’s interest to a version of Lifetime “light”, Tyler Perry shows, Dr. Phil episodes, and now that Oprah has a ten percent ownership in Weight Watchers International expect viewers to get a full barrage of subtle (or not) hints at body shaming. This new formula has certainly paid off for the network with the most successful quarter in the network’s history coming in the first quarter of 2015. Maybe the expectation that OWN could be much more than it is is unrealistic, but this unimaginative content is not reflective of the myriad of interest that anyone who is a woman or knows a woman has. And it is that very lack of imagination that will keep OWN as a marginal television station and investment for Discovery Communications who may eventually decide to jettison the partnership and financially costing Ms. Winfrey dearly. So what should be done?

The most profitable live television events right now that can not be DVR’d is sports programming, which is why media companies are paying billions to have the licensing rights to the NFL and other live television events in the moment. Sports is an acute missing piece of the OWN programming puzzle, especially when it comes to the NFL where women are the fastest growing demographic fan base. Now, nobody needs to kid themselves that OWN, Discovery, or Ms. Winfrey personally can afford to buy licensing rights to prime NFL games. Disney, a company ten times the size of Discovery Communications and owner of ESPN, pays the NFL almost $2 billion annually just to show NFL games. That being said, where is the “Sportscenter” for women on OWN? Gone are the days where women just sat next to their boyfriend or husband and watched the game. Today, women are as knowledgeable if not more about the game and those who are not are interested in knowing more. A NFL show hosted by women for women could easily take up one or two hours everyday on the network. There are a plethora of women football gurus on social media with devout followings like Lizz Robbins (Lizzs_Lockeroom) with almost 30 000 followers. She tweets about everything from the NFL, NBA, MLB, and even NHL covering a plethora of women demographics that advertisers would love. Never mind it may make the NFL come advertising with OWN instead of the other way around. Secondly, live women’s sporting events often are given the second hand treatment by both men (and women) sporting fans. The WNBA needs more exposure and OWN could offer the league prime time spots. Every professional sport women participate in like the LPGA and WTA could benefit from time on OWN and OWN could benefit from their content. Now, instead of fathers and sons rooting on their favorite athlete it could be mothers and daughters cheering on Serena Williams or Skylar Diggins. You know ESPN’s 30 for 30? What about producing one of those on “Babe” Zaharias, the multi-sport start of the early twentieth century that showed many that women loved to get down and dirty and compete just like her male counterparts. Again, a women-centric view that speaks to not only women’s interest, but highlights women’s participation that is so often overlooked in mainstream media.

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Beyond sports, there is a treasure trove of other possibilities. A show on technology that features Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, and Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code, could highlight news on the latest in women’s work and innovation in the field. A political show with both liberal and conservative views featuring the recently released MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry and Christina Sommers, respectively. Apart or together they would certainly generate fireworks, ratings, and revenue with both having very strong social media followings. And given women’s increased economic importance to both their household and the nation, a myriad of shows such as financial and investment news featuring Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments in Chicago, or a complete show dedicated to women entrepreneurs who are now responsible for 3 out of every 5 new businesses (see above) started in the United States. The Federal Reserve, arguably the world’s most powerful bank, is led by a woman. The next president of the United States of America maybe a woman. Countless countries around the world are already headed by women. Again, the possibilities for meaningful, substantive, and profitable content are endless because women’s interest are as vast as the land and sea.

It is hard to know whether OWN is actually being held back by its relationship with Discovery Communications, which may have a formula it believes works for women’s programming. The problem is that programming model is outdated. Gone are the days where the belief was that women only want to watch soap operas and eat chocolate. There is an opportunity for OWN to be a trailblazer in reflecting the new reality and profit handsomely from doing so. Women’s importance is no longer behind closed doors, but in the forefront of every aspect of our society today. It is time that mediums, especially ones that are visual and have the ability to impact future generations of girls reflect the new world. The leadership at OWN must realize that being at the vanguard of this will be what ensures its success (and profitability) and not doing so will ultimately doom it to the dustbin. After all, this is business.