Who knew that the 29th Annual African-American Student Union (AASU) Conference would also be the last? The many prospective students, current MBAs, alumni, and business leaders in attendance during the weekend of February 23-25, 2001 learned that the yearly gathering has been renamed. Beginning in 2002 at its thirtieth anniversary gathering, the annual three-day assembly will be renamed the H. Naylor Fitzhugh Memorial Conference in honor of one of HBS’s most esteemed alumni (earlier this year, Dr. David A. Thomas was named the first H. Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration). At the moment the announcement was made, I sensed the pressure on the first-year members of AASU to make next year’s “inaugural” event even more successful and enjoyable than this year’s-an unenviable task indeed.
Once again, the Hyatt Regency Hotel played host to the event. This year’s theme, The Digital Dilemma: Challenges to Excelling in the New Economy, was woven into all aspects of the Conference, from the posters to the panels, from the keynote addresses to the 2nd Annual Entrepreneurial Ventures Competition.
Thursday night’s registration was followed on Friday by a full schedule of morning and afternoon activities for prospective minority students. These young men and women had the opportunity to sit in on a class and witness the magic of the case study method. Afterwards, they attended lunches at Hamilton and Morris Halls and took advantage of the informal environment in which they could talk candidly with current students as well as admissions officials. In the afternoon, panels of current minority students at HBS addressed larger groups of prospective students and fielded numerous questions about what it means to be a minority on this campus.
In addition, the many alumni who came back to Cambridge for the weekend spent the day on campus at the Spangler Center, touring the facilities and attending an advanced management seminar on “The Internet Ecosystem,” co-taught by Professor Jim Heskett and alumnus Greg White.
The long day offered a great excuse to wind down to the smooth jazz and funk sounds of The Squad featuring Leo Gatewood (MBA ’01). Afterwards, the ballroom at the Hyatt was transformed into the AASU-sponsored Funk Jam, featuring the best of old-school R&B as well as the newest hip-hop jams.
Saturday’s events began early with a light breakfast at 7:15am before moving into the first of the day’s panel sessions. Among the first panel topics were “Urban Technology and the Legislative Landscape” and “Accessing the World of Venture Capital and Private Equity.” Following a short break, additional panel discussions were centered around the topics, “Wired and Black: Career Development in the New Economy,” and “Built to Last? Exploring the Market for Urban Portals and Products.” Both panel sessions featured prominent business figures in the African-American community offering their perspectives on what it takes to succeed in the new economy, from for-profit entrepreneurs like Bo Kemp (MBA ’98) of Vanguarde Neomedia to leaders in the local Boston community like Benaree Wiley (MBA ’72) of The Partnership.
The luncheon following the panels featured the first of the keynote speakers, Keith Clinkscales, the founder of Vanguarde Media and the former head of Vibe magazine. Mr. Clinkscales, who received his MBA from Harvard Business School, energized his audience with his infectious enthusiasm. He even validated his connections with the entertainment industry by quoting some hip-hop lyrics! Clinkscales’ message focused on leveraging all available resources and helping others who do not have the same access to the opportunities we have here at HBS. Conference co-chair Alvin Bowles, Jr. (MBA ’01) had this to say about the address, “Keith’s comments were extremely relevant to current students as he is a relatively recent graduate of the business school himself (MBA ’90). For current students who have aspirations in areas outside of financial services and consulting, specifically media and entertainment, he is a shinning example of what one can accomplish with determination and drive.”
The afternoon’s other events were the Career Fair and the Entrepreneurial Ventures Competition. At the Career Fair, companies such as Bain & Company, Goldman, Sachs & Co., McKinsey & Co., and Accenture were on hand to speak with prospective employees. The Entrepreneurial Ventures Competition was designed to provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs to present business plans before a panel of judges comprised of leading venture capital professionals. This year’s overall winner submitted the business plan for Wind and Rain, a non-profit organization whose mission is to foster urban development by facilitating homeownership among low-income renters.
Saturday evening was capped off by a black-tie affair and the keynote address delivered by Congressman Harold E. Ford, Jr. (D-Tennessee). Congressmen Ford is one of the youngest members of the House of Representatives at age 30 and currently serves on the Government Reform, Financial Services, and the House Education and Workforce Committees. Congressman Ford’s remarks touched upon a variety of pressing issues and underscored his beliefs that we must invest today in order to ensure a skilled workforce in the future if America’s economy is to continue to thrive as it has over the last 8 years. Ford said, “If we want to sustain the growth and prosperity and create an environment for capital to continue to flow freely, for jobs to be created, for wealth to be unleashed, and for innovation to be created and unleashed, then we have to be willing to make the commitment to fix…the [current] problems in our schools.” Chrystal Stokes (MBA ’01), Conference co-chair, said that Congressman Ford’s speech “was infectious and really hit home to our guests at the Banquet, causing all in attendance to think carefully about how we can all individually impact the future success of African-Americans in the new economy. It was a wonderful ending to a weekend full of great events.”
The post-keynote period was followed by presentations to three distinguished alumni: Lawrence Jackson (MBA 1979) for Professional Achievement, Edwin Reed (MBA 1979) for Civic Commitment and Carla Harris (MBA 1987) for the Bert King Service Award. Following the presentation of these awards, the announcement was made that the Conference was being renamed after Mr. Fitzhugh. Room was made on the dance floor for those who still had energy to get down.
For the rest, an early bedtime was the plan in order to be bright and early at Sunday morning’s Gospel Brunch. The annual basketball challenge was the final event of the weekend, placing yet another successful AASU Conference in the annals of HBS history.
Reflecting on all the hard work put in by AASU members and all the volunteers, Stokes said, “We are truly grateful for all who worked tirelessly to ensure the success of this year’s Conference. Alvin and I are just glad that all of those in attendance enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed planning it for all of them. We’re looking forward to returning next year as alums!”
Thank you, Al and Chrystal. You have set the bar quite high for next year’s Thirtieth Annual H. Naylor Fitzhugh Memorial Conference. As the newest officers of AASU, we look forward to meeting the challenge.