On the weekend of January 31st, African-American Student Union (AASU) brought together top black business leaders of today and tomorrow at the 31st Annual H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference held on campus and at the Marriott Hotel in Cambridge, Mass. The theme of the conference “Redefining Wealth: Claim it, Grow it, Sustain it” focused to introduce and to reconnect African-American alumni, students and business people and surrounding issues of wealth and its impact on our personal lives and the African American community as a whole. This year’s conference was attended by 650 alums, current and prospective students, and business people, a record number and almost twice the number of last year.
“The AASU Conference is an international event attracting business students, professionals, educators and community leaders from across the globe,” said Mia Mends, Conference Co-Chair (OG). “Working in tandem with the theme of this year’s conference, the AASU is providing a unique networking opportunity where students and seasoned professionals are encouraged to develop and share strategies for succeeding in a competitive global business environment.”
On Saturday February 1st, Black billionaire Michael Lee-Chin, known as Canada’s Warren Buffett, and Russell Simmons, the mogul of American Hip Hop, headlined a roster of speakers. “Our first Inspirational Leaders’ Series event showcased two entrepreneurs who have sharply contrasting stories with regard to the paths they’ve chosen, the choices they’ve made and their industry focus. The commonality is that they’ve both managed to leave their mark and a lasting legacy in the business world.
Consistent with our theme, we wanted to honor that and demonstrate that there in not a single definition or path to success. I think they were able to contribute in a meaningful way to the Conference, ” said Mends.
Hundreds of students and alumni of Harvard Business School also honored Professor James I. Cash Jr., the first African-American to receive tenure at Harvard Business School, with a banquet on Saturday, February 1st that celebrated Cash’s numerous achievements.
The Conference kicked on Friday January 31st with a panel entitled “The New Business of Entertainment: Managing Risk and Reward to Build Wealth” The panel featured Writer and Director Malcolm Lee, Actor Larenz Tate, Music Producer Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes, and author and owner of the Terrie Williams Agency, Terrie Williams. The panel discussed the long lasting failure of the industry to produce sustained wealth and access of ownership for minority entertainers and business people. “Many of the issues that they were discussing stemmed around blacks spending too much time in front of the camera instead of taking on some of the corporate roles behind the camera. As a result, the entertainment business is a Pandora’s box that has been kept shut from us,” said Cindy Brea (NC).
The conference also featured several other alumni panels ranging from “Perspectives from the Top” to “Building Your Family Empire”. Regarding the panels, Steven Benedict (NA) noted “The conference has been a spectacular experience to see African Americans HBS graduates at various stages in their career doing phenomenal things in the industry giving advice, motivational speeches and setting examples.”
The conference also featured the 4th annual Entrepreneurial Ventures Competition. 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. The winners were Matt Turner (OC) & Christian Johanson (MBA ’02), members of Eikos Inc, a nanotechnology company, won the competition. In addition to a cash award funded by the Conference, finalists, had the opportunity to develop valuable contacts with venture capital firms and other entrepreneurs, gain visibility at a premier business conference and, potentially, secure seed financing for their venture.