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Annual AASU Conference Receives Rave Reviews

Attendees Celebrate Progress in the African-American Business Community and Contemplate the Future.

The African-American Students Union (AASU) hosted the 35th Annual H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference from February 23 through February 25 at the Westin Copley Place Hotel. The conference, one of the largest business school conferences hosted by a student club and the flagship event for AASU, attracted a record number of registered participants and an all-star lineup of guests. Among those guests were Chairman and CEO of Young and Rubicam Brands, Ann M. Fudge (HBS ’77), who served as the keynote speaker.

Conference Co-Chairs, Wambui Maina (OJ) and Marissa Horne (OI), who have been working diligently on the conference since last March, selected the conference theme “Celebrating Progress: Honoring Our Past to Empower Our Future.” This theme echoed throughout the entire weekend-long conference. After the conference, David Rawlinson (ND) remarked that “the conference succeeded in helping attendees understand the complicated history of the black business community, honoring some of the heroes who made that history possible and charting a course for the future. It was a rousing success.”

The conference kicked off Friday evening with a town hall meeting featuring several prominent African-American mayors. Panelists included Bill Bell, Mayor of Durham, North Carolina, Sharon Pratt, Former Mayor of Washington D.C., Ken Reeves, Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Wayne Smith, Mayor of Irvington, New Jersey, and Phil Thompson, Professor of Urban Politics at MIT. Professor David A. Thomas, H. Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at HBS, moderated the panel. Friday night entertainment included an opening-night party with Hip Hop heavyweight Biz Markie as the featured DJ.

The Saturday luncheon, which followed more than six panels earlier that morning, featured a distinguished alumni award presentation to Rena Clark (MBA ’90), director of Community Relations for the New England Patriots, and a luncheon address by Bill Strickland, President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation, a company that was the subject of a case in last Entrepreneurial Manager class. In true HBS fashion, Strickland provided the audience with the (B) case, an update of his inner-city Pittsburgh training center. The luncheon also featured a tribute to Lillian Lincoln Lambert (MBA 1969), the first African-American woman to graduate from HBS. The luncheon concluded with a presentation of the AASU Future Leaders Enrichment Award, which provides a college scholarship to a deserving high school junior from the Boston metropolitan area. Consistent with previous years, the committee awarded a scholarship to one of the five finalists. However, the audience erupted into applause when an anonymous donor surprised the conference co-chairs by funding scholarships for each of the other finalists as well! It was a touching moment as AASU announced that all finalists would receive scholarships to help pay for college and SAT Preparatory materials. Additionally, each finalist will partake in a mentorship relationship with AASU EC students who will assist with their college application process. The Future Leaders Enrichment Award reiterated AASU’s commitment to empowering the next generation of leaders.

After the luncheon, participants attended the 8th Annual Entrepreneurial Ventures Competition. The winning team, which included at least one member of an underrepresented minority group (African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Native American or women) received a cash prize for its business plan and presentation. This year’s winner, Beauty Genesis International, was chosen over 4 competing teams because of its unique approach to marketing healthy, lifestyle-focused hair products and potential ability to procure shelf space in key distribution channels. The Entrepreneurial Ventures Competition provided $10,000 to help finalists fund their ventures. Following the Ventures Competition, conference attendees participated in an informal conversation with Stuart Taylor (MBA 1987), founder of The Taylor Group, who discussed a range of topics including the need for black entrepreneurship, how to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors, and how to prepare for and overcome related obstacles.

The keynote speaker for the Gala was Ann Fudge, former Chairman and CEO of Young and Rubicam Brands. Fudge encouraged the audience to remember the context of African-American alumni who came before them. Fudge’s comments highlighted African-American alumni, Naylor Fitzhugh (MBA 1933) and Otis Gate (MBA 1963). Fudge provided anecdotes of their “quiet strength” and how this strength allowed them to persevere through difficult times and become successful. After a night of dancing to the music of live jazz by the Pat Loomis band, the conference concluded on Sunday morning with a gospel brunch. The sermon was delivered by Minister Jonathan Wilkins (MBA/M.Div 2009) and featured songs by Bruce Ware (NI), Constance Jones (NA), Shandi Smith (NH) and Ciara Gary (ND). Their soulful sounds and strong harmonies ended the 35th Annual H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference on an uplifting note.

March 5, 2007
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