The 39th Annual H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference hosted by the African American Student Union, took place March 4th and 5th at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge. The conference, named after one of the first African-American graduates of Harvard Business School included panels, keynote presentations, and even a gala for its attendees. Throughout its nearly four decade long history, the conference has brought together students, prominent alumni, and successful African American business professionals from all over the nation to discuss the most pressing business issues.
The conference co-chairs Emeka Oguh (OC) and Conchita Tucker (OD) started planning last May, and worked diligently over the summer and scheduled weekly meetings to ensure the conference was a success. In addition to working to secure a location and decide on keynote speakers, they were charged with the task of choosing a theme. After much deliberation, they decided on “What’s Next? Exploring the New Terrain?” and chose to focus the conference on new ideas and innovations for doing business in the new economy.
“Basically it was about looking forward because the last few conferences were more reflective,” Tucker said. “The past conferences were mostly focused on the financial crisis. Now that we are on our way out of the recession, we wanted to get people thinking about the next big idea.”
Oguh added, “We looked at the conference themes for the last five years and they were either about leaving a legacy or something around the economic crisis. We wanted to move away from discussing the recession and past events at this year’s conference and explore the future opportunities for African Americans in business both domestically and globally.”
In addition to listening to engaging speakers throughout the day, the nearly 300 attendees attended nine panels that ranged in scope from tips and strategies to be a successful person of color in corporate America, to a business plan competition for young entrepreneurs.
The conference commenced on Saturday morning with a welcome by Reggie Van Lee (HBS ’84), Executive Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc. and the 2011 Bert King Alumni Professional Achievement Award recipient. Lee gave remarks during lunch followed by an insightful keynote address by Byron Auguste, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company in Washington D.C.
“I think the best part of the conference for me was probably the luncheon because it was when Reggie received his award,” Tucker said. “I have always been impressed with him throughout his career. He shared a story about how Pamela Joyner (HBS ’84), his fellow HBS classmate, dear friend and past Bert King Alumni Professional Achievement Award recipient (whom he introduced when she received the award a few years back), chartered a jet to come to his mother’s memorial. That’s a true testament to some of the people here at HBS.”
During the formal evening gala Saturday night, guests were treated to many addresses by key business professionals. Raymond McGuire (HBS ’83), Head of Global Banking at Citi, served as the Honorary Conference Chair and addressed guests during his welcoming speech. During the event, AASU recognized Gregory White (HBS ’90), President and CEO of LEARN Charter School Network as the 2011 Bert E. King Alumni Service Award for his work in the field of education.
One of the highlights for many students was the gala’s keynote speaker, David Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Managing Director of The Carlyle Group.
“I really enjoyed Rubenstein’s keynote speech at the evening Gala,” said Maurice Kuykendoll (ND). “It was so great to hear an engaging keynote speaker. I could connect with what he was saying and it reinforced some of the things we learn in business school like the importance of the people you hire and how their personal attributes fit with the company. It’s one thing for your LEAD teacher to say it. It’s another when it’s coming from the head of one of the most successful private equity firms in the world.”
Executing the conference was an effort that included many AASU members. Students helped the co-chairs plan panels and assisted with logistics at the conference venue.
“I was on the logistics team, and more specifically I was responsible for helping with registration,” said Kuykendoll. “There was on-site registration as well as pre-registration. A few hundred people attended, and they ranged from HBS students, Harvard students from the College, and other graduate programs, to alumni, and professionals from all over the country.”
Many attendees felt the conference was a success and are already looking forward to the 40th annual conference next year.
“Everyone has a ‘What’s Next?’ moment in life,” Oguh said. “You always have to look for ways to reinvent yourself and explore new opportunities. This conference gave people a platform to do that and ways to explore those opportunities.”