Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Career: Vision

BOND: Let me ask you very quickly about the magazine, about Black Enterprise Magazine. When you began it, it's not only a business opportunity, but I keep reading in How To Succeed In Business Without Being White that you wanted it to be a how-to magazine. Why is how-to important?

GRAVES: Well, the whole premise of the magazine is to say to African Americans, from the beginning, "You, too, can have a piece of the economic action of this country," right? That the opportunities are there, whether or not you're talking about as a professional going into some line of work, as a person working in another corporation for somebody else, or in putting the key in the door yourself every morning and taking that – and whether or not that happens to be, and I'm just using that as a reference, but that's true whether or not you're an auto dealer, whether or not you're a florist, whether or not you're a manufacturer or something. Maybe it's franchisee. I owned a Pepsi franchise once upon a time. And that was a how-to, if you will. I was writing that magazine for the five examples, or six examples that was given, so that if you were a franchise operator I was going to be able to tell you something about what you were doing to your employees that would be useful. If you were a person aspiring to be a franchise owner I was going to tell you how you could be that, where you do an issue once a year on franchising, where we list the leading opportunities in franchising in fifty leading companies in the franchising area – McDonalds and Wendy’s and Burger King and Pepsi Cola, which doesn't make a franchise available – no, Coca Cola – they're not selling their franchises anymore, they're buying them back, and so that wouldn't be an option. But again, it's a how-to. It is "here's how – here's what people want to know."

Today that is most driven by black wealth initiative. We are saying to people that have had a campaign now for the last two and a half years that says, "You must save money. You must plan for the future. You must preserve money for your children's graduation, for your children's future." And this black wealth initiative has taken off to the extent that we've probably had on the other side of a 100,000 people sign up. The sign that they put on their own refrigerator, those notes that they send back to me are a declaration of financial independence. They want to save. They want to plan for their future. They're not going to let small material things overcome the fact that they want to plan for their security. So because in this country we're a nation of spenders, not savers. To the extent that you look in terms of the opportunities that the market has offered in the '80s – and now, of course, it's down, but it'll come back. We need to have more and more people who are recognizing the value of equities and the value of bonds and the value of stocks.

BOND: You know the things you're talking about, you would think are things that everybody just knows. Everybody knows you ought to save money. You shouldn't spend everything you've got. You shouldn't go into debt. You ought to put something aside for the future and for your own children. Everybody should know those things. Why don't people know those things?

GRAVES: Because we live in a materialistic society. We want to show people we have the best car, our kids went to the best school, you can wear the best clothes, you know. It is a matter of wanting to be there. We're in a society we wanted everything now. You and I knew – or at least I did, I can't speak for your growing up – but I mean I had, when I went off to college, one sports jackets or two sports jackets and one suit. I'm still trying to catch up with how many suits I now need to have because of that kind of thinking. But at least I've been smart enough now to certainly plan for my future so that my wife and I certainly, unless something dramatic, dire were to happen in this country, and I don't see that happening economically, that we can be comfortable for the rest of our lives. And also we're providing for our kids being comfortable. So it is a matter that we don't save because there are so many other things saying to us "spend."

We got this not very important $600 refund that everyone got in this country because of President Bush's initiative. When you look at it that didn't move the needle at all in terms of what really was going to make a difference for most people. $600 is not going to help them for where they are. Maybe that's a month's rent in a lower-income type of area. Or but say in New York that pays not very much. And so we have to make up our minds we're going to set goals for ourselves and I come back to that word again. "I want to save X dollars this year." That means in order to do that, you're going to have to make some sacrifices. You're also again setting an example of leadership for your children. They see you doing it. My son and our older son, Butch, manages a good share of our portfolio for us because we started setting the example for him early when he was thirteen years old. We were living at that time in a predominantly Jewish area, so he had to decide to be Bar Mitzvah-ed. Not because he wanted to be circumcised again, but because he knew at age thirteen, at bar mitzvahs his male friends got all kinds of monies, and he thought that ought to happen to him. So when he was thirteen I said to him, "Okay, for Christmas, which is a Christian holiday, we were going to give you I think it was $100, $300 dollars." And I said "I'll double whatever you've made that year." Well, it turned out that he actually had doubled the money that we had given him. So, I said that wasn't a very good plan. But now today because of his training, he's a graduate of Harvard Business School, had an interest in finance – that was his area of interest – he manages a portfolio for – a good part of it – for his mother and I. I have an interest and I watch him very closely, because I say, "Look, if you screw this up – don't forget I'm around a long time, if you want me to retire at all, ever – " And I'm not going to retire, I need to say to you, I'm not. I mean I will do other things and my interests will go in other directions but I'm not going to sit home and aggravate my wife which would make her crazy by twelve o'clock every day.