Throughout the month of February, Fisher's Black MBA Association is presenting its annual Legends Lecture Series, which connects Fisher students, faculty and staff with African American business leaders from a variety of disciplines and industries.
Ariel Estwick, a first-year Master of Human Resources Management (MHRM) student who serves as director of programming on the MBA Executive Board, said the Legends Lecture Series is intended to enrich Fisher graduate students by introducing them to African American community members who have reached aspirational heights in their careers.
"The series has so many different things to offer Fisher students," Estwick said. "This year we have several entrepreneurs, as well as mid-level leaders and people who have reached the heights of their careers. In terms of gender diversity, regional diversity and skillset diversity, everyone has something to gain from the series and the knowledge that will be shared."
The series kicked off with a presentation from Jeffrey Woodard, vice president of operational excellence at T. Marzetti Company, who spoke about the importance of building an integrity-based personal brand and the value of a professional network in helping cultivate a successful career. Woodard also spoke about the importance of community — both inside and outside of the workplace — and how it benefitted him throughout his professional career, which began when he joined P&G in 1984.
Khalid Parris, a second-year MBA student, said he appreciated Woodard's advice that relocation often is necessary to advance within a company, especially in a large corporation such as P&G.
"He spoke a lot about work-life balance, which meant the most to me," Parris said. "I also appreciated his advice that finding the right living environment is just as important as finding the proper work environment to perform optimally."
Eddie Roberts, industry segment manager — auto and industrial at UPS, spoke about the value of a positive self-image and how embracing servant leadership has benefitted him in his career at the global logistics company.
Roberts, who began his 26-year UPS career during undergraduate studies in his native Louisiana, stressed the importance of lifelong learning and urged students to continue the habit of frequent reading or finding alternative methods to consume enriching information, such as listening to audio books.
As students graduate and establish their careers, it will be important to build a legacy of their own, Roberts advised, which will happen by developing and empowering others around them.
Roberts' advice about building relationships in the workplace resonated with first-year MHRM student Allison Stewart. She intends to follow Robert's recommendation and be intentional in making connections, creating professional relationships and finding career mentors.
"Even though I’m a graduate student I’m still figuring out what I want to do career-wise," Stewart said. "After graduation, I know I want to work in the nonprofit sector, so creating a foundation and figuring out what I want to do within that sector will be high on my priority list."
Angela Cauley and Dr. Ian Blount
Angela Cauley, CEO, and Dr. Ian Blount, chief operating officer of Coalescence LLC, respectively, discussed some of the challenges they’ve faced with starting their own business and remaining competitive in the food and beverage industry.
The husband and wife team, who met as students at Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, founded Coalescence in Columbus in 2005. Today, the company operates out of a 35,000 square-foot facility and provides healthy, flavorful, custom food ingredients for food and beverage manufacturers around the world, including McDonald’s and T. Marzetti Company.
The couple spoke about the importance of finding a niche in any entrepreneurial endeavor, and Blount added that Coalescence has used superior service, along with its small size and ability to remain nimble, as competitive advantages against larger companies such as industry giant McCormick.
Jairus Meacham, who’s pursuing his MBA from Fisher and his JD from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, found value in the advice from Cauley and Blount that students who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs should utilize their personal networks.
“For me, it will be important to leverage the network that I’m gaining here at Ohio State,” Meacham said. “And, of course, to be an entrepreneur you really need to be willing to put in all your effort.”
June Stewart, founder and principal of Amplify Partners LLC, a Columbus-based management consulting practice, spoke about the importance of character in career development.
Strength of character, Stewart noted, can be fostered by honing in on the development of key traits, including integrity, compassion and justice. She provided examples in which the lack of character has adversely impacted careers, but added that when character is nurtured, it can be a difference-maker as company leaders consider employees for career advancement.
For Stewart, maintaining a sense for humor, being well-read and being self-aware have benefitted her throughout her 30-year career working in corporate human resources and as an entrepreneur.
Dadrien Barnes, a second-year MBA student focused on leadership and organizational behavior, serves as president of the Black MBA Association. He appreciated Stewart's advice that character and authenticity are crucial in establishing a legacy in business.
"What really hit me is that you need stay true to yourself," Barnes said. "Your character, your authenticity and making sure not to change what you are for anyone are important. At the end of the day, your legacy is the result of your character."
Reflecting on the series as a whole, Barnes wants students to remember that they define their own career legacies.
"As we enter the workforce, we're going to have successes and failures, but it's important to learn from our failures and celebrate our successes," Barnes said. "You're in the workforce for a limited time, and once you retire or leave that situation, how do you want to be remembered?"
Sinclair Harris, vice president at LMI, a not-for-profit government-focused management consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., discussed such topics as the need for lifelong learning, the value of personal integrity and the importance of finding meaningful work.
Early in his first post-college job Harris realized he wasn’t happy with his career, which inspired him to make a change that would lead to a 34-year stint in the U.S. Navy and his eventual retirement at the rank of rear admiral.
Echoing a common theme throughout the Legends Lecture Series, Harris spoke about the importance of mentors for career success, but he suggests the need for multiple mentors who can provide specific perspectives at various points along the career path. And, he added that he continues to benefit today from the support of mentors who represent diversity in terms of ethnicity, career background and gender.
Jim Goetter, a second-year MBA student who served in the U.S. Marines for four years, appreciated Harris’ perspective about the military-to-civilian career change.
“Learning from Sinclair about how he identified his next steps post-military was really valuable,” Goetter said. “It resonated with me, given that I’m going through that same transition now."