Clarence Jones is a Scholar in Residence and Visiting Professor at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research & Education Institute at Stanford University, and Visiting Professor in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of San Francisco. Jones is perhaps most famous for his tenure as speechwriter and counsel to Martin Luther King from 1960 to 1968. But he also has enjoyed a distinguished career as a lawyer and Wall Street banker. In 1967, Jones joined investment banking firm Carter, Berlind & Weill, where he partnered with Sanford I. Weill and Arthur Levitt, Jr., and became the fist African-American Allied Member of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
Jones, a trusted friend to Dr. King, assisted King in the drafting of his celebrated “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., August 28th 1963. The speech is commonly regarded as one of the finest in American history. In the 2011 book Behind The Dream-The Making of the Speech That Transformed A Nation, Jones writes the story of the thrilling weeks leading up to the great event as the Movement battled the clock to bring the impossibly complicated March on Washington to life. Jones is also the co-author of the 2008 book, “What Would Martin Say?” Before leaving his home for a series of speaking engagements over the extended MLK holiday weekend, the inspirational Jones spoke with me about politics and business, at times seeming to channel Dr. King, as his voice boomed with passion. Here are edited responses to five questions I asked about President Obama, diversity, business and Wall Street.
1. The nation’s first black president has begun his second term. What would Dr. King say about that?
Jones: There’s not question in my mind that he would have expressed great pride. He would have viewed this as an indication of the core values of the Dream of America. One of the things that was so enduring about Dr. King was that he was not naïve. He had a real political sense but also biblical sense of the country. He never doubted for one moment that the overwhelming majority of white Americans were fundamentally decent. No matter how compelling or fair our cause was on the merits, there was no way that blacks were going to impose that viewpoint on an entire population. We would only see fundamental change when whites understood that it was in their self interest. So he would see Obama’s election as an indication of that. Dr. King might not say it, but there is no question that Obama’s election was made possible because of the leadership and the work that Dr. King did to help transform America. He enabled America to redeem itself and reclaim its soul.
What politically occurred in 2008, and reoccurred in 2012, was that the American people were asked to participate in a referendum on race in America. It wasn’t put on the ballot that way: Are you in favor of improved race relations? But the voting for Obama was the closest we’ve gotten to a national referendum on race in America. Remember, Obama got a [clear majority] of the Jewish vote and a majority of the women’s vote!
2. Some criticize the President for a cabinet that is not diverse enough, and for not serving the black community enough. Your thoughts? (more…)
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With Republican leaders presenting a “Plan B” tax proposal and the President declaring that he will veto any bill that doesn’t do enough to balance spending cuts and tax increases, we’re still hanging from the proverbial cliff. In less than two weeks a series of tax hikes and automatic budget cuts could push the U.S. economy toward a so-called “fiscal cliff” and trigger another recession. Ouch! Partisan politics are one thing, but with so much at stake, I’m wondering: What on earth are these folks in Washington doing? So, I decided to ask someone familiar with tough, partisan negotiations between the White House and Congress to tell me what might be happening behind the Beltway’s closed doors.
Frank Raines served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget in 1996, a critical Cabinet-level position with responsibility for all federal finances. He was charged with helping a Democratic president (Bill Clinton) and a Republican-controlled Congress (led by Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich) resolve their differences and regain control of the burgeoning budget deficit. At the time, my former colleague, BusinessWeek correspondent Howard Gleckman, predicted Raines would “find himself in the midst of Washington’s ugliest political brawl–the battle to balance the budget.” Sound familiar? Despite the ugliness, in 1998 Raines led the parties to the first balanced budget the government had approved in nearly 30 years.
Now, you might be asking yourself: Isn’t Frank Raines the former CEO of Fannie Mae, who was forced to retire from the mortgage-finance giant in 2004 amid accusations of securities fraud? (more…)
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Joe Ferra is Chief Wireless Officer of Fidelity Investments, the nation’s largest mutual fund company and a major provider of financial services. Ferra has spent more than 20 years at Fidelity, and is responsible for helping lead Fidelity into the wireless age. While his job extends beyond the technical, in his current role Ferra oversees the strategic direction of Fidelity Anywhere, an innovative wireless technology that allows Fidelity investors to monitor the markets and manage their portfolios from just about … well, anywhere. Ferra is one of the few, if not the only executive, sitting in the C-suite of a global organization, who has company-wide responsibility for mobile strategy and execution. Before joining Fidelity, Ferra was a vice president with Drexel Burnham Lambert in New York from 1988 to 1990. Previously, he was a second vice president with Smith Barney in New York.
Ferra, who was a top-ranked pole-vaulter in his younger years, took time out from bounding between meetings to discuss what he affectionately calls the wireless revolution and it’s impact on our lives. Despite snow flurries filling the autumn sky above his Boston area office, Ferra talked about a wireless future that seems pretty bright. Check out his edited responses to five questions I asked about mobile technology and financial services.
1. It wasn’t long ago that most professionals resisted being connected from anywhere. Now, most of us can’t put down our smart phones and tablets. How did we get here so fast?
Ferra: People used to ask about the wireless evolution. Now we talk about the wireless revolution. It shows the growth that has occurred. What changed things was when networks got faster. That’s when the hockey stick occurred. When 3G was launched we started to see transactions happening wirelessly. We saw people finally enjoy watching a movie on their mobile device. With that everything else kind of fell into place. More types of capabilities were introduced to leverage the faster speeds.
So it wasn’t simply the availability of user-friendly devices like the iPhone?
Ferra: Of course that helped. But remember when they used to say content was king? Well, that’s turned on a dime and now context is king. Service providers, retailers, financial services companies said, “I don’t want to flood you with information.” Instead, we focus on things that are relevant to your world. And when that’s happened, that is when we see the user satisfaction level going up. (more…)
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The nation’s business leaders have converged on Washington in recent days to do their part in helping the government avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” in early January. President Obama met with a dozen corporate CEOs on Nov. 14 and also sat down with small business owners Nov. 27 and 28 to listen to the concerns of business and to share his agenda in the budget talks with Congress.
What a relief. We need business leaders to engage creatively and constructively with our politicians on this topic. The fiscal cliff is the top economic issue facing the nation. Going over the cliff at the end of this year could mean a 2% tax increase for workers, the end of certain tax breaks for businesses, shifts in the alternative minimum tax that would take a larger bite into what tax payers owe, the end of the tax cuts from 2001-2003, and the beginning of taxes related to President Obama’s health care law. At the same time, the spending cuts agreed upon as part of the debt ceiling deal of 2011 will begin to go into effect. Over 1,000 government programs, including the defense budget and Medicare are in line for steep cuts.
What worries me is not that business leaders are traveling to Washington, but that these meetings are not quite as constructive and genuinely cooperative as we’re being led to believe. Handsomely paid executives have been lobbying against paying higher taxes, which President Obama believes is the right course in order to avoid overburdening middle- and lower-income Americans. And for months, these executives have suggested they are holding back hiring and business investment because they’re worried about Washington gridlock over the fiscal cliff. That sort of behavior has helped keep the brakes on our skidding economy. (more…)
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E. Neville Isdell has had a long and distinguished career at The Coca-Cola Co. since he first joined in 1966. He worked in several executive capacities all around the globe until taking a break in 2002, when he was an international consultant to Coca-Cola and head of his Barbados investment company, Collines Investments. Isdell then came back to serve as CEO of Coca-Cola from 2004 to 2008 and as Chairman from 2004 until April 2009. Isdell is also a director on the board of General Motors.
We met with Isdell in the spacious pool house adjacent to his Atlanta home. Given the damp autumn air wasn’t suitable for a swim, and Isdell’s time was precious, we talked leadership instead of taking a dip in the pool. Isdell, who is largely credited for shaking Coke out of its early-2000′s slumber, was a charming and distinguished host. That charm, not to mention his authority as a leader, made the difficult work of rejuvenating a big company like Coke a conceivable task. As CEO, Isdell implemented a plan of systematic employee engagement to boost morale and recraft its strategy. As he shared with us, the plan worked. You can also read about his personal and professional story in his book, Inside Coke (2011).
For a glimpse of Neville Isdell’s views on leadership, watch the video interview by clicking the video box, or read the transcript that follows. (more…)
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By Tony Bara, Editor, The Xavierite
Two of the most well-known analysts on the American political landscape treated hundreds to a lively discussion about the 2012 presidential election at Chicago’s Saint Xavier University Thursday, Nov. 1.
Mary Matalin (left in picture) a conservative commentator and the former campaign director for President George H.W. Bush, joined Donna Brazile (right in picture) a liberal commentator and campaign manager for former Vice President Al Gore. During their chat—“Both Sides Now,” part of the university’s annual Voices and Visions lecture series—Matalin critiqued Obama’s jobs record and painted Romney as the savior, while Brazile assured the largely Democratic crowd that president Obama had America on the right track. Their talk was the latest in a series of lectures that has attracted some of the world’s most influential figures, including Hon. Madeleine Albright, Gen. Colin Powell and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.
The women kicked off their visit to Saint Xavier, a Catholic university in the Evergreen Park neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side, with an exclusive meeting with 17 student leaders in the university’s fourth floor boardroom. Both women now live in New Orleans, although Matalin grew up in Calumet City. Despite their divergent political views, they consider each other close friends, who talk and visit on a regular basis. (Brazile, Matalin said, even taught Matalin’s daughters how to dance!) Brazile was humorous and down-to-earth. Matalin, a bit more reserved, offered a more subtle joviality throughout the evening.
In total, four students managed to ask the women questions during their 55-minute session, as both Brazile and Matalin gave long and thorough responses. The questions ranged from the election, to student loans, to the American prison system. (more…)
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I remember the moment as if it were the indelible climax of a poignant dream: I’m standing in Chicago’s Grant Park under a starry autumn sky next to a friend and his young son. As the time ticks past 10 p.m. on Nov. 4, 2008, my friend raises his arms in victory, his son clinging to his waist, as news flashes onto a big video screen announcing then-Senator Barack Obama has officially won enough electoral votes to become the new President of the United States. As we stand, two black men and a boy about a 40-yard-dash’s length from the lectern Obama would use for his victory speech, we are overwhelmed with a feeling of long-overdue triumph—the exaltation and relief that comes upon knowing that after 232 years of divisive independence, America has looked past race to elect a man of color to the presidency … strictly because of his competencies.
To some, that moment may seem like four very long years ago. Four years of protracted joblessness and general economic malaise. But to me, it still feels as if it happened just last night. As my friend and I cheered, and even shed some tears that evening, I remember feeling, finally, as if we were a nation on the move. It was as if Obama had earned the keys to the American engine of growth and prosperity. But it was clear to me the vehicle he would be driving was no dragster. This would by no means be a sprint to prosperity. It would be one of those dogged desert ATV races—the kind where the vehicle is tossed around violently as it traverses the most bumpy terrain imaginable.
President Obama knew the journey would be difficult. He told us so that night. “The road ahead will be long,” he said four years ago. “Our climb will be steep.” So steep, in fact, he warned us that we might have to invest in his leadership beyond four years. “We may not get there in one year or even in one term,” he forecast.
I believe we must re-elect President Obama and allow him to lead us to the very prosperity so many believed four years ago that he could unleash. Once you comb through all the clutter, the truth is Obama has indeed been driving us toward the future we crave. (more…)
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John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems is a strong leader. He’s guided Cisco, global maker of networking and telecom gear, through the dot-com bust, the recent economic crisis and intense competition. But I wish I could have spoken to Chambers before he declared his succession plan to Bloomberg on Tuesday, September 25. For that matter, I wish I had a word with outgoing Radio Shack CEO James Gooch, who was asked Wednesday, September 26, to step down immediately.
Both executives appear to have forgotten the value brought by significant swaths of the consumer market: The communities of color here in America and across the globe. How could Chambers, who I know to be a smart man who believes in the power of diversity, announce a CEO succession plan without a single Latino or African American among the top candidates for his job? And, if you ask me, Gooch might very well have kept his job if he had focused more aggressively on serving consumers of color in the U.S. and abroad.
In an age in which business is global and growth almost invariably depends on reaching under-developed markets—from inner-city America to sub-Saharan Africa—it’s stunning to me that so few companies update their strategies to take advantage of the opportunity these communities offer. It’s not just Cisco and RadioShack, but even Google and Apple and Wal-Mart (I could go on) can do much better. (more…)
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Jim Rohr is Chairman and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group. He arrived at PNC as a young prospect in 1972, and excelled in various marketing and management roles before rising to president and COO in the 1990s. He became CEO in 2000 and Chairman in 2001. In addition to Rohr’s PNC leadership, he is also a director on the boards of BlackRock Inc., ATI, EQT Corp, and the RAND Board of Trustees.
We met with Rohr at PNC’s Pittsburgh headquarters. Instability in the global financial markets, not to mention Americans’ frustration with a sputtering economy, was weighing heavily on his mind, as it would any financial executive’s. Still, Rohr wore an effortless, satisfied smile–as if he had just hit a perfect wedge shot close to the pin at his home golf club. A fan of golf, Rohr is known for a steady hand both on the links and in the office. He has earned praise for leading PNC amid challenge and change. Under his leadership, PNC avoided catastrophe during the nation’s sub-prime mortgage crisis and survived an accounting investigation that forced a restatement of the bank’s earnings. In our conversation, Rohr shared some of his thinking about extending risk management beyond the boardroom and the importance of a diverse, digitally competent workforce.
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You likely know by now that on August 20, Augusta National, home to the Masters golf tournament and one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world, admitted former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore into the hallowed club. The two women became the first female members to gain admittance since the club was founded in 1932.
As an avid golfer myself, who counts playing Augusta among his bucket-list activities, I’m happy for these women, each themselves quite passionate about the game. Heck, I’m even happy for Augusta, which will benefit from the presence of two whip-smart and successful women with strong opinions. I doubt there were any special terms of engagement, other than the financial obligations that come with exclusive membership. But here’s where my pipe dream starts:
I wish Debra and Condi, especially Condi, had placed demands on Augusta for the benefit of their membership. Condoleezza Rice is arguably as accomplished as any current member of Augusta. Sure, the roster of members is said to include Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, American Express chief Ken Chenault, former Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill, and scores more big-time execs. But even if you disagree with her politics (as I do) Ms. Rice was, in fact, Secretary of State—not to mention national security adviser and the youngest person ever to be provost of Stanford University. Condoleezza Rice’s connections extend well beyond American borders to the corridors of influence in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and so on.
My point is that it’s a privilege for Augusta to have a black woman with such tremendous access. She can indeed open doors for the club. So, call me high, but in exchange for her access and acumen I wish Condi had demanded Augusta create a few programs that might help grow the next Condoleezza Rices and Lorena Ochoas, for that matter. (more…)
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