Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In Memory of E. Stanley O'neal

The news that E. Stanley O'Neal had been named president and CEO of Merrill Lynch in 2001 marked a sign of change for many who aspired to become investment bankers. It was an uncommon move: O'Neal is an African American, and Wall Street has long been a place where blacks have rarely reached the pinnacles of power. For many of us O'Neal's ascension to the investment banking elite was indeed a momentous feat in an industry whose racial barriers may come across as subtle, but are ever present. African Americans represent fewer than one in ten (6.6%) of the securities professionals in New York, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And in the industry's top management positions, there aren't enough blacks to fill a New York City taxicab (even if we could get one to pull over). Stanley O'Neal's promotion at Merrill was a step in a journey that's been defined by educational excellence, professional achievement, and his ability to focus on the opportunities before him rather than the obstacles he faced. When he was 13, his family left their modest farm in Wedowee (pop. 796), Alabama, in pursuit of a better life in Atlanta, some 75 miles away. It was the mid-1960s, a period of turbulence and change in America that had made it possible for a black man like the elder O'Neal to land a well-paying job on the assembly line at the General Motors plant in nearby Doraville, Georgia, instead of being denied because of his race. Although his family initially lived in public housing, O'Neal described his new life as "ten stories higher" than anything he had ever known. He graduated from Harvard's business school with distinction and later ascended through the executive ranks at GM (we won't belabor the obvious irony here) to the company's second-highest financial position in New York, assistant treasurer. There he headed the mergers and acquisitions area. "It was a very satisfying time for me," he told FORTUNE. "Everywhere I turned there was a new horizon, and I was focusing on what I could do to expand those horizons." O'Neal joined New York-based Merrill Lynch in 1986 as vice president of investment banking and has held a series of increasingly responsible positions since joining the company. He was named president and CEO in July 2001 and served as president of the company's U.S. Private Client Group from February 2000 until July 2001. He served as executive vice president and CFO of Merrill Lynch from 1998 until 2000 and also held the position of executive vice president and co-head of the Corporate and Institutional Client Group prior to that. Previously, O'Neal was in charge of Capital Markets and a managing director in investment banking, leading the financial services groupO'Neal has been widely credited with improving investment brokerage firm Merrill Lynch's profitability and transforming it into an international financial giant dealing in commodities, private equity, asset management and bonds. He reorganized the firm after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and made company-wide cuts during the 2002 stock market slide. The company's board gave him more leeway as he more than doubled the firm's profit level to an average that topped $5 billion annually from 2003 to 2006So on this day, when many will criticize his work, his politics and his manner, let us be ever conscious of the contributions that he has made in helping to pave a way for so many of us. The need for poster figures like O'Neal is even more profound in an industry like investment banking, which has little resonance among black youth. His example show us that we are indeed capable of all things!

P.S. - He's leaving with a $200M parachute. Got to love that!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why Did I Get Married Review

I have to give it to Tyler Perry, if nothing else; he is a smart business man who has created a formula that works. Why Did I Get Married started out as a stage play, which was subsequently taped for home video last year and now his fourth feature film. Aside from recycling the same story multiple times, Mr. Perry keeps cost low, ensuring that even if the movie is a flop by box office standards, he comes out on top making upwards of five times what it cost to produce. That's smart business. There is a market out there that's looking for a little bit more that violence and absolute absurdity that is often accompanied by movies directed towards African American audiences and Mr. Perry, perhaps, helps to fill that void. I was relieved to not have to sit through Mr. Perry parade the screen in drag, and while this is his best work to date, Why Did I Get Married is no cinematic masterpiece.

The definite standouts were Tasha Smith and Bill T. Jones who committed and delivered despite a stiff and didactic script. Smith keeps the one-liners rolling and as an emasculating alcoholic that tells it like it is. Jones plays the part of a husband that belittles his overweight wife; he plays it so well that you hate to dislike him. The film delves into a plethora of issues, so many in fact, that it may be easier to talk about the issues not addressed. The story meanders a bit as a lot of the relationships don't make consistent sense. However, I found it to be entertaining and a good stab at exploring the complexities of black love. I have to commend Mr. Perry for his growth and for creating a body of work that highlights "positive" black folk and I will continue to support his endeavors. I don't know if it's the responsibility of black movie goers or black film makers, but I would like to see a great movie like Talk to Me have the same sort of opening weekend that Why Did I Get Married had.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

How Did We Get Here

Over the past couple of weeks I have been in dialogue about a few different things. At the root of all this talk and discussion has been the state of the black community, and exactly how we have arrived at this place. I think that somewhere along the road, we allowed others to take a more active role than we were willing to take. On many occasions I have sat and listen to my elders reflect on pre-integration. There was a greater sense of cohesiveness that existed within our community. When young black men and women went away to be educated, they returned to their communities to educate another crop of young black minds. Despite the lack of adequate resources, there was a heighten quality of education that was delivered because the teachers had a vested interest in seeing the students succeed. There was a spirit of camaraderie that existed between parents and teachers, as they were neighbors, fellow church congregants and friends. A child’s “progress report” could be given at anytime. To that same point, the spirit of entrepreneurship thrived because there had to be a black tailor and a black grocery store and a black dentist. These people also lived in the same community, went to the same church and they knew all of the young people within their community. They were visible, and it wasn’t so far fetched to achieve. What integration did was allow for us to depend on each other less and on the "white majority" more. The black dentist and the black tailor became less visible as communities melted together and as a result young black people saw less and less black "working professionals." So now, those images have now been replaced by what's on TV or the radio or the internet, and these are the things that young black people ascribe to.