Second in a series
Will 2020 go down in history as the year Dallas businesses started a new chapter in economic inclusiveness?
Or will it prove to be just a blip in social consciousness brought on by the horrifying death of George Floyd?
Cheryl Hall asked a diverse group of business leaders which scenario they expect to play out.
All were optimistic that Dallas has a good shot at being the inclusive, progressive city that it ought to be. But they feel that business must give more than lip service to the idea that everyone deserves the opportunity to participate in the economic miracle called Dallas.
They expressed varying levels of optimism and caution about whether the city can turn this moment of awakening into long-lasting change.
Here’s what they had to say.
Ron Kirk, former Dallas mayor, senior of counsel at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Dallas Citizens Council board member
“I don’t mean to be flippant, but the question really is, ‘Is the white community ready to open doors, to look at housing applications from minority families, to look at business loans from small businesses and young Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs in the same way that they do whites?
“This moment has to be more than corporations issuing a feel-good statement or taking out an ad saying Black Lives Matter. They have to examine their own policies to see, ‘Are we practicing what we preach?’
“One of the frustrations you’ll hear from some of our Black and Hispanic leaders is ‘If we’re good enough to be on the chamber or symphony board, why am I not good enough to be the first call that you make when it’s time to do business?’ Whether it’s Atlanta, Houston or Denver, other communities are much better at using local talent and promoting them.
“For the life of me, I still don’t understand why people think that it’s healthy to have a city where all of the wealth and all of the tax base is concentrated in less than a third of the city. Why do we struggle to see the value of having everyone in the city contributing to our economic growth?
“This can be more than a moment if we are serious about addressing the underlying issues of access to capital and investing in the talent of all of our community. This has to stop being seen as a sum-zero game.
“I’m hopeful but dubious enough to think that when the pandemic is over, this singular attention to racial justice will quickly fade into the Twitter world, and corporate America will move onto something else.”
Kneeland Youngblood, founding partner of Pharos Capital Group LLC
“Dallas has a large, diverse corporate infrastructure, from AT&T to Exxon to McKesson to American and Southwest airlines to Charles Schwab. This corporate collection puts Dallas in a better position relative to its peers to provide economic and social opportunity.
“While mostly quiet to the public, I believe the corporate leadership community is not looking for short-term fixes but long-term solutions. From the composition of their corporate boardrooms to their vendors, lawyers, accountants, bankers and employees, I believe that these are the institutional changes that are taking place outside the public eye.
“These protests have awakened and energized young people of all color, including mine, in ways that I have not seen before. And seeing these young people giving a damn gives me hope and faith that the changes that are afoot will be long term.”
Arcilia Acosta, CEO of Carcon Industries/STL Engineers and Dallas Citizens Council board member
“We have to recognize that our social structures have not always been on the right side of history, and as such, have not provided the full promise of America.
“If we are willing to listen, voice truth to power and challenge ourselves through the lens of equity and inclusion for all, then lasting change can begin to take root.
“I believe that our souls have been awakened. We can no longer ‘unsee’ what we saw happen in real time.
“Our day of reckoning is here, and we must answer the call.”
Bishop T.D. Jakes, chairman of the T.D. Jakes Foundation
“As the city of Dallas continues to grow and evolve in its appeal to a global market, it does so in the midst of a competitive environment where bright, educated minorities have multiple options vying for that much-needed shrinking talent pool. We cannot afford to disqualify the qualified and lessen our resources as a consequence of our exclusivity.
“Secondly, attracting major corporations is vital to our growth. Those highly sought-after companies that offer upward mobility to any city understand that diversity and inclusion broadens their ability to serve their community with moral integrity but also impacts viability and long-term profitability in an ever-evolving society.”
“For cosmopolitan cities like Dallas, where there are already numerous examples of successful diverse leaders, this has been a wake-up call for many in the majority. They have heard story after story from our Black colleagues about how, irrespective of their success, they still live their daily lives in the dark shadow of racism.
Ali Master, partner at Ernst & Young LLP, Dallas, and author of Beyond the Golden Door
“I felt this as a teenager when I immigrated from Pakistan to go to the University of Texas at Arlington and still do from time to time.
“I have seen a shift in tone among my white colleagues — both in our leadership and among our young professionals — who have gone from passive acknowledgment to vocal anti-racism.
“This gives me hope that these changes will have a sustaining impact.”
Chris Nielsen, executive vice president and chief quality officer, Toyota North America
“When we were doing our site selection, one thing that stood out positively about Dallas was that it was much more diverse than external perceptions. We were looking for access to top talent, and we could see that Dallas had an abundance of diverse talent in place. That’s really proven to be the case.
“We’ve had a tremendous run of success in building the economy here, bringing in companies like Toyota. But the benefit of that hasn’t been shared by the whole region, particularly economic development in South Dallas.
“Everything that has happened in the wake of the George Floyd killing has brought the issues to the surface. People are seeing it and talking about it.
“It’s been a personal awakening for me. Every single Black person who I have spoken to — from CEO level to entry level at my company — has shared stories of being repeatedly stopped by the police. I had a little sense of that, but I did not understand how pervasive it is.
“The significance of what has happened recently will be sustained going forward. That’s the key point. It’s not just for a news cycle. It’s not just for some public statement. It’s real. It’s sincere. The bright light that we’re shining on it assures that.”
Hattie Hill, CEO of Hattie Hill Enterprises and the T.D. Jakes Foundation
“In my more than 30 years as a Dallas resident, I’ve never seen the energy and collaboration that we are witnessing today. An unprecedented and diverse coalition of the willing — business leaders, elected officials, faith-based leaders and small businesses — has come together to take action with a commitment to long-term, sustainable change.
“At the same time, people are no longer afraid to lead by example. More leaders are willing to acknowledge and vocalize the wrongs of the past and focus on taking the necessary steps to correct them in the future.”
Anne Chow, CEO of AT&T Business
“Today our city is primed for real change given the rapid pace of growth, fueled by a robust and diversifying business climate as well as an evolving, engaged community.
“Unlike other cities that have had decades to embrace diversity, inclusion and equity driven by their consumer and business populations, Dallas is characterized by more tenured cultural and systemic challenges. These embedded biases require even bolder moves to drive real, lasting cultural change.
This is a unique and timely opportunity to ensure that our response to the crises — triggered by the global pandemic, economic recession and social injustices — includes actions that transform this moment into an ongoing movement of sustainable positive change.”
Cynt Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks
“We have a diverse group of bold people in key decision-making positions — policymakers, corporate and nonprofit executives, community and faith-based leaders, just to name a few — and a strong community of citizens who want to live, work and play in a society that is just and equitable.
“Dallas, from my limited and short-tenured viewpoint, is making progress. People of color are now represented in places where they have not typically been in the past.
“Recent incidents have caused us to think more about equity and justice and why fighting to achieve these things is good for our communities. We still have racial disparities and inequities to overcome in our society.
“I see many good things happening every day, and I feel a sense of optimism about the road ahead. We have work to do and the Mavs are taking action to help create sustainable and much-needed positive change.”
Liz Minyard Lokey, former co-CEO of Minyard Food Stores and first woman chair of the Dallas Regional Chamber
“Back in the ’90s, I was part of a diverse group of chairmen, presidents and CEOs called the Dallas Together Forum with Joe Alcantar, Pettis Norman and Bill Solomon, who were Hispanic, Black and white, as the co-chairmen.
“The companies that were represented worked on increasing diversity on their boards and in their higher positions by creating stairsteps.
“And we did make progress through the whole time that the organization existed and moved the needle a little. But I’m frustrated that once we disbanded, which was followed by the downturn in 2008 and 2009, many companies didn’t keep it a priority, and it faded into the sunset. To go forward, companies have to go back to those ideas of the ’90s.
“I remember seeing protests decades ago, and you didn’t see that many white people in the streets. This time, in every city that they showed on TV and in Dallas, there were a lot of white people arm-in-arm with Blacks. It gives me hope when you see soccer moms and young white people out there saying this is important and needs to change.”
Dennis Cail, co-founder and CEO of Zirtue
“Look at guys like me. Yes, I’m an entrepreneur, and yes, I’ve had companies prior to Zirtue and a couple of exits that created a nice lifestyle for my family and me. But I’m working on a startup where the investors are investing in me as a Black founder and recovering entrepreneur.
“We were able to go out and raise $1.5 million in capital right here in Dallas. It’s split right down the middle in terms of Blacks and whites investing in Zirtue. And we just received a $250,000 investment from Jaylon Smith through his Minority Entrepreneurship Institute’s pitch contest at the Dallas Cowboys headquarters.
“It is equally important for white people in Dallas to be inclusive as it is for Black people to invest in themselves and each other. These are critical components and cannot get lost in the equation.”
Elaine Agather, chairman of the Dallas region of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the only female chair of the Dallas Citizens Council
“I believe Dallas will be one of the most diverse cities in the country and will lead the way ahead, I really do.
“I’m 41 years into my career, working crazier and harder than I ever have. One of my top priorities is to make sure that we keep young women in the workforce so they can be the next senior women and that we put our money where our mouth is when it comes to diversity.
“The leaders of today have to be strong and make sure that we make the effort to seek out and make sure we’re filling our ranks with a diverse group and not just taking the easy route in hiring.”
Peter Beck, executive chairman of the Beck Group
“My sense and my hope is that this will become one of those sustained efforts. But it’s going to require the business community to get behind it in a big way. I see plenty of evidence of that.
“The real test is five years from now.
“From my standpoint, there is a lot to be learned on everybody’s part. I love the saying, ‘Oftentimes where you stand on something has a lot to do with where you sit.’ Majority business leaders have to understand where all of our community sits so that we can begin to share a common stance together as to what needs to be done.
“My [Black] partner, Fred Perpall, and I were at a restaurant discussing things about the pandemic, when a woman walked behind Fred. She had her mask on. She turned around and looked at me and gave me this grimace and pointed at him. And then walked off to her table.
“That captures in a simplistic way the challenge we still have ahead.”
Wendy Lopez, senior vice president and Texas executive of Aecom and chair of the International Women’s Forum-Dallas
“After all of the news and social media around the callous killing of George Floyd, it will be extremely difficult for white people my age to say they had no idea of this targeted mistreatment of young Black men.
“And while I am convinced that the next generation gets it, I am concerned that the older generation needs more education and explanation. I fear that there are some of that generation who will never get on board because they are somehow threatened by people who are different from them.
“Black lives are in danger, and we need to do something. Being content with the way things are is not an option.”
Ron Steinhart, retired CEO of Bank One Corp. Commercial Banking Group, former Dallas Citizens Council chair and son of Holocaust survivors
“The Dallas business community has a history of trying to improve the world for minorities.
In hindsight, we made some progress, but we never got there. The gigantic step was never taken.
“The outcry that has occurred with Black Lives Matter and related events has caused the business leadership to reflect more about who are their employees, who are their customers and the extent of the city’s disparity in economic opportunity and inclusiveness.
“At the same time, more and more major corporations are moving to Dallas, and they are making it a much more intensive and strong commitment to right these wrongs.
“I’ve been in business here for 57 years. It’s a tough battle. But you cannot defend that half of the area of our city is filled by minority people with very low income and very poor facilities.
“The best example right now is the disparity with online education. Thirty-seven percent of our schoolchildren were forced to go home and had no computers or internet service.
“Corporations have to ask themselves, ‘If we’re not concerned about that, then are we turning our back on a major portion of our customer base and our employee base?’ and then realizing, ‘We can’t do that.’ “
Corey Anthony, chief diversity officer of AT&T
“I would argue that the city was primed for change well before recent events. Think about how the city responded to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in 2016, and again in 2018, when one of our fellow innocent Dallas citizens, Botham Jean, was killed by an off-duty officer.
“The death of George Floyd further heightened a sense of urgency in Dallas and in all metropolitan cities where the realities of systemic racism were never fully acknowledged, much less addressed.
I’m encouraged by the meaningful dialogue that has come out of these senseless killings and the outpouring of compassion from the community and business leaders who are willing to step up and take accountability for the injustices occurring in Dallas and around the country. How we move forward together matters.”
More in this series
Part 1: The Dallas Citizens Council and the Dallas Regional Chamber are working in tandem to champion inclusion and fight COVID-19 under the leadership of Fred Perpall and John Olajide.
John Olajide, CEO of Axxess Technology Solutions Inc., wants to make getting medical care at home as easy as ordering a ride share.
Fred Perpall, CEO of the Beck Group, gives gives his unvarnished take on what it’s like to be a Black CEO of a $1.45 billion company in Dallas.
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