Celebrate Black History Month in Business

The Florida SBDC at Florida A&M celebrates Black History Month by highlighting African-American entrepreneurs, innovators and corporate trail blazers.  The individuals featured throughout the month all share one common factor; the will to succeed in business against all odds.  Each of their stories contain invaluable lessons for entrepreneurs and small business owners from all walks of life.

 Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns, 2007. Image courtesy of Xerox Corporation

American chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of the international document-management and business-services company Xerox Corporation, who was the first African American woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the first female to accede to the position of CEO of such a company from another female.

Burns was raised in a low-income housing project on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. She was the second of three children raised by a single mother who operated a home day-care centre and took ironing and cleaning jobs to earn money to pay for Burns to attend Cathedral High School, a Roman Catholic preparatory school. Excelling at math, Burns later earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering (1980) from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University in Brooklyn. In the same year, she began pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University and joined Xerox as a summer mechanical-engineering intern through the company’s graduate engineering program for minorities, which in turn paid a portion of her educational expenses.

After completing a master’s degree in 1981, Burns joined Xerox as a full-time employee and quickly gained a role in product development. From 1992 she progressed through various roles in management and engineering, and in 2000 she became senior vice president of corporate strategic services, a position in which she oversaw production operations. The appointment eventually afforded Burns the opportunity to broaden her leadership in the areas of global research, product development, marketing, and delivery, and she was named president of Xerox in 2007. Two years later she was named chairman and CEO. Burns was widely credited with increasing the company’s development, production, and sales of colour-capable devices.

In 2009 U.S. Pres. Barack Obama selected Burns to help lead the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition, a national alliance of more than 1,000 technological organizations striving to improve student participation and performance in the aforementioned subject areas through legislative advocacy. The following year Burns was appointed to serve as vice-chair of the President’s Export Council (PEC), a group of labour, business, and government leaders who advise the president on methods to promote the growth of American exports.

Source: Jeannette L. Nolen, Encycolpedia Britannica


Tristan Walker


Image Courtesy of David Paul Morris – Getty Images

After stints at Twitter and Foursquare, designer-marketer Tristan Walker was invited by revered tech investor Ben Horowitz to become an Andreessen Horowitz entrepreneur in residence. While there, Walker cooked up the idea for a health and beauty brand for people of color, filling a long-decried gap in the market. The first brand under his Walker & Co. is Bevel, a shaving line with sleek, vintage-inspired products that combat razor burn, a particular problem for black men. It is sold by subscription only, and signups are growing by an average 50% a month. Many see Walker as a key player in efforts to address Silicon Valley’s lack of diversity. To that end, he also co-founded Code2040, which places minority engineers in summer internships at top tech companies, named for the year when the majority of the country is projected to be nonwhite. Article courtesy of Fortune Magazine >



Sybil Collins Mobley

Ph.D., Dean Emerita, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) School of Business and Industry

Sybil Collins Mobley, Ph.D.Dr. Mobley was the epitome of a “Phenomenal Woman,” trailblazing unbelievable paths in higher education, business education, and the world of business.  After receiving her degrees and several honorary doctorates, she started at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College (FAMC) as a secretary in 1945.  Dr. Mobley rose from the ranks of a professor to department chair (1971-1974) to founding dean of the School of Business and Industry (SBI) from 1974 – 2003 (her fourth baby).  During her tenure as SBI’s dean, Dr. Mobley implemented her world renowned Professional Development (PD) Program, a leadership development program designed to teach students behavioral competencies to complement their academic preparation.  To support her innovative PD and academic curricula, Dean Mobley started the SBI Big Board, which consists of over 100 plaques.  Each plaque on the SBI Big Board represents a minimum donation of $100,000 endowed for scholarships.   The earnings from the SBI Big Board accounts still enable SBI to provide scholarships to its “Superstars” today.  As a result of her mega contributions to FAMU, Dr. Mobley received the designation of Dean Emerita after her retirement.

In addition to serving as a master administrator in higher education and being a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the State of Florida, Dean Mobley served on the boards of directors of Anheuser-Busch Company, Champion International Corporation, Hershey Foods Corporation, Sears Roebuck & Company, Southwestern Bell Corporation, Dean Witter, and Discover.  Dr. Mobley and her husband, James Mobley, a successful entrepreneur, were also pioneers in the Tallahassee Civil Rights movement.   Some of Dean Mobley’s other affiliations included Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc., the International Association of Black Business Educators, the National Association of Black Accountants, Florida Women’s Hall of Fame, and the FAMU SBI Hall of Fame to name a few.  Dr. Mobley served as a consultant to the United States Agency for International Development for multiple African countries, and she was awarded the FAMU Lifetime Achievement Award among numerous other awards.

Sybil Collins Mobley with students

Through her tenacious and assiduous efforts, Dean Mobley changed the personal, economic, and professional trajectory of hundreds of thousands of individuals, including her students, faculty, and staff – past, present, and future.  Successful “SBI-ans” can be found in all industry sectors from education to the C-Suite of multinational corporations, and from entrepreneurs to non-profits all around the globe.  Dean Mobley named the SBI alumni the “SBI Force” because she said that we would be a “force to be reckoned with” in the global economy.  The ripple effects of Dean Mobley’s commitment to excellence in business education and the world of business have been and will be felt for decades.