This month has been a busy one for the Executive Leadership Council (ELC), the preeminent membership organization for the development of global black leaders.
Earlier this month, its Institute for Leadership Development & Research held the 21st Annual Mid-Level Managers’ Symposium; and the Executive Leadership Foundation (ELF), the ELC’s charitable arm that provides financial support for the Council’s initiatives and programs, held its annual Recognition Gala, honoring The Honorable Eric Holder, 82nd Attorney General of the United States; and Kenneth Frazier, chairman of the board and CEO, Merck.
In between these packed, much-anticipated annual events, we caught up with ELC & ELF President and CEO Ronald Parker for an exclusive interview wherein Parker talked about some of the Council’s plans for global expansion, millennials and future initiatives.
TNJ.com: The ELC released a press release last month announcing an unveiling of “white paper” on 21st Century Global leadership and the release of a report called 21st Century Global Leadership: Global Black Leaders Speak.” Tell us a bit about the report.
Ronald Parker: That particular instrument and paper was a result of the work of the committee and the organization in really addressing the needs of the 21st century from a relationship standpoint and we took the effort to approach and listen to several Black CEOs, board of directors and strategic partners as well as the different generations that make up corporate America today.
The question that was being posed was, ‘What is required to being a successful global leader in an environment that is ambiguous, very competitive and ridden with change and uncertainty?’ We found that the attributes of Black executive leaders complement those challenges quite well given our agility as Black leaders and executives and given our ability to adapt to different changes. And we were able to have a very good dialogue through our CEO Summit 2.0, that we had the same day as the Gala, to talk about some of those attributes that some of those Black executives have that can be beneficial to corporations as they continue to grow.
TNJ.com: Last month, I reported on the ELC’s trip to London as part of the ELC’s plan for global expansion. What else is on the horizon for that global mission? Are there other trips planned?
R.P.: We have formed a committee that will be chaired by one of our board members, Arlene Issacs Lowe, who is a senior executive managing director with Moody’s Investors, based in London. She will be our anchor. Our trip there was to discuss the opportunities to get to know other UK-based Black executives whom we discovered in our first trip are very much connected throughout Europe and even the continent of Africa.
It allows for us to have a nice bridge into the Continent itself as we look to grow our membership base offshore and also to apply some of the leadership lessons that we encountered and discovered here in the U.S. to that middle management executive pool that exists across the U.K. and parts of Africa. So, the work that we are doing in our Institute will apply there as will the work we are doing in our Mid-Level Management Symposium and our Leadership Development Week. So several of our offerings around leadership that we do here in the States can be applied to those Black leaders who are living and working abroad. It is our entrée into the continent of Africa.
TNJ.com: Does the ELC have any initiatives that specifically address entrepreneurship or is the focus mostly on corporate executives and boards?
R.P.: For right now, it is on corporate executives and board governing but as we continue to build our membership base which is now at the 650 mark and growing, our members have the profile and financial wherewithal to enter into the entrepreneur space, especially in the those sectors where there is growth potential meaning the tech sector, the biomedical sector and other areas of engagement in not only cities that ate here in the States that are recovering – places like Detroit, Philadelphia, New York and Atlanta but we have also built relationships with several executives in Africa that afford our members and our member companies to create unique entrepreneurial relationships with markets that are available to us for offshore purposes as well.
So, we will be moving into that with our External Advocacy Initiative which, for right now, is focused on “how do we support the governance transformation that’s going on in Historically Black Colleges and Universities” and as we continue to do that work we will also turn our attention to what we call “global economic development” both here and offshore for our members and member companies who have the financial wherewithal to invest.
We plan to spend more time in 2016 out on the West Coast with the high-tech sector. We have a meeting that we are putting together with Twitter. We had a meeting earlier this year with David Drummond and the leadership teams at Google, Facebook, Intel and Cisco where we talked about the lack of Black representation on the respective tech sector boards and in senior management. So, we will revisit the tech sector and the venture capital world in the first quarter of 2016 with that meeting with Twitter and other high tech companies and venture capital companies that are based on the West Coast.
TNJ.com: How do millennials factor into the work of the ELC and its members in terms of preparing millennials to one day take their place in seats on corporate boards?
R.P.: For millennials, there is the science and art of leadership. As we encounter the Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers who make up the ELC today and as we work with organizations like Calibr, which is a spin-off of the ELC and about 20 years our junior and with the millennials who are entering the workplace, it is a reciprocal dynamic where we learn about the emerging trends, issues and needs of a growing work pool of millennials. And the millennials are teaching us how to use technology and social media in ways that my generation as a Boomer did not experience coming up in corporate America of how to use social media as a way to not only continue to devolve our personal brand but also to expand our network of communication and connectivity with individuals who are in the different spaces of transformation. So, we see it as being a reciprocal type of relationship that we can encompass some of their knowledge and insight into our Institute and some of the programs we deliver there but also as members of the ELC to learn from them how we can best use social media to improve and develop our personal brands as executives and also to drive more positive change in Black communities.
TNJ.com: How important have partnerships been to the ELC’s mission and success?
R.P.: Extremely important because there is a duality of our members continuing to grow; and as they grow as professionals, one of our key principles is to share that knowledge and give back to the respective communities. So, as our members grow within these respective corporations, it gives us more leverage to impact things that are important to our communities.
When you look at organizations that our members are a part of, every one of those organizations has a business model that is geared towards growth. So, if you can envision a pyramid, at the top of that pyramid is Sustained Business Growth. On the far left-hand axis of that pyramid are Innovation, Diversity and Inclusion. On the far right-hand axis of that pyramid, we’re talking about C-Suite leadership, both at the governance level [board level] and the senior leadership level. And in the middle of that pyramid is Value Creation. So as we expand and grow the definition of diversity, that brings with it a global context and value creation at the core. If we can create value in our relationships and partnerships, then we can expand our global community to where 1 plus 1 equals 5. And it is relationships with companies like the Legal Defense Fund and others that will equal something much larger than the original sum of 1 plus 1. That is the model we are trying to create, which is bigger than all of us.
TNJ.com: What’s next for the ELC? Are there any particular short-term and/or long-term goals?
R.P.: In one phrase: continuous growth. Our goal is growth of our member base as we grow and expand offshore and growth in understanding the needs of a 21st century global world. It is not about oversight from a leadership standpoint; it’s about insight data and data analytics to drive strategy and change.
It’s about adding value models in the private sector and leveraging them to play a greater role in our communities where we can build the next generation of global black leaders. When you look at the current makeup of Black CEOs, there are only 6 who are running companies, one being the recent addition at United Airlines, who is one of our members.
We have buying power of 1.3 trillion and that buying power is growing. Our cultural influence is evidenced around the world – how we influence business, social matters, education, music, and other areas. We should have more representation at more levels in of corporations.