The Power of Narrative in Shaping Black People's Leadership in the Global Economy

“At this point we leave Africa, not to mention it again. For it is no historical part of the World; it has no movement or development to exhibit. Historical movements in it-that is in its northern part-belong to the Asiatic or European World. Carthage displayed there an important transitionary phase of civilization; but, as a Phoenician colony, it belongs to Asia. Egypt will be considered in reference to the passage of the human mind from its Eastern to its Western phase, but it does not belong to the African Spirit. What we properly understand by Africa, is the Unhistorical, Undeveloped Spirit, still involved in the conditions of mere nature, and which had to be presented here only as on the threshold of the World's History” - Hegel, The Philosophy of History

Narratives are powerful and reverberate through centuries. This weekend, I listened to a TED Talk by Gus Casely-Hayford, incoming director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. In the talk, he walks through history and gives several examples of how Western intellectual leaders, including Hegel, dismissed Africa as being without history and sophistication, and therefore incapable of creating the artifacts and structures some saw with their physical eyes. 

While intellectuals like Hegel have been discounted for their ignorance, the impact of this sort of thinking has had impacts that reverberate in there only being four black CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies, soon to be three now that American Express CEO Ken Chenault will be stepping down next year

As the conversation around diversity continues, I have been hearing a refrain more frequently, “We are working on this, but we are not going to lower our standards.” Most recently, M&C Saatchi chief creative officer Justin Tindall said last week that he is “bored of diversity being prioritised over talent.” 

I would argue that that line of thinking shares a heritage with the sentiments shared about Africans’ perceived lack of sophistication to have built mind boggling structures dating back to the 11th Century like Great Zimbabwe.

Speaking of Zimbabwe, last week brought more news, this time from Swiss investor Marc Faber who stated in his most recent Gloom Boom Doom report, “And thank God white people populated America, and not the blacks. Otherwise, the US would look like Zimbabwe, which it might look like one day anyway, but at least America enjoyed 200 years in the economic and political sun under a white majority. I am not a racist, but the reality — no matter how politically incorrect — needs to be spelled out as well. And let's not forget that the African tribal heads were more than happy to sell their own slaves to white, black, and Arab slave dealers.”

In his TED Talk, Gus Casely-Hayford says, “Even today, the fight to tell our story is not just against time. It's not just against organizations like [al-Qaeda affiliated] Ansar Dine. It's also in establishing a truly African voice after centuries of imposed histories. We don't just have to recolonize our history, but we have to find ways to build back the intellectual underpinning that Hegel denied was there at all. We have to rediscover African philosophy, African perspectives, African history.” 

This newsletter is a contribution to building back this narrative - surfacing stories that black business leaders are driving, in efforts to not only provide black professionals with the data, network, ideas they need to make decisions in their work, but also to inspire them as they lead deal teams, deliver actionable insights to clients, and develop innovative technologies. In 20 years, when my peers are vying for the CEO spot at some of these companies, I want there to be dozens of black CEOs leading Fortune 500. I want several to be the founders of the companies that have entered the Fortune 500. 

When my daughter is considering CEO roles 40 years from now, if she hasn’t already built a multi-billion dollar business in her 20s, I want her to have peers of hundreds of black executives leading Fortune 500 companies with whom she can chat about her options. I want her to turn on business news television and not be surprised to see story after story about black-led companies driving the global economy. 

 

I believe this is a reality we can create. At the end of his talk Casely-Hayford says, “The roots of this confident, intellectual, entrepreneurial, tariff free Africa was once the envy of the world, but those roots remain.” I’m excited about watering those roots.