Black Ingenuity: Lifting Our Community
The 38th Annual DuSable Conference brought together students, faculty, staff, and alumni for a day of networking and discussion about advancing equity in the Black community.
- April 10, 2023
How can we increase diversity in leadership across industries? How can young Black professionals best reach their career ambitions? How can we balance personal and professional goals?
Chicago Booth’s 2023 DuSable Conference tackled these and other questions during the keynote conversation with two prominent leaders and pioneers in Chicago’s Black community: married couple Louis Carr—president of media sales for Washington, DC–based BET Networks and one of the most influential African Americans in media and advertising today—and Diane Dinkins-Carr, president and founder of DDC Consulting Group, a Chicago-based art appraisal and consulting company that specializes in raising awareness of African American art and artists.
Their conversation was moderated by LeeAnn Trotter, a feature reporter who covers arts, culture, and Chicago events for NBC 5 Chicago. Here are some takeaways from their conversation.
The Nonlinear Career Path
After graduating from Drake University with a degree in broadcast journalism, Carr planned to pursue a career as a journalist. “I was an All-American in college, so I assumed people would roll out red carpets for me leading right into the studio,” he laughed. “None of that happened, and I stumbled around for years. Thank God I was a good listener and I had way makers who guided me to the career that I have today.”
Dinkins-Carr also took a circuitous path to her career in consulting and appraisal. “In college, I dabbled in everything, she said. “I took painting, drawing, and photography.” After graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in design and a minor in fine art, she worked as a window designer for Carson’s and taught classes at the South Side Community Art Center.
She pivoted to her current career after she tried to get an appraisal for her late parents’ collection of works by African American artists and discovered a gap in valuation expertise in the field of Black art. She went back to school to learn more about the field and launched her consulting and appraisal business to fill that gap.
“I wanted to help artists, and I wanted to do something I enjoyed,” she said. “Whether it’s advising, appraising, or even mentoring emerging artists, I just love what I do.”
“Early in your career, you don’t know what you’re good at. You don’t know what you enjoy. So try as many different things as you can, because every experience is a learning opportunity, every single one.”
Trotter noted that the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 served as a catalyst for change in the broadcasting industry and others—to an extent. For example, she said she can now appear on TV with her natural hair, which would have been highly discouraged in the past.
“But that’s one small thing,” she said. “What should people know about being the change that we need to move forward?”
Carr counseled attendees to take on positions of power where they can influence hiring and strategy decisions. “I’m on a public corporate board, and when we look for directors on the board, we’re looking for people who have managed profit and loss,” he said. “We’re currently looking for a diverse female who has managed a P&L of at least $500 million.”
Trotter emphasized the importance of this advice in broadcasting, adding that the business side of the industry is where the power is. “I chose to be on TV, and it’s great,” she said. “But I don’t get to make the decisions. It’s the producers and sales that drive everything.”
Like many industries, broadcasting falls short when it comes to diversity, particularly at leadership levels. Given that reality, Carr said he sees his job as a mission.
“Our industry still has not been diversified. You see very few people of color in leadership positions,” he said. “So I try to create examples of people who look like us who achieve such extraordinary success that at some point the industry will say, ‘We’ve got to crack this door wide open for people who look like them.’”
Advice for Early-Career Professionals
When Trotter asked what advice the couple would give their younger selves, Carr underscored the value of keeping an open mind and exploring a wide variety of experiences.
“Early in your career, you don’t know what you’re good at. You don’t know what you enjoy,” he said. “So try as many different things as you can, because every experience is a learning opportunity, every single one. And always be in the mode to learn for life.”
Dinkins-Carr added that it takes both research and dedication. “A lot of people say, ‘I want to do sales,’ or ‘I want to do this,’ but you might not really know what it’s like behind the scenes,” she said. “So study what you want to do, and make sure that whatever you do is your dream job for that moment.”
Carr emphasized the importance of taking an intentional approach throughout your career. “You want to be the decision-maker,” he said. “So when you’re starting to look at entry-level careers, map out your path. Look at the leaders who have X number of people reporting to them or who are in charge of X amount of revenue. Those are the people you want to emulate.”
He added that it’s important to connect with a mentor, or a way maker, who can advise and support you along your career path. But, he noted, you don’t get to pick your mentor—your mentor picks you. How do you make that happen?
“Consistently show up and put yourself in the way of that way maker,” he said. “Every single person that I helped mentor has gotten in my way consistently. Every time I went to turn a corner, they were there. Every time I looked out of my office, they were staring at me.”
“There’s going to be some stumbling, some falling, but you need to pick yourself back up. And if you can’t get the job you are really looking for, create it yourself.”
Balancing Professional and Personal Success
What does it take to build a successful career in marketing and sales—or in any industry? Dinkins-Carr underscored the importance of accepting setbacks and overcoming them. “There’s going to be some stumbling, some falling, but you need to pick yourself back up,” she said. “And if you can’t get the job you are really looking for, create it yourself, like I did.”
For Carr, it all starts with imaginative thinking and conveying your ideas effectively. “You have to be a great communicator. And you’ve got to be creative—not just in your content, but in your business also,” he said. “You also have to be consistent and intentional.”
How do you pursue your own career ambitions while supporting those of your partner? And how can you find a good balance between your professional pursuits and your personal life?
For the couple, who have been married for more than 30 years, it’s about trust, faith, and appreciation for each other’s interests.
“To have a successful career, you make a lot of sacrifices, and most of the time it’s your family that gets the short end of the stick,” Carr said. “I’ve traveled away from home over 250 nights a year for 30 years, so I always say Diane should get the Wife of the Decade Award.”
Dinkins-Carr said she’s fine with Carr’s travel schedule as long as he’s home on the weekend and for birthdays and special holidays. “I keep myself busy,” she said. “You have to have trust and faith in your mate.”
It’s also important to support your partner’s passions. “Diane bought into my vision, my dream,” said Carr. “Art was never important to me, but it was important to her. So I learned about it. I engaged with it. Now I love it as much as she does.”
Organized by the Chicago Booth African American MBA Association (AAMBAA), the annual DuSable Conference is one of Booth’s longest-running student-led conferences. It brings together alumni, students, faculty, and community leaders for networking opportunities and discussions about racial equity, diversity, and inclusion. This year’s daylong conference had sponsorship support from Chicago Booth and the corporate community and featured the following sessions:
- Community Development Panel with Naomi Davis, founder and executive director of Blacks in Green; Josiah Hood, Full-Time MBA student; Katrina Roddy, author and CEO of The Corporate Breakup; and Ernst Valery, co-managing member of SAA | EVI and adjunct professor of strategic management at Booth.
- Pivot for Success Workshop with Amy Hilliard, founder of the Hilliard Group and adjunct associate professor of strategy at Booth.
- Venture Capital Panel with Priscilla Atansah, Full-Time MBA student; Tessa Flippin, founder and managing director of Capitalize VC; and Taylor Williams, ’22, senior associate of Cleveland Avenue.
With a 39-year history, the sit-down Fogel dinner brings students, faculty and staff together to take part in celebrating Booth’s diversity of voices—and instill a sense of belonging.A Legacy Dinner That Serves Up Diversity and Inclusion
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