Ghian Foreman, ’01, has dedicated his career to developing underserved urban areas. He’s currently president and CEO of Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative, an organization that builds community wealth and amplifies the culture of Chicago’s mid-South Side. He also redevelops abandoned properties in distressed communities through his own company, the Washington Park Development Group. In 2019, Chicago Booth honored Foreman with a Distinguished Alumni Award for his vital public-service work in local communities.
Foreman gave a keynote address to kick off 2022 Diversity Week, an annual series of events organized by the Graduate Business Council at Booth to foster connections between students and help them develop skills to become more inclusive, supportive leaders. Foreman’s keynote was cosponsored by the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion. He spoke to students about his leadership journey, the importance of understanding diversity, and the ways they can use their voices to have an impact on the world.
Growing up in Chicago, one of the most segregated cities in the United States, gave Foreman “a hell of a perspective” on diversity. “I grew up in a melting pot living in Hyde Park,” he said. “But outside of Hyde Park, Black people live with Black people; white people live with white people; Chinese people live with Chinese people.”
Noting the University of Chicago’s close proximity to neighborhoods with some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the city, he called on the university to do more to support those communities.
“I grew up in the shadows of the university and didn’t really know Black people who went to the university,” he said. “How do we expose the kids who live in Parkway Gardens [an affordable housing complex in the Woodlawn neighborhood] to a university that creates fiscal and monetary policy for the whole world? How do we use these resources to help everyone grow?”
Foreman emphasized that diversity goes far beyond just race or ethnicity. “There’s diversity of where you’re from, diversity of thought, diversity of color, and diversity of language,” he said. “The more of those things you have the ability to understand, the more you can operate in different rooms in different ways.”
“I want to make sure that I use the knowledge I’ve gained over the past 10 or 12 years to try to make improvements ... How can each of us have an impact on our world? You guys are the leaders. You will have a voice. How will you use that voice?”
Find Your Focus
Ever since he bought and rehabbed his first home at age 17, Foreman has had a passion for real-estate development. In 2004, he cofounded Maktub Development, a real-estate development firm focused on inner cities, with NBA star Chris Webber.
At one point, the company had investments across the country, including in Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and California. Then the real-estate market dried up in the 2008 recession, prompting Foreman to reevaluate. “I thought, why do I need to travel around the country to get my butt kicked? Why not just stay right here at home?” he said. “What would happen if we really concentrated our impact in one geography?”
Foreman shifted gears to invest almost exclusively in the Washington Park and Bronzeville communities of Chicago. Today, the Washington Park Development Group is the largest landowner in the Washington Park community, with about a million square feet of land and more than 300 rehabbed residential units to its name.
It wasn’t the original strategy, Foreman noted, but it turned into an opportunity to have a stronger impact on the community.
“We decided that it’s a place where we could have good community relationships, good political relationships, and get to know everybody in the neighborhood,” he said. “It gave us the ability to make a mark.”
Use Your Voice
In 2010, Mayor Richard M. Daley asked Foreman to serve on the Chicago Police Board, the civilian body that decides police disciplinary cases. Today, he serves as the board’s president.
“As a young Black man, I didn’t even like the police,” he said. “But I did my research and said, ‘If I agree to do this, I’m not going to just do what you tell me to do. I’m going to be independent.’ And that’s what I did from day one. It wasn’t about, ‘The police are the bad guys and the community is right’; it was about being a neutral arm, hearing both points and being able to communicate that to the community.”
With his term on the police board ending in 2023, Foreman says he’s looking ahead to the next challenge. He called on Booth students to make their own impact. “I want to make sure that I use the knowledge I’ve gained over the past 10 or 12 years to try to make improvements,” he said. “My perspective has grown to understand how these challenges are bigger than just the issues that we look at. How can each of us have an impact on our world? You guys are the leaders. You will have a voice. How will you use that voice?”
“The great part about being in a full-time MBA program is that you get an opportunity to explore. So absolutely explore. See what’s out there.”
See What’s Out There
When a student asked Foreman how he was able to carve out a distinctive career after earning an MBA, Foreman acknowledged that Booth students face a lot of pressure to choose conventional, high-paying career paths.
“I always promised myself, ‘I’m not doing consulting,’” Foreman said. “Then the first consulting company that put me on their closed list, I’m in there doing the interview. Goldman Sachs flew me to New York. Investment banking was the last thing I wanted to do, but they invited me, so I’m there.”
He advised students to keep an open mind and leverage their time at Booth to explore the options available to them. “You owe it to yourself to really understand what’s out there,” he said. “The great part about being in a full-time MBA program is that you get an opportunity to explore. So absolutely explore. See what’s out there.”
He encouraged students to think beyond financial considerations in planning their careers, emphasizing that money isn’t the most important thing.
“It’s important—don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But at one point, I was working 80, 90 hours a week. My daughter was a year and a half. I really hadn’t seen her awake except on the weekends. And I realized the money wasn’t worth it to me. I had to figure out where my priorities were and set my life in a place where I could accomplish those things that were important to me.”
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