New, old issues for magazine chief


Q&A//Earl "Butch" Graves Jr.


When Black Enterprise magazine was first published 36 years ago, its founder challenged readers to imagine the day when there would be a black chief executive officer or president of a major company.

Now, there are Robert Johnson, Dick Parsons, Stanley O'Neal and a host of others.

As black America continues to make strides in the business world, Black Enterprise is undergoing leadership changes.

In January, founder Earl Graves Sr. passed the reins to his son, Earl "Butch" Graves Jr., who took on the roles of chief executive and president.

The change comes as the magazine has watched its circulation more than double, from 200,000 in 1997 to more than 500,000 today. The company posted revenues of $20 million in 1996 and expects that to increase to $60 million this year.

The younger Graves visited Baltimore recently as the keynote speaker of the 2nd Black CEO Summit gala dinner. He talked to The Sun about the future of the magazine.

How did you feel taking over the magazine that your father started years ago, and did you always think you'd end up in the family business?

We are expanding Black Enterprise from being what was a single-title publication into what today is a multimedia company. That is our vision. I always was attracted to the business my father was in. I felt he was making a real contribution to this country and for black people in particular. I was attracted to that and wanted to maintain what he had started.

What's the most important thing you learned from your father about running a successful business?

Without question, the most important thing is integrity. My father has uncompromised integrity in everything he does, and as a businessperson your integrity is what I think counts most and what people respect most.

What direction do you want to take the magazine in now? What's going to change and what's going to stay the same?

I think that we're evolving. I don't want to look at us as being a magazine anymore. I want to look at us as being a media company. And that's what we are. Today, 35 percent of our revenue is generated from things outside of the magazine itself. And so the vision for the future is that we will continue to keep the magazine strong by looking into additional media outlets, additional media opportunities.

Young people digest the news completely different than my father did 20 years ago, 30 years ago, or even 10 years ago for that matter. We need to invest in those technologies where the future growth is.

Can you give me some examples? I know you have a television station and a radio station. What are some other areas?

We have two television shows. We have the Black Enterprise Report, which is a show that has been running for two years now. It has done very well. It's a national show. It's going to be found across the country, and it's syndicated through WGN. And we just purchased America's Black Forum. We plan to upgrade it and relaunch it as something totally different. The working title is America's Black Experience. We feel there is a real need for intelligent programming within the African-American community and that full diaspora of what African-Americans stand for.

We have a radio show that we did a deal with Clear Channel, and it's called Keys to a Better Life. It is where we give one-minute tips on all kinds of different things that can make your life better. It's during morning and evening drive time. All those things are exciting. They're new for us.

Can you talk a little bit about how the condition of and needs of black businesses have changed since your father first started the company?

The one thing that has remained constant is the need for access to capital. That challenge remains the same whether or not it was 50 years ago, 30 years ago or today. The lack of access to capital still is the greatest thing plaguing African-American businesses. Now, that aside, I think the challenge is a little different today in that we have enjoyed the opportunity to get educated, if you will; to have had access to working corporate America; to do some of the other things that perhaps were not available 30 years ago.

Racism, which was in your face 30 years ago, is now more institutionalized. It's more beneath the radar screen. When my father says this, people don't believe him, but "it is tougher today for you to run this business than it was in 1970." In 1970 people had a conscience. People thought they needed to do the right thing. They felt as if they had done a wrong and they needed to right a wrong. Today ... you don't have that same sort of political consciousness that you did then. ...

You're always going to face some degree of racism on certain things. But you've got to find your niche and you've got to persevere regardless of obstacles put in front of you. And you have to believe.

Why is a magazine like Black Enterprise relevant even at a time when you have mainstream publications covering the same issues?

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