Building relationships is essential to success, said panelists in the third annual alumni weekend sponsored by the Black Business Student Association (BBSA) of Wake Forest University Schools of Business.
“Every job I’ve ever gotten is because I knew somebody who helped me out,” Dana Harville, a vice president and account director for Frank About Women/Mullen in Winston-Salem, told participants.
Wanting to build relationships not only with alumni but also with members of the business community and the university’s faculty and staff was one reason that business students such as Shonna Brackett (MBA ’11), who is in her second year of the MBA program for Working Professionals in Winston-Salem, organized the April 2 event, which included panel discussions during the day and a banquet at night.
“I really want to learn how to better relate to different types of people,” said Brackett, who is squeezing the MBA program into an already full life that includes working full-time and raising two children with her husband. “These types of events really help you learn to relate.”
The theme of the event was “Leveraging Relationships, Overcoming Challenges, Achieving Success.” In the Building Bridges Roundtable Symposium, Harville sat on a panel that included Michael McKinnie (MBA ’98), a senior solution specialist for IBM; Nigel Alston, the executive director of Marketing, Alumni & Community Relations at Winston-Salem State University; Jamin Lundy (MBA ’12); and Tyra Weaver (MA ’11). Denise Franklin (MBA ’06), the general manager of WFDD-FM, served as moderator.
In business, panelists said, it’s important to understand that setbacks that may feel personal may just be business. “There was nothing personal,” Harville said. “Personally, all you can do is do your best.”
At times, race can be a factor, McKinnie said. “The way I have coped with it is being good at what you do.”
Alston talked about the importance of establishing and maintaining a network of contacts. He may periodically send a note to someone he wants to maintain a solid connection with.
“Networking isn’t I give you a card and you don’t call me for two years until you need something,” Alston said. “Relationships are also a function of time and contact.”
Derrick Boone, the director of the MA in Management Program and an associate professor of marketing, sparked a lively discussion when he observed that many students seem reluctant to establish a connection with professors outside of class. In response, some students said they want their work to stand on its own and don’t want to be seen as currying favor. One student said she had been taught to approach a professor outside of class only when she genuinely needed help. In the end, panelists said, people need to learn to set aside such issues as pride and see that developing relationships with professors – and with others in the wider world – is important.
“The professor is a person, and those relationships have value,” McKinnie said.
In the Wake Forest Schools of Business Diversity Update panel discussion, faculty and staff readily acknowledged that Wake Forest has plenty of room for improving diversity, but said that the University is making great strides, thanks to the commitment of President Nathan Hatch, Provost Jill Tiefenthaler and Dean of Business Steve Reinemund. In an opening message to the group, Reinemund said, “We want to make our classrooms and our campus representative of the marketplace.”
One tangible sign of that commitment was the appointment of professor Melenie Lankau to the new position of Senior Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion in January. She said everyone is working to create a more diverse environment at Wake Forest. “I am confident that we are going to be making significant strides in the next three to five years.”
The panel included Wake Forest University faculty and staff members Kevin Bender, Lance Bennett, Derrick Boone, Hansford Johnson and Melvin Scales.
As the assistant director of student career development, Scales provides career coaching to MBA students. As an associate director of graduate business admissions, Bennett travels to colleges and universities to recruit graduate business students. Johnson is the director of the Executive Partnership Mentorship Program. His responsibilities include working with businesses wanting to provide mentors and scholarships for underrepresented groups. Bender is an associate director for graduate business admissions.
Brooks Pollard (MBA ’12), the current president of the association and one of the organizers of this year’s event, used his personal network to land Inga Willis, the CEO of The Mogul Group, an entertainment marketing and consulting company based in Atlanta, as the keynote speaker at the banquet, which was held at Graylyn International Conference Center.
She delivered an energetic, upbeat talk that urged everyone to strive for greatness and to take obstacles in stride.
“Counter adversity with resilience,” Willis said. “Every obstacle needs to be seen as an opportunity to be stronger. You have been in training for your destiny for a lifetime….Success is a highway. Pick your lane.”
At the same time, she said, you have to be open new paths as they present themselves because, sometimes, what God has planned for you is greater than what you could imagine for yourself. She concluded by urging everyone to “exude excellence.”