The US road to business success

The new National Black MBA Association will improve career opportunities for all ethnic minorities
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The Independent Online

Does the name Stan O'Neal mean anything to you? A Harvard Business School MBA, he's the new president and chief operating officer of Merrill Lynch investment bank, and one of only three African-American bosses of the top 500 US companies. That's three more than we can boast. The United Kingdom has a long way to go before the 7 per cent of its ethnic population is reflected in senior executive positions.

For the past eight years, the Chicago-based National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA), a 31-year-old organisation with 6,000 members and representing 95,000 graduates, has been active on this side of the Atlantic. It has organised careers fairs and worked with entrepreneurs and small businesses in London and Birmingham, liaising with UK bodies such as the African and Caribbean Finance Forum.

In July last year, a UK arm of the association was registered as a company. It came into operation in January this year and will be officially launched at a City reception on 24 October. Its executive director is Maureen Salmon, a finalist in this year's European Women of Achievement Awards. "The Association wanted to be able to offer a wider range of activities in the UK and interface with more European organisations," Salmon says. "This has been in part driven by the fact that a number of expatriate members are now widely dispersed in the European market and are looking for more direct support here and opportunities to network."

But how can the business potential of individuals from the UK's diverse ethnic minority groups be harnessed by an organisation set up to meet the needs of African-Americans? "From May to December 2000 my team and I researched the social, cultural, political and economic landscape of the UK market, and what was happening in terms of ethnic minority communities," Salmon says. "We looked at the specific needs of those communities against what the Association has achieved in the US for its constituency, so while we have clearly learnt much from the American experience, we haven't just taken an organisation from the States and replicated it here."

In her discussions with the American Association before setting up the British outfit, Salmon highlighted that in the UK and Europe ethnic minority communities are keen to emphasise working together with all ethnic groups. "We didn't have the kind of segregation that's been the history in the US," she says. "That's absolutely critical to us".

The Black MBA Association is not yet enrolling members, but like its American counterpart it is taking a broad approach to promoting the academic and business success of those it is targeting. This is reflected in one of its first major programmes, Interactive Diversity Exchange (IDX), a series of events taking place in London in November to include seminars, workshops and a careers fair. It will get corporations and business schools together with potential MBA students and entrepreneurs from ethnic communities.

Fast Forward, a two-day European Management Development Institute (EMDI) programme is the most MBA-focused segment of the IDX. It is aimed at encouraging junior to middle managers with three to five years' experience to pursue MBAs or otherwise develop their careers by learning about the latest management tools and techniques.

A key part of Fast Forward will be Destination MBA, a seminar organised jointly by the Black MBA Association and the Association of MBAs, and described as "an introduction to the range of MBA programmes offered by business schools in Europe and the United States, highlighting the advantages of earning an MBA degree". It will cover how to finance your MBA, how to chose a school, and the various MBAs available, according to the project manager, Jenni Headlam Gordon.

The final segment of the Fast Forward programme will be a workshop aimed at impressing on members of ethnic minority communities the advantages of networking, something that business schools have long been tuned into. The event is sponsored by two UK ethnic minority networks established in the Nineties, the Home Office's The Network and the BT Ethnic Minority Network.

The Black MBA Association already has a relationship with London Business School which was forged via contacts in the USA. A range of corporate partners of the American association, such as Coca Cola and Marriott Hotels, have businesses in the UK and Europe.

MBA students such as Petronella Mwasandube, awarded an OBE in recognition of her work promoting the interests of black and ethnic minority staff and patients in the NHS, are welcoming the arrival of the Black MBA Association (UK). "I'm one of three black people on an MBA programme of 24 at Ashridge Business School," Mwasandube says. "Initiatives such as this are very welcome. Establishing ethnic minority networks is the key to generating the confidence our communities need to succeed in the workplace."

For more information about IDX or the Black MBA Association (UK), call 020-7226 8080 or visit www.blackmbauk.org

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