Building a World Where Everyone Wins

Stakeholders not shareholders

Bestselling author, serial entrepreneur, and venture capital investor Kathryn Finney returned to Minnesota to share her view about building a better world with the keynote address “Build the Damn Thing,” a Lorentzsen Center + Black Student Union event. It was part of the Lorentzsen Center for Faith and Work’s 2022-23 Community Conversations that explore the question "How do we build a more trustworthy world?” hosted by Dr. Michael J. Chan, executive director for Faith and Learning.

Finney is the managing partner of Genius Guild, a $20 million venture fund and studio that invests in “amazing Black founders,”  and is “one of the most influential women in tech” (Inc. Magazine). Her groundbreaking work has laid the foundation for generations of Black entrepreneurs and investors.

Finney dedicated her book, “Build the Damn Thing: How to Start a Successful Business If You’re Not a Rich White Guy,” to her 7-year-old son Christian, stating “I can’t wait to see the world you build.” When asked about the dedication and its meaning, Finney said, “I’m trying to build a world where everybody wins — the investors, the founders of companies, and the communities where they build their products.”

Finney talked about how there used to be a world where there was more stakeholder capitalism rather than shareholder capitalism. Owners of factories made money, but if you worked for the factory for a number of years you knew you’d get a pension. You knew there’d be money when you retired. There was a time in America when it was more equal. “I want to get us back to that. I think that is sustainable; the path we’re on now is not,” she said.

Finney said we need to expand on what it means to be a company not only to those who own equity but to their employees and the community where its located. “It’s a tough discussion and often becomes political, but it shouldn’t be,” she said. “We all want to drink clean water and breathe good air, but it’s become political and that’s been used to divide us.”

Kumba Glay ’24, president of the Black Student Union, asked how Finney navigates the perspective others put on her. Finney responded that she’s reached the point in her career where she can push back, that with success comes a bit of freedom. She directly challenges those who try to put her in a box.

“While some people are challenged by my identity, there are a lot of people who really appreciate that I am 100% me,” Finney said. “Being myself is so much easier and so much more sustainable.”

She told the audience that her favorite quote was from Rue Paul — “What other people think about you is none of your business.” She added: “You can’t do anything about how they perceive you. Be the best person you can be.”

Finney also discussed the challenges for African Americans who sell their companies. She gave the example of a Liberian immigrant who sold his company to Procter & Gamble for $1.6 billion, a company he had started in Harlem as a street vendor. He got a lot of pushback, but the result was he had the money to be able to save a number of cultural institutions like Essence magazine, one of the most important publications in the African American community, along with a mansion owned by Madam C.J. Walker, an African American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist, and the first female self-made millionaire in America.

When investing, Finney and her team look for companies primarily led by people who have experience and knowledge in the area in which they are building their company. They look for founders who are good people. She’ll turn down those she doesn’t believe have the same values.

Before Glay introduced Finney, she said, “Knowledge is power; however, to gain knowledge one must be given access to information.” One of the things Finney also noted was a historical lack of access to information creating roadblocks for people from marginalized communities. “There’s a lot of things you don’t know about business and how things move in the world,” Finney said.

A question from the audience referred to the emerging research on possible genetic changes that happen because of continuous trauma, that communities that have experienced long periods of trauma might have changes on a genetic level. Finney had started a fund named after her grandma, an entrepreneur she said was born in the wrong decade. Her parents, Finney’s great-grandparents, owned a restaurant and store in the Greenwood, Okla., district that was destroyed by the Tulsa Massacre. The family moved to Kansas and sent all of their children to college, but Finney wonders what would have happened had they not suffered that loss. She said the family has been fighting for 100 years to get an insurance payment.

“What would have happened if my great-grandparents were allowed to be successful businesspeople uninterrupted,” she said.

Finney shared a great deal of information about how to help marginalized communities, how to be successful in business, and how to maintain your own peace. Some of the takeaways:

·      Invite people like her to speak to the community

·      Be available to speak at events at the local high school, not just prestigious events

·      Invite Black people to events like these

·      Get comfortable talking about money

·      Don’t have unrealistic expectations of successful Black people we don’t have of others

·      Decide what your business stands for

·      Stick to your core values as a company and a person

·      Empower others to speak up if they feel you’re not living your values

·      Make time at work to learn

·      Manage expectations

·      Understand that you can’t do it by yourself — you need help

·      Make time for self-care

·      Take your days off — do something other than your job

·      Take vacations — plan them so it’s something to look forward to

·      Be honest with your truth and communicate — overcommunicate

·      Practice mindfulness — take five minutes

·      Be yourself

As part of Finney’s trip to Fargo-Moorhead, she also spoke in classrooms and was a keynote presenter at Emerging Prairie’s StartupBREW Fargo, with a discussion led by Dr. Michael J. Chan.