Diversity affects your company’s bottom line. As the general population of the US becomes increasingly heterogeneous, it’s important for business leaders to understand that their general customer base will follow suit. In order to effectively reach these growing sectors of the consumer demographic, you must understand their habits, interests, and sensitivities. Get it right, and you’ve won the race. Get it wrong, and your company will take a hefty hit later down the road. Lately we’ve been witnessing first hand what happens when marketing execs make these easily avoidable mistakes.
As a part of my series about “Black Men and Women of The C-Suite”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Eric Martin, an award-winning entrepreneur based in Atlanta, GA. After seeing a need to restructure the international travel landscape for travelers of color, in April of 2015 he co-created Black & Abroad, a travel company geared toward enhancing the travel experiences for travelers of color. His efforts have landed him on international stages from the British Library and the United Nations, to the pages of publications like American Express, Black Enterprise, Ebony Magazine, Rolling Out, MIC.com, Skift Magazine, and The Washington Post. Through the success of his company, Eric encourages others by sharing his insights on disruptive innovation at speaking engagements around the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My father is a general contractor in the DC metropolitan area. As kids, my brothers and I would roll along with him to his job sites on the weekends and he’d put us to work! It was there that I learned the value of hard work and good leadership. Fast forward to high school, where I got to study the nuts and bolts of big tourism working for a major tour operator on the weekends and summer breaks. I didn’t know it at the time, but in hindsight, I was building a strong foundation for the path that had awaited me as an adult. Around 2014, I started to travel a lot. It seemed as though all the places that interested me were places that none of my friends had been before, so I would have to go online to do my own research. One of the things that I’d noticed online, was a scarcity of black faces in these obscure places around the world. I would go to some of the more popular travel websites and would only see my likeness reflected in positions of servitude: the attendants, the waiting staff, the drivers and so on. This narrative couldn’t be further from the truth as research at the time had proven that black Americans spent upwards of $48 billion on travel annually. This led my business partner Kent Johnson and I, on a mission to debunk the black stereotypes in travel to create a fair and equitable experience for the black traveler.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In the beginning it wasn’t uncommon for me to receive negative feedback from people who’d struggled to grasp the vision. Some even insinuated that we change our company name to something more ‘palatable’ to cast a wider net. I can specifically remember being advised by an accomplished entrepreneur who I highly respected, that I “shouldn’t focus on serving black just people,” rather “focus on serving ALL people.” The nuances in that statement set off red flags for me. Needless to say, that was the last meeting we’d ever had until they ironically reached out to me a few years later wanting to ‘invest in the movement.’ Of course I declined. But the lesson for me was to never solicit advice from someone who failed to understand the vision, regardless of his or her status or influence.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the funniest mistakes I can recall was my first international speaking gig a few years ago. I’d spent all week preparing the slide deck only to find out 3 minutes prior to the lecture that the AV system at the venue was completely down! As always, I’d made sure that I saved the deck to my laptop the night before. My only issue was that I couldn’t fathom the idea of standing in front of a audience, struggling through the lines of an hour-long presentation from my laptop. I exhausted all options and finally decided to scrap the slide deck idea and speak to the audience straight from memory & experience. The listeners were extremely engaged, and I learned at that moment that PowerPoint slides can‘t always speak to an audience — but I can.
Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?
1. A company is only as good as its leadership execs. Your company’s leaders should reflect the faces, ideas and beliefs of your personnel and client base. A diverse work environment should serve as a warm nest, birthing fresh, colorful ideas into the company culture. This is one of the key strategies to drive employee performance. If an employee can see diversity reflected in all levels of company leadership, then they are more likely to feel comfortable bringing their most unique, innovative ideas to the table without the fear of being ostracized or misunderstood.
2. Diversity affects your company’s bottom line. As the general population of the US becomes increasingly heterogeneous, it’s important for business leaders to understand that their general customer base will follow suit. In order to effectively reach these growing sectors of the consumer demographic, you must understand their habits, interests, and sensitivities. Get it right, and you’ve won the race. Get it wrong, and your company will take a hefty hit later down the road. Lately we’ve been witnessing first hand what happens when marketing execs make these easily avoidable mistakes.
3. It’s critical for your company’s reputation. Companies that embrace diversity are often heralded for its efforts. Lists like Forbes “Best Employers for Diversity” help to shed light on these companies, enhancing their overall reputation. Today’s job market is more competitive than ever. A company with a good reputation has a greater chance of attracting and retaining good candidates.
More broadly can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?
It promotes cultural osmosis. There’s a cross-cultural exchange of knowledge that occurs in this type of environment. These subconscious doses of culture encourage employees to accept and embrace the differences of others. This can have an effect on our culture at large by helping the employees thrive not only in the workplace, but also in society as a whole.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?
To move the needle on the diversity issue, we must start at the recruitment level. There must be talent acquisition strategies put in place to generate a pool of candidates from all ends of the spectrum. Recruiting from colleges with higher diversity indexes along with HBCUs, and HSLs Is a great way start. Working with the surrounding community is another. Partnering corporate leaders with local community leaders can help businesses identify local talent. It can also help to improve community relations.
Another way to drive diversity is for companies to work closely with their affinity groups. Companies often underestimate the effectiveness of Employee Resource Groups or ERG’s. One way to effectively utilize these resource groups is to link each leadership exec to at least one corresponding ERG. This will help to promote diversity, creating a live channel of communication and accountability between leaders and their supporting teams. You can also implement an ERG employee referral program to help build a more diverse pool of talent.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
There’s leadership, and then there’s good leadership. Good leadership is measured by a person’s ability to use their influence as a tool to connect, engage, and strengthen the team. He or she recognizes the strengths of each team member and constructively challenges each member to pursue the best version of themselves to reach the team’s objectives. With good leadership, each team member walks away empowered and prepared to take on the next project. Let’s keep in mind though that an organization can be an example of good leadership as well. One example that comes to mind is the team at Pendleton Solutions, a women/minority owned & managed security-consulting firm based out of the Washington DC metropolitan area. The company, constituted largely of women executives is to paving the way for other women and minorities interested in securing a stake in this male-dominated industry. Despite the pressures, the company galvanizes their team into action everyday by ensuring that each team member understands their individual impact to the company’s overall mission.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Work/life balance is essential. — When building my business, it wasn’t uncommon for me to end up working long nights and still wake up the next morning feeling like there was work to be done. It was almost like there weren’t enough hours in the day. It’s easy to get caught in that rabbit hole of endless work hours once you start to see results. It wasn’t until I discovered a work-shaped void in my personal life that I found myself having to realign in order to produce my best work & ideas. Spending more time connecting with friends, family and myself. Everything requires balance. There’s a time to turn on and a time to turn off.
2. Work on your business, not in your business. — Don’t be afraid to delegate daily responsibilities to other team members or employees. Once your company grows to a certain point, you won’t have a choice. It can be a bit daunting, especially if you’re a perfectionist like myself. At Black & Abroad, I’ve personally found that standardizing processes help to create consistency and quality across the board. As the architect of your company’s future, you’re responsible for team building and strategy deployment to add value to your market and overall vision.
3. Network across .– For some reason, I could never get with the idea of ‘networking up.’ I understand it, but it just doesn’t seem organic to me. Some people do it successfully, but if it isn’t natural to me then I don’t have a desire. I am however, comfortable with leveraging organic relationships to create mutually beneficial opportunities for all involved. The potential for these organic relationships are all around us. The people we meet at seminars, social outings, or even your network of college classmates. When you network across, you grow together, adding even more strength to the relationship. One of my favorite places to meet other professionals is a co-working spot in Atlanta called The Gathering Spot.
4. Emotional intelligence always wins. — A high EQ can take your business a long way. Most business owners can agree that no two days are ever alike. There can be unforeseen issues with vendors or suppliers one day, to web server issues the next. The key is to not fight fire with fire. Hold onto your sanity in times of volatility, and assemble your team to contain the matter to before it contaminates other areas of your company.
5. It’s Ok to say NO! — Once you start getting noticed for your work, the opportunities you used to work so hard for will just start to roll in. Don’t be so quick to say yes to everything. Not long ago, I was approached with a travel opportunity that offered a great salary but went directly against Black & Abroad’s core values. Moving forward with that deal could’ve tarnished the image of both my personal and professional brand. In other words, all money ain’t good money
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A study done by the Mandala Research Group in 2018 revealed that black buying power in the travel industry has reached $63 billion. As the #blackandabroad movement continues to inspire members of the African diaspora, we’ve decided to galvanize our economic power by driving our community members to black businesses worldwide. Our latest endeavor, Project Beeline will connect members of our community with black-owned businesses affiliated with tourism around the world, helping to mobilize these companies, and further circulate the black dollar.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Trust the process” is the one quote I live by. All you can do is your best foot forward and walk in integrity. Let the universe sort out the rest. There will be times when immediate circumstances may get in the way and tempt you to loose sight of your vision. We’ve all been there before. Don’t lose sight! You have to relentlessly believe in your own ideas before you try to sell them to others. Trust the process, and know that you have the full capacity to manifest your ideas.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
A Canadian businessman by the name of Bruce Poon Tip. Bruce is the founder of G Adventures, a travel company he founded back in 1990 as a one man show, and has since grown to employ over 2200 people in 28 offices around the world. I got a chance to read his book, and always thought it would be dope to connect at some point.
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much!