Carole Brown

With us today, we have PNC's Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer, Richard Bynum. In his role as Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer, Richard leads the PNC Foundation, Community Affairs and Corporate Social Responsibility, Community Development Banking, and Diversity and Inclusion.

In his role as our Chief Responsibility Officer, Richard is responsible also for implementing PNC's Community Benefits Plan through which the company has committed to provide at least $88 billion in loans, investments, and other financial support to benefit low- and moderate-income individuals and communities. As part of our community benefit plan, PNC is already committed to a 5-year, $16.8 million grant to Howard University to create a center for entrepreneurship, education, and research. The goal of the center is to serve the nation's network of 101 historically Black colleges and universities and their communities.

Joining Richard today to talk a little bit about the Center for Entrepreneurship, Education, and Research, as well as to share insights on the way for-profit and not-for-profit organizations can help to magnify their impact on individuals and surrounding communities, is the Dean of Howard University School of Business, Anthony Wilbon. So, Richard, I'm going to turn it over to you and Dean Wilbon, to get into the conversation on the power of partnerships.

Richard Bynum

Carole, great, thank you so much for having us today and appreciate the introduction and just to give everyone a little bit of background, so the Corporate Responsibility Group at PNC is coming up on its second anniversary. I've been with the firm for a number of years and in many cases, some of the functions that Carole related earlier that are now a part of Corporate Responsibility at PNC, have been alive for many years. But I think it's fair to say, a couple of years ago, during 2020, both pandemic and civil unrest and lots of issues of concern in front of all of us, Bill, who I caught the tail end of his speaking here a moment ago, and others on our board really challenged the company to think more deeply about how we could help the communities that we operate in thrive and on the presumption that if those communities thrive, we would thrive.

And at the time, I was the regional president for our greater Washington market, which is the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Virginia, and was helping the company think through a lot of issues related to what we now call ESG and diversity and inclusion, and Bill asked me to take the helm of this and really kind of structure the organization and really point it towards some of these issues and opportunities.

And when we thought about disparities we didn't have to really do like a lot of hard research, right? Unfortunately, the data seems pretty clear, it is very apparent, easy to reference, and what we connected ourselves to in terms of being a bank, what could we do to enable change in relation to those gaps was we identified three areas -- economic empowerment, education, and entrepreneurship.

And today we're going to focus on entrepreneurship and the partnership that Dean Wilbon and I and others in the company and his university have come together around and we'll get into why we think that's a real worthy both effort and what we're really looking forward to the center producing on behalf of both of our organizations. And before I jump into that, maybe, Dean Wilbon, I want to ask you to share your background.

Anthony Wilbon

Thanks, Richard. It's a pleasure to be here. I appreciate the invitation. I'm looking forward to the conversation. Again, I am the Dean of the Howard University School of Business, I've been at Howard about 11 years now in various roles, mostly in the area of information systems. I'm a faculty member in the information systems department but I also do work, or have done work in research and small businesses, mostly around tech. entrepreneurship and technology strategy. And so, again, to your point about the importance of this, I certainly acknowledge the importance of us focusing on entrepreneurship as a goal, long-term, and the impact it has on the broader community. Because that's kind of my background, as well, and I've done research in that area. Because I kind of blend this area of technology and business through my background, so been dean here for a number of years, and associate dean in the Dean's Office and was happy to have the opportunity to converse with PNC's Foundation about this and we're certainly excited about getting this thing going.

Richard Bynum

As are we, and to reinforce the point, so last year we agreed to a 5-year, $16.8 million grant to Howard University to create the Howard University and PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship. And the concept of the center I think is really even bigger than sort of that sounds. That sounds like a lot, I think it's even bigger than that because the idea is for Howard University to be the hub as one of the strongest historically Black colleges and universities in the country but to be the hub for both content, curricula, best practice, and an opportunity for HBCUs all around the country to engage.

And so, when we got into the discussion and I happened to be connected to a number of current and former Howard University executives, including President Frederick today, but also President Swygert and the former dean of the business school as well. We got into a discussion about how could we architect this such that other historically Black colleges and universities could take advantage? And we were lucky enough to have our partners at Howard have relationships with places like Clark Atlanta University, Morgan State University, and Texas Southern University, that really complemented our footprint and were able to really directly connect the resources that we had on the ground to those individuals and so we're still in the early days and I think there's a lot of work, obviously a lot of work ahead, including soon announcing the first executive director of the center. But again, we couldn't be more excited for the work, and Dean Wilbon, I guess in your own words, could you tell us what the partnership means to Howard, it's students and not only maybe the surrounding communities, but the broader HBCU community?

Anthony Wilbon

Sure, yeah. So, I think generally, if we just talk about schools of businesses or universities generally, partnerships are kind of the backbone of what we do in order to kind of create that bridge between the theoretical aspects of academia and the practice-oriented needs of the country through corporate entities or non-profit entities or whatever the placement of our students end up being.

Partnerships are the backbone, I think that's how we build innovative practices that are very focused on helping our curricula grow, that's how we prepare our students for careers and help them understand how to adapt and adjust to what's relevant in today's business world and it also creates opportunities for us through internships, create experiential opportunities for our students to gain experiences that they need prior to jumping into the workforce.

And that also applies to our faculty because it's important for our faculty to kind of keep their feet on both sides of the lane here when it comes to the pure theoretical aspects of, in our case, business, and what really happens in the real-world. So, we thrive on partnerships, we believe partnerships are important for what we do.

So, when we talk about this particular option that is this opportunity here generally in entrepreneurship, and I think we may get to that a little bit later in our conversation, but I think that this particular partnership is critically important because we understand that entrepreneurship is kind of a bridge for helping our students understand what are the needs of the business world. Small business community is the engine of this country. The majority of the companies in this country are companies with less than a hundred thousand dollars in revenue and fewer than five people. And there's a great reliance on them through almost every corporation in this country through the supply chains that are existing. And so we have to make sure that those small businesses are strong, we want to make sure that our students have an opportunity to engage in those opportunities for small businesses and building businesses, and that they recognize the need for being their own boss, if that's their desire.

And so, we need to be able to build that kind of ecosystem on campus, and through these partnerships, like what we talked about with PNC, that's how we connect that thread.

Richard Bynum:

Yeah, I mean, I love what you said there. So, this notion of small business being the engine of the American economy, it absolutely is. More than half the jobs created are through small business. My own background, I used to run the small business division for PNC, so love this space.

One of the sort of breathtaking anecdotes that I've learned over the course of the last couple of years is I've gotten involved on this side of our businesses, that during the pandemic, 41% of Black-owned small businesses were closed as a function of the pandemic. And on its face you say, well of course, because the markets closed down and so forth but part of being entrepreneurs is the resilience of being able to retain and sustain through any number of economic circumstances. This just happened to be a pandemic which was pretty dire. Can you give me a sense from your perspective, why you think entrepreneurship was a worthy place for us to come together and have as an area of focus?

Anthony Wilbon

Absolutely, I want to get to your point about the pandemic as well, because I think that's critical in terms of how these companies did or did not survive that. But I think again, there are a couple of most important things I think, again, if we're talking about building wealth, this is probably one of the key areas that you can do that, particularly around African American wealth. Building wealth is important for us to sustain as a community and the best way to do that, other than investment, is through developing your own businesses and making sure those businesses thrive.

Now the challenge with that is it's, it requires a lot more work than people think. I think a lot of the businesses that did not make it through the pandemic we probably can look at the fact that they did not have the solid infrastructure to ensure their sustainability. They were able to sustain themselves on a day-to-day basis, paycheck to paycheck, so to speak, if we want to look at it in that way. But when it came to having a solid infrastructure so that they could sustain themselves through crisis, most all of them are vulnerable.

And so, we saw that this particular crisis was enough to really tilt everybody over the edge and close a lot of these businesses. And when I say infrastructure, I'm referring to capital, having access to capital when needed, having the infrastructure in place around your business and your strategy so that when you do need to go and get additional capital, you're able to do that. We have businesses who, for example, when the PPP loans came out, did not have accounting systems in place to be able to present their businesses in a way to get that money or they did not have plans or strategic plans in place, or business plans in place. They weren't able to pivot, and you know, a lot of these companies, if we look at for example, restaurants who pivoted online very quickly, they had no infrastructure information, technology infrastructure to do that.

So, those kinds of things are critical to ensure that you're going to survive the rough times. And we didn't have people who were able to do that. And so one of the most important aspects of this particular program is ensuring that these companies have that kind of infrastructure, or if not, at least access to the content and the network of people that can help them build it so that they can be sustainable long-term. And so again, I think that that's one of the most important parts of the program we're trying to build.

Richard Bynum

I could not agree more. So, this Center for Entrepreneurship is going to sit in the nation's capital at Howard University. I mentioned earlier the three other HBCUs, Clark Atlanta in Atlanta, Morgan State on the East Coast, and Texas Southern in sort of the central part of the United States, that's central southern. They're going to be regional centers that help coordinate programs and the research and the community outreach through, to the 101 HBCUs around the country, but can you talk a little bit about how you envision that these national and regional centers are going to impact the communities on the ground, where they are?

Anthony Wilbon

Yeah, so what we --what we decided to design was kind of a hub-and-spoke model where Howard would be the hub and we were going to be the national center location, and we had these regional hubs in Baltimore, Atlanta, and Houston. We want to be strategic in how we selected them, and actually in collaboration with PNC we identified them because that's where PNC has some pretty strong market presence.

And again, the goal is to create these regional centers with the intent that they would actually spread out to the HBCUs within their regions. And so, we've split them up into regions for example, Clark Atlanta is responsible for all the HBCUs in South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi and so forth. And so, our goal is to take this method that we've created and build capacity, just like the need for infrastructure in some of these small businesses, many of our HBCUs need to have their capacity built such that they can provide the support to the small businesses that are surrounding their communities.

So, the goal is to kind of build content, build access to information, build a network of entrepreneurs within the student body of these institutions, and give these institutions the strength and the capacity to do that, but also, most importantly I think, is to reach out to the communities that are surrounding these academic institutions.

We're talking about a large part of the Southeast, right? Almost from Ohio all the way down to Texas and Florida. That's a pretty large part of the American population and there are small businesses throughout.

Using this network, we can actually access the students, get them prepared to get into the entrepreneurship space, but also access the current small businesses and strengthen them so that they can address some of the needs that they have around access to capital, access to debt if they need it, access to understanding and get consultations around building business plans, information technology infrastructure, customer relationship management systems, really give them all the tools that they need to succeed. And I think this is, ideally, I think this is the best way we can do this is through this network of institutions we're building.

Richard Bynum

So, today we're in the midst of, I think, seeing more partnerships between corporations and HBCUs, probably than --certainly in the near past, so with all of this emphasis that we've seen, right, and our particular partnership has to do with entrepreneurship, certainly others do as well, do you think it's possible for us to reinvent or revise the "Black Wall Street" phenomenon that we saw more than a hundred years ago?

Anthony Wilbon

Yeah, I think so, and I think we can actually do much larger than that. We're, I think that that model was very important for the time, it was a community of African American businesses that were supporting the needs of those people in that particular city or region of the country, and those, there were pockets of that all over the country that people may or may not be aware of. Black businesses thrived throughout the country during times when they had no other options. I would like to just suggest we think more broadly than, I think that we have an opportunity to build a network of small Black businesses that can have an impact across the globe.

We have an opportunity to, because of the shrinking network of folks through our communication channels, we have access to China, South America, South Africa, we can build a network of organizations I think that can do business across the globe and build and entity that's going to replicate what a Black Wall Street did on a larger scale and a much larger impact. And using the technology that's available to us, using the network that's available to us, using everything from artificial intelligence to neuro networks, we can really build out something that can be very significant.

So, although I believe that those historical moments were very critically important to understanding how you can build a community of African American businesses that thrive, I think we can broaden our scope to include a community of African American businesses that thrive globally and have a much broader impact, and that's hopefully the goal that we're going to try to accomplish.

Richard Bynum

That's terrific. Absolutely terrific. So, one of the things that I know about Howard, is that you all do a particularly good job of partnering with lots of folks to bring not only resources to your students, but as we've done here, really resources to the broader HBCU community. You're a leader in that space. If you could give advice to for-profit organizations who are looking to partner with not-for-profit organizations, how would you tell them to think about maximizing the benefit without creating an undue burden on the not-for-profit?

Anthony Wilbon

Yeah, and that's an interesting question, Richard, I think that if we were to do a case study, I think what we did with you all would be an ideal case study of how to do it. The intent is to really be creative and innovative in how you approach these things. I think everybody comes to the table with kind of preconceived notions about how they want a partnership to work. I think when we came together, and I think the advice to other folks who may want to try this, is we kind of let down the barriers. We wanted to make sure that we did something that was outside of the box and innovative, and really thought through this process.

You all kind of had the same goal, and we came together and kind of threw around ideas about how to do that. We made a proposition to you about what we thought would be innovative and a good idea, you came back to us and brought your strengths and your thoughts strategically about how it fits within the foundations, goals, and expectations and we kind of rolled through this. And it wasn't a quick process, and we had discussions for this for 6 months to a year almost, before we actually honed in on what we wanted to do.

So, there's a level of patience that's attached to this as well and respect for the different types of institutions.

There are challenges when you try to bring these two entities together, academic institutions have their own way of doing things and they have traditionally done them that way for a long time, it's not always efficient or effective, non-profits and for-profits have the same things that are going on.

So, we have to figure out a way to break down those walls to get to the goals that we're accomplishing, understand the dynamics that we're all dealing with, with all the different institutions that we're working with. I think it's doable, I think it's advisable, I think that's how we get to the most creative solutions to some of the problems we're facing. Because public-private partnerships all have a strength that they can bring to solving these problems. It can't be done with just corporate entities because they have to abide by some of the expectations of the shareholders, can't be done with just academic institutions because our focus is totally different on building student strengths and research, but the strength of both of them can really come together to solve some of the most critical problems and we pull in government, I mean that three wheeled vehicle is going to be something that's critically important to really helping us to break down some of these walls.

And these problems are not insurmountable, they are problems that can be solved, it's just a matter of putting in the work to do it and getting the right people at the table that are open-minded enough to think through them.

Richard Bynum

Dr. Wilbon, thank you.