Preparing Future Executives for Corporate Success

The Dallas Examiner

Corporate success for future minority executives is serious business for the founding members of the Marcus Graham Project. To prepare this young group for the long journey ahead, the MGP developed a hard-core training program in the form of a boot camp.

iCR8 is a not your typical summer boot camp. Participants do presentations – not push-ups, reside in lofts instead of barracks and heed the words of advertising moguls over drill sergeants. But the white-collar boot camp is far from a cakewalk.

It’s a grueling 10-week unpaid internship that whips budding minority professionals into shape for leadership in the marketing, advertising and public relations industries.

The goal is daunting given the statistics. According to the 2010 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than 10 percent of advertising and promotions managers are Hispanic or Latino and little more than two percent are Asian. Less than one percent of advertising and promotion managers are African American.

These numbers inspired Dallas natives Lincoln Stephens, Larry Yarrell and Jon Goff to dream up MPG, the umbrella nonprofit organization that fathered iCR8 boot camp along with several other community programs to address the media industry’s diversity gap.

“We started as an idea in 2007. It was an idea that we wrote on a piece of paper that we then wrote later on a window in my condo, when I lived in Chicago,” Stephens recalled.

“Now we have moved from an idea on a piece of paper into a 3,000 square foot office, where we get to work with our students and work with young people and people in the community and have events and really give an energy that helps people to continue to realize their potential and their purpose – whether it’s in this industry or outside the industry. That’s our main goal,” he explained.

Last month, that South Side Lamar office was the site of the intern team’s mid-program report. Before an intimate audience of sponsors, media and community supporters, the group of 11 from across the nation showcased the work of Bippitus, their marketing consulting firm in a presentation that offered glimpses of the group’s application for John Legend’s Show Me Campaign, branding work for Lammon Rucker’s Forplai natural bath and body care line, Neo Soul Café, TPN retail marketing agency and plans for the upcoming cross-country marketing research project for AT&T.

Laura Hernandez, AT&T’s executive director of multicultural marketing, highlighted the importance of such an opportunity:

“As a professional that started out in an agency, it’s invaluable to get that kind of hands-on experience with real clients. It’s pretty extraordinary. They are way ahead of the game,” Hernandez stated.

With opportunity comes great responsibility.

“It’s not like a 40-hour a week internship; they probably spend 60 to 70 hours minimum,” co-founder Lincoln Stephens noted.

The interns aren’t complaining. They readily endure the long days and sometimes sleepless nights for the opportunity to be tomorrow’s industry leaders. Some are fresh out of college. Others are a class or two shy from crossing the commencement stage. Houstonian Erin Jordan is a 25-year-old graduate student in communications at the University of Houston. After viewing the testimonials and Youtube videos of previous attendees, Jordan excitedly applied.

“I did a lot of research and I looked at what was provided. I looked at old videos to see who they spoke to. I looked at the jobs they had gotten – if they had gotten jobs … Just all the top executives and CEOs from these advertising agencies that I’ve a dreamed about working with,” Jordan remarked.

Last year, five of the 11 interns were placed in jobs in the country’s most lucrative advertising agencies, including Dallas-based Richards Group, Weiden+Kennedy and RAPP.

But not all of the interns are workforce rookies. Ohio native Jeremy K. Smith, 29, started a small company in college and has since launched the social media company Authentic Media. He currently has five clients. What made Smith postpone his entrepreneurial pursuits to work as an unpaid summer intern?

“I got a tweet about the Marcus Graham project back in November, called Lincoln up one Saturday morning and we talked for about 30 minutes. Thought he was a great guy and decided to apply,” he stated.

He cited the program’s great exposure and experience as driving reasons behind the decision and showed no signs of regret.

“Here I am. It’s been fantastic,” Smith exclaimed.

As the group made its final preparations to the presentation, boot camp alumnus Gbenga Obafemi milled among them to offer encouragement. The New York native was in the first iCR8 group and met his current boss at Culture Group through the Marcus Graham Project. When asked about his experience as one of the program’s guinea pigs, Obafemi was more than happy to take a stroll down memory lane.

“We had no budget … and that is important,” he jokingly recalled.

Nevertheless, it may have been resourcefulness and community support that helped the group overcome the financial obstacles facing the new nonprofit.

“It was like God put people in our way who were just like ‘I got you,” Obafemi reflected. ”Just seeing where it is now – it’s something beautiful that’s growing. And the network that it’s creating is really something special, too.”

His presence at the mid-program update on July 8th was two-fold.

“I’ve been where they are, I see them doing great things. I see them up all night working on stuff for an account. So I came to support. And I also came for inspiration. I think we all inspire each other just by being with each other and just having regular conversations. So, that’s kind of why I stick around here,” he stated.

That is exactly the kind of community Stephens and his fellow co-founders hoped to create.

“This is like a fraternity … of change agents, of next generations of talent, of leaders in our industry. That’s the relationship that they have,” Stephens stated.

It’s a connection that will last well beyond the winding days of summer camp.


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