Last month, Bay Area business leaders gathered at the newly renovated KQED Headquarters on Mariposa St. in San Francisco to hear from a group of successful CEOs during a conversation led by the San Francisco Business Times Publisher Mary Huss.
Over 100 guests enjoyed a reception at the beautiful rooftop deck and made their way to listen to the panel titled “RISE of Diverse Owned Businesses”, a conversation about the experiences of diverse and women-owned businesses.
The panel featured Andrea Brenholz, President and CEO of ATR International, Inc., Judi Townsend, the Founder and CEO of Mannequin Madness, and Carol Williams, President, Owner, CEO, and Chief Creative Officer of Carol H Williams Advertising.
Andrea took over her family business around five years ago. Her parents, both immigrants, started the staffing agency from scratch. Now, it has grown to become a medium-sized business that serves start-ups and Fortune 500 companies, placing over 35,000 employees across the country.
“Everybody has a different story and a different journey, and we should not give up on what our dreams are if we want to start a business,” said Andrea.
Judi, on the other hand, considers herself an accidental entrepreneur. “I was on Craigslist looking for Tina Turner concert tickets, and I came across a post of someone that was selling mannequins. What started as a side hustle has now made me a national distributor.”
Carol, who is a legend in her field, shared the story of when she created the famous tagline for the deodorant Secret, “Strong enough for a man, made for a woman”, during her time at the Leo Burnett Company. Carol H. Williams Advertising, founded in 1986, is the largest Black-owned business based in the Bay Area.
“Diversity is how you view the world, how you see it through your lenses. You remain true to it and put that in business. I think it will pay great dividends to you. I would never advise someone to pretend to be anyone other than your authentic self,” said Carol.
Lastly, Comcast announced its plans to award an additional $1 million in grants to 100 small businesses owned by people of color in Oakland, bringing the total investment in the city to $2 million.
“The Comcast RISE grant is one of the easiest business grants to apply for,” said Judi. “They really understand the needs of entrepreneurs who don’t have time to fill out a lot of paperwork or handle a lot of documentation with strings attached.”
What lies in store for our CEOs as they continue to be trailblaze within their industries? Andrea plans to accelerate DE&I efforts, Judi dreams about buying a sustainable farm in the Bay Area where she can share the space with other like-minded business owners, and Carol is finishing her book. We can’t wait to see these successful Bay Area CEOs’ plans unfold.