(FinalCall.com) – Black man, father and author Michael V. Roberts is a conscious capitalist, always ready willing and able to place his considerable financial resources behind causes he believes in. Along with his brother Steven, the men have amassed a considerable business empire. Mr. Roberts is equally willing to share his experience and knowledge with those interested in following his example and ultimately (hopefully) achieving the same level of success. The millionaire businessman sat down with The Final Call’s Ashahed M. Muhammad at one of his properties recently in Marietta, Georgia.
The Final Call (FC:) What is your view of the concept of “Buying Black” and as a Black businessman and owner of many establishments, why is it important for you to support events such as the Million Man March, the Millions More Movement and host other conferences aimed at Black empowerment?
Michael V. Roberts (MVR:) I think the concept of buying Black has been something that has been raised for an eternity. One of the challenges that we had in the ‘60s and ‘70s is that we pushed that argument and every organization whether it was a militant organization or a more passive organization had one fundamental underlying philosophy and that is within our community, we should exchange some level of commerce and we should do business with each other. The Black dollar should turn over 2 or 3 times before it leaves the community and historically it turns over almost as quickly as it comes in.
So to have the opportunity to own hotels and I have 11, and leading the largest owned and managed group of African American hotels in America, I think it is only consistent with my philosophy and my brother’s philosophy that if we are to set an example, that example has to be seen and heard. Then we have to put our money where our mouth is. So in buying hotels among our other businesses of course, we find that if we can bring organizations that deliver a message of unity to our properties and show that we can have a first class operation and break the stereotype even amongst our own people–that in order for you to do business with us you have to have second hand, second level lower tier products; you have to pay exuberant prices sometimes, overpriced; your accommodations are not going to be as worthy as you would like for them to be, or not as worthy as your dollar is. So each of our properties were built to be first class top drawer we can compete with anyone.
One thing that I have not mentioned and that is when I renovated this Crowne Plaza Hotel it was ranked as the best renovated hotel among all Crowne Plaza’s in the world. Our staff was rated as the best staff of all Crowne Plaza’s in the world and that is not a race issue, that is a quality issue. So if we can allow everyone to stay here it’s a good thing for Black folks.
FC: I’ve noticed that you’ve done something that we don’t often see many Black business owners do, which is to start a legacy program. Not a legacy in just title but really allowing your son Mark to have “hands-on” business operation experience and certain level of authority to make certain decisions and involved in the inner workings of the business operation. Why was that important to you?
MVR: Let me start by saying that our 76 companies all start with the name “Roberts.” I had a guy one time say to me, “You know you name everything ‘Roberts’ this and ‘Roberts’ that. What is that, some kind of ego problem?” My response to him was, “What is yours, an envy problem?” I said you wouldn’t say that to Mr. Rockefeller or Mr. Chevrolet or Mr. Ford, why are you saying that to me? And when you are drinking that (beer) you don’t say that to Mr. Anheuser or Mr. Busch or Mr. Coors or Mr. Miller, so get out of my face, brother! You need to wake up! What we have to do is understand that what may seem to be an ego today, 40 years from now it will be a legacy.
FC: Also a reason for the book?
MVR: I wrote it to my children and everybody’s children because when you finish school, like when I finished law school and I wanted to go into business, I was clueless. I thought of the MBA’s that finished school academically but in terms of the secrets and strategies of business, they didn’t have it. So I wrote a book that helps you develop and helps you think through the traps and see the opportunities. How important is self-esteem and how do you sustain it in turbulent times? That is all in my book so it was so important for me to make sure that my children first got an academic training, and then sending them to law school. Why law school? Well because my plan was to get them as academically prepared with their jurist doctorate degree as (quickly) as possible. I could lose every dime I have but they will never lose their education and training and they can always come back. We hear the stories over and over about people losing and coming back. In order for them to really fulfill that objective or that mission, they also have to be exposed to the business and they have to have duties and responsibilities. That is why my son is involved in running a hotel’s group, mentoring under some very brilliant people. So yes, Mark has been engaged in our business almost immediately out of school and even growing up all my children worked there. My brother Steve and his boys and daughters have all been a part of Roberts.
FC: On a personal level as it relates to your relationship over the years with Brother Akbar and your relationship with Minister Farrakhan…
MVR: I’ve known both Minister Akbar and Minister Farrakhan for about 30 years. I knew Brother Akbar when he first moved to St. Louis around 1975. I had just come out of law school and I had been a community activist for some time and was working in the direction of becoming a political candidate in 1977 and was elected. I was Jimmy Carter’s campaign manager at that time, just a young guy around 25. I rose quickly into an image and he was right there.
I got acquainted with Akbar to the extent that we jointly would do events over time. I remember he called when Kwame Ture was coming, on his last trip he was trying to raise money to get him back to Africa so he can rest in peace. I said no problem. We are going to do that. At the time I had a large restaurant so we had a large fund raiser there and then a smaller more intimate and upscale fundaraiser at my house. We did that and we raised more money–net–than when he left and had this large deal in Washington, D.C., because the hotels (in Washington, D.C.) made all the money when it was all said and done it was a little net profit. But it was a great moment because I remember when Akbar introduced Kwame Ture to the audience and then I stood to speak as well, the two of us spoke. In my statement as I recall–and Akbar has a good memory on this–I asked the question, I said why do you think a capitalist like me should be doing this for a socialist like him? And I said let me give you the answer. It was because of Kwame Ture, the Stokely Carmichael’s of the world, who opened the doors for businessmen like me to achieve what I have achieved and we should never forget that, and in the Black Power and the Civil Rights Movement there was no 401K, no life insurance, no health insurance. They had to operate on their own.
FC: True then and now.
VMR: So we have an obligation, the African American businessmen who are successful in business as a result of us standing on their shoulders to reach back and do the right thing. The people went crazy. You know, I am a capitalist. I don’t mince words on that. We are in a world of capitalism; we are in a country of free enterprise.
One of the things that concerns me the most about our people is that we continue to look at little issues, emotional issues, and not the bottom line and not get into what it is going to take for us to build a business plan and operate a business. What I try to do is set a different example. We wouldn’t be here at this hotel today if I didn’t push the issue. This kind of expression of success has to be publicized because when it’s publicized then other young people will say “here’s somebody that did it” whose daddy worked at the post office. He didn’t come from money and I guess my final quote for you is that the reason why people really don’t know a lot about me right now is because rich people scream but wealthy people whisper.
FC: Thank you.