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It took seven hours to get there, but Boye Akinola was not bothered by the long drive. After all, just a few hundred miles south of his Atlanta home, down a hypnotizing stretch of Interstate 95, was the land of opportunity. For Akinola, it was perhaps a once-in-a- lifetime chance to network with chief executives of the nation’s largest black- owned businesses. It was also an opportunity to develop strategies to strenghten and grow his company. And he was not about to miss it.
Akinola, president and CEO of Atlanta-based bA Design/Build Inc., an architectural design and construction management firm, was just one of nearly 1,000 African American business owners, corporate executives and other professionals to attend the Second Annual BE/Nations Bank Entrepreneurs Conference. This year’s event was held May 7- 11 at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts in beautiful Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Touting the theme “Entrepreneurial Strategies for the 21st Century,” the four-day event helped position black business owners for the new millennium by focusing on three critical issues: developing strategic alliances, utilizing technology and doing business globally. Other topics included securing capital, cash flow management and tax strategies for the savvy entrepreneur.
A myriad of speakers, including BET Holdings Inc. Chairman and CEO Robert L. Johnson, international business consultant Kathryn D. Leary and Pro-Line Corp. executive Paul D. Owsley, participated in panel discussions. Convention goers enjoyed the Exchange: Business- to-Business Expo, in which 45 companies displayed their products and services. And four noted authors participated in a book signing: BLACK ENTERPRISE publisher and CEO Earl G. Graves (How to Succeed in Business Without Being White, HarperBusiness), financial expert Cheryl D. Broussard (Sister CEO: The Black Woman’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business, Viking), public relations guru Terri Williams (The Personal Touch, Warner), and motivational speaker Les Brown (Its Not (It’s Not Over Until You Win, Simon & Schuster).
Akinola, who attended the conference with his wife, Laurie, says the exposure black businesses get makes the conference “unprecedented.” “It’s a great opportunity to meet a lot of different people from around the country and a good forum for letting people know that as African Americans we are professionals and experts in what we do.”
The title sponsor for the second consecutive year was NationsBank. Other secondtime sponsors included IBM, AT&T, GM, Walt Disney World and Wendy’s International.
Conference planners agree that this year’s event was a step up from its successful debut in 1996. In addition to the greater number of attendees (there were 750 in 1996), the conference also enjoyed a longer and larger business expo, more participants in its youthful business companion. the Kidpreneur Konference. and seven new sponsors: Chubb, Texaco, Havoline, the U.S. Postal Service, Karl Kani, Nike and Wittnauer International. (Wittnauer was recently acquired by Composite Holdings L.L.C., an African American management team. See “Time for a Change at Wittnauer,” Newspoints, September 1997).
A welcome addition to the conference was the debut of the First Annual BE 100s Strategic Summit, a separate gathering of 60 CEOs and key executives