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We had three hours to close a deal that would bring us $28 million in revenues. Our first bid had already been rejected. After we crunched the numbers, bids were submitted, rejected, and resubmitted in a charged environment of heated negotiations. If time expired, the consequences would be dire. Already a sufferer of performance anxiety, I’d have to explain to my class why we didn’t get the contract. You see, I was elected to lead the sales team for Zenith Fixtures Inc., a fictitious manufacturing company of high-priced, high-quality commercial kitchen appliances.
It sounds like an exercise from The Apprentice, but this training took place near the upper valley of the Connecticut River and the foothills of New Hampshire’s White Mountains in an executive training program tailored specifically for minority entrepreneurs. Held at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, the Advanced Minority Business Executive Program (AMBEP) is a crash course on business and finance in which participants attend intense 10-hour classes taught daily by Ivy League professors. Last November, some 50 entrepreneurs, senior executives, and one journalist, me, spent the better part of a grueling week analyzing case studies, poring over complicated balance sheets, and performing cash-flow analyses. Themed “Growing the Minority Business to Scale,” the fast-paced program is designed to teach entrepreneurs how to grow their businesses through acquisitions, strategic alliances, and expansion of existing operations.
Think of it as business boot camp: Breakfast is served at 7 a.m. Classes begin at 8 a.m. sharp and end after 6 p.m. Tutoring, which many of us attended, was available until 11 p.m. And then there was homework, studying, and required reading of dense financial material. I started my day at 5 a.m. so that I could complete assignments. AMBEP is designed for owners and executives of minority-owned companies who have five to 10 years of senior management experience, are graduates of Tuck’s core MBEP or similar programs at other business schools, or have acquired equivalent business education.
The idea behind the program was simple. According to Leonard Greenhalgh, professor of management and director of the program, most minority-owned businesses fail due to mismanagement. The program is designed to give minority entrepreneurs the skills and know-how to succeed in any business environment. That’s why it’s important for all professionals and executives to enroll in programs like AMBEP. They can sharpen their skills, make new contacts and, most importantly, find innovative ways to boost their company’s revenues and market share. (See sidebar, “Basic Training” for similar programs for minorities.)
Each day focused on various aspects of business development. Monday: growing businesses by merger or partnership. Tuesday: marketing and balance sheet and cash-flow analysis. Wednesday: process improvement, running a lean business, and methods used to value a business. Thursday: finance theory, negotiating with customers and suppliers, and forming alliances. Friday: a discourse on acquisitions, a program wrap-up, and graduation. There were also guest speakers from NASA and Royal Ahold, a $70 million international supermarket operator.
Much of the instruction is interactive and assignments are handled