Making Lucrative Connections

B.E.'s Fourth Annual Entrepreneurs Conference provided tools for black business owners to form strategic alliances toward building wealth

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As the owner of Zee Cee Productions, a growing suburban Atlanta-based marketing firm, Zandra Conway relies on networking to get clients. Conway was one of 1,200 African American business owners and corporate executives who attended the Fourth Annual Black Enterprise/Bank of America Entrepreneurs Conference, held May 5-9, at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. An attendee last year as well, Conway has cultivated at least four business alliances from her trips, and attends a monthly networking group of a dozen conference goers in Atlanta to “share practices and keep in contact until next May,” says the entrepreneur.

The theme of this year’s conference, “Achieving Peak Profitability: Structuring Business Alliances to Generate Wealth,” set the tone for the four-day event, providing attendees with opportunities to learn how to structure and maximize business alliances while finding strategies to build profitable ventures.

“The purpose of the conference is to encourage you to be players, not spectators,” said Earl G. Graves, chairman and publisher of black enterprise, in his remarks during the opening session. “You will gain insight into structuring profitable business alliances and be given valuable tools to take your company to new heights. . . You’re not alone in the challenges that you face and the drive that you possess to excel. . . Every entrepreneur’s dream can be answered in this room.”

A bevy of other topics enticed conference attendees, including such additions as doing business with the automotive industry, tapping into global opportunities, conducting business online and business-to-business finance.

The title sponsor for the fourth consecutive year was the Bank of America (formerly NationsBank). Of the 24 sponsors of this year’s conference, Pitney Bowes, Federated Department Stores, Visit Florida, the Wall Street Journal and the Miller Brewing Co. were new.

The dynamic panel speakers included Saundra Parks, president and CEO of Daily Blossom, Robert L. Luster, president and CEO of Luster Group Inc., Geralda L. Dodd, president and CEO of Thomas Madison Inc. Holding Co., Roy A. Brannon, president and CEO of Brannon-Cottrell Group and Patricia Russell-McCloud, president of Russell-McCloud & Associates. Networking opportunities were plentiful, from the successful Entrepreneurs Golf Outing and Reception hosted by Reebok International, Titleist, Wittnauer and Miller Brewing Co., to The Exchange: Business-to-Business Expo, which was expanded to include more hours, more exhibitors (80), prize raffles and a special reception for the be 100s company leaders who were written about in Black Enterprise Titans of the B.E. 100s (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95), to an After Five Reception hosted by Schieffelin & Somerset.

Theron Jackson, president of Theron Jackson & Associates, a Shreveport, Louisiana, business consulting firm, was able to make a few solid contacts that led to a business deal. Jackson met Burnell Molliere, president of AME Inc., a New Orleans janitorial services firm. Molliere, who has a $6 million national contract with Fed Ex, and Jackson, who helps businesses in Louisiana develop relationships with other businesses, formed a joint venture to bid on a major contract with the Shreveport Municipal Airport Authority worth $300,000 annually.

“We began talking at the conference

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