2010 Business Salute evokes emotion

17-November-2010Published in: St. Louis American

Michael Kennedy Sr., chairman and CEO of KAI Design & Build, helped to transform part of the former Pruitt Igoe site into an interactive science and math middle school.

For the last decade, KAI's designs have turned rundown neighborhoods in North St. Louis into contemporary affordable housing.

The firm's work on the new William L. Clay Sr. Early Childhood Development/Parenting Education Center at Harris-Stowe State University has won multiple awards.

His work uplifts the community.

Recognition of Kennedy's work, along with the work of many others, embodies the mission of the St. Louis American Foundation. On Nov. 10, the foundation awarded Kennedy the 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year award at the 11th annual Salute to Excellence in Business Awards and Networking Luncheon, which drew some 500 people to the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton.

The United Way of Greater St. Louis received the 2010 Corporate Diversity award.

June Fowler, vice president of corporate and public communications at BJC HealthCare, was named 2010 Corporate Executive of the Year.

And Rod Jones, president and CEO of Grace Hill Settlement House, received the 2010 Non-Profit Executive of the Year award.

Fighting away tears, Kennedy said, "This is yet another example of when we honor God, God honors you. I want you to understand that this is really a momentous moment in my life."

Orvin Kimbrough of the United Way used the occasion to announce that the African-American Leadership Giving Society, the Charmaine Chapman Society, raised $1.8 million for the 2010 United Way campaign, topping last year's amount, with 820-plus members in 2010.

As many did, June Fowler thanked Donald M. Suggs, publisher of The American and the foundation's founder, calling him one of her personal heroes.

"What you do to lift up the African-American community is so important - for us and for our children to see the good," Fowler said. "And Donald, I thank you for doing that each and every Thursday," when the paper is published.

Dr. Henry Givens Jr., president of Harris-Stowe State University,who introduced Kennedy, used the event to announce a new Donald M. Suggs Excellence in Business Scholarship at Harris-Stowe that will provide $40,000 to the recipient for all four years.

Rod Jones said the award reminds him of his vocation at Grace Hill.

"This is a blessing, and I appreciate the recognition," Jones said.

"I come to work every day with the notion that what we do every day allows people to be in a better social class for generations to come."

Silence for Earl

The room of about 500 people held a moment of silence for Earl Wilson Jr., the founder of the Gateway Classic Foundation and the 2005 Salute to Excellence in Business Non-Profit Executive of the Year, who died on Oct. 29 from pancreatic cancer. The event's emcee, Carol Daniel, a radio host with KMOX, told a personal story about Wilson. She said she always volunteers at Gateway Classic events, and one time she asked Wilson for an honorarium.

"Earl told me, 'Now, Carol, you don't need $100. You know what I’m trying to do; I'm trying to raise scholarships. Now come to the event and help me out. You want those kids to go to college, don't you, Carol?'"

Many of the attendees laughed, remembering how Wilson's upfront manner and big heart helped 108 students through college with scholarships.

At the 2010 Salute to Excellence in Business, the St. Louis American Foundation also introduced a new group of younger professional awardees.

The inagural Excellence in Business Performance Awardees were Karen A. Davis of Regions Bank, Roger Macon of Edward Jones, Gail Holmes-Taylor of Energizer and David Walker of Brown Shoe Co.

The St. Louis American Foundation also cited the top 25 African-American businesses in the St. Louis region.

Awardees were joined in support by their staff, family and friends as they went onstage to receive their awards.

Karen A. Davis said she appreciated the fact that she could celebrate amongst "like-minded people," people who have a passion for giving back and uplifting their communities. Davis was accompanied by her mother, who gleamed as her daughter received the award.

After being in St. Louis for three years, Davis said, this recognition "validates this is where I need to be." Davis moved to the St. Louis area to expand and elevate community outreach at Regions Bank.

"I have met some wonderful people, and to be here with all these people is very inspiring," Davis said.

Stories with Akande

After all the recipients received their awards onstage, keynote speaker Benjamin Akande, dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology at Webster University, reminded the audience of the importance of storytelling in business.

He spoke of one of the greatest tales he had ever heard – a story about risks.

"It's a story about failure and perseverance," Akande said. "I find it very relevant to the challenges our country faces in the most severe economic downturn in our generation."

The story revolves around an anthropomorphic egg who was bent on defying the odds and was met with interest and results, he said.

It is the story of Humpty Dumpty. He asked the audience to join him in reciting the poem:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall; Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Akande emphasized that the key word is the last word – "again."

"This confirms that this is not the first time that Humpty had fallen," he said. "Humpty Dumpty was a serial risk taker. Humpty was bold. He was fearless. He was unrelenting. He was an entrepreneur."

Many people in America now find themselves confronting the greatest wall of their lives. Although they are often called slowdowns, recessions shake things up, he said.

"Recessions reward strength and expose weaknesses," Akande said. "Recessions create new opportunities and break down old habits. Recessions destroy old business models. Recessions make talented unemployed. And just like Humpty Dumpty, how do we get up again?"

Even when people do everything right and remain loyal to their employers, sometimes they fall short. But Akande reminded the audience that courage does not occur without fear.

"You cannot be courageous if you are not first afraid," Akande said. "Courage takes place after you are afraid."

Akande also shared snap shots of his life through stories of personal and professional failures and successes.

Rosalynn Smith, an attendee at the luncheon, said Akande's personal stories were motivating to her. Akande, now a business school dean, had said he was once ranked last academically.

"You would never know that now," Smith said.

Awardee Roger Macon said he was "intrigued by Akande's use of humor and metaphors."

In addition to Humpty Dumpty as "a serial risk taker," Macon was struck by Akande's metaphor of climbing a wall or a mountain.

Akande said, "God does not promise mountaintop life experiences, because there is no room for growth on the mountaintop."