Showcasing the strength of the USC Marshall School of Business network, influential MBA alumni from across the country returned to campus last month to participate in the school’s first MBA Diversity Conference, presented by the Black Graduate Business Leaders and the Latino Management Business Association.
Spurred by the theme, “Game Changers,” the event featured a series of interactive panels and networking events — including a closing reception attended by Dean James G. Ellis — connecting more than 150 current and prospective students with enterprising individuals working at companies that are making diversity a strategic business imperative.
Outside the the Davidson Continuing Education Center, the venue for the daylong conference,USC Marshall alumna Debra Langford, associate director of diversity programs at USC Marshall, noted the need for such a broad-ranging conference.
“Of the top 15 business schools, 10 have been doing diversity conferences for quite some time, and the others have specific events to recognize their diverse alumni. This event is a combination of both, and that’s where I think we’re unique,” said Langford, a former corporate VP at both NBC Universal and Time Warner. “This is really about the business proposition of diversity.”
As director of employee and work/life programs at Warner Bros. Entertainment, panelist Chau Ho Ngo MBA ’07 prioritizes company-wide workplace initiatives that promote employee engagement and foster a strong culture of inclusion and wellness. During her discussion, Ngo shared insights on how her company is leveraging Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to improve business results and the importance of employees’ involvement in programs and team-building enterprises.
“Volunteering to be part of these ERGs is powerful,” Ngo said. “In the same way employees have expectations of the company, the company has certain expectations of employees. It’s a mutual relationship.”
Drawing financial sponsorship and product placement from such leaders in corporate diversity as Warner Bros. and PepsiCo, attendees were brought together with executives representing an array of cultural backgrounds, as well as diverse career interests and leadership experiences such as Damien White ’04.
As managing director of operations at KIPP Charter Schools in Los Angeles, White parlayed his business skills as a lead marketing planner at Toyota to overseeing one of the leading networks of public elementary schools in the district. Underscoring the breadth of the event, additional host sponsors included Time Warner Cable, AT&T, McKesson, Toyota, PwC and American Airlines.
Student program coordinator and MBA student Israel Olivares said the event was the first of many options being developed for the 2013-14 academic year.
“We want to have exposure to diverse leaders in the business community to see what their career trajectories have been and what advice they can give to students, current or prospective,” Olivares said.
In his keynote address, Paul Robinson ’08, Midwest regional vice president for Time Warner Cable Business Services, focused on the value of the Trojan network.
“You might as well say that USC invented social networking because this network is 350,000 alumni strong,” said Robinson, who described the opportunity to come back and speak as a dream come true. “Seventy-five thousand Marshall alumni — that’s a powerful network.”
Robinson noted the privilege of being a USC Marshall graduate.
“Call any alum, and I guarantee you they will pick up the phone.” But, he told the crowd, there is an obligation that comes with it.
“It’s your job to come to alumni and ask us how we can help you,” he said. “Absorb as much as you can because when it’s your turn, we will expect you to do the same for the next generation.”