Picture a successful business founder. Most think of a white man in a three-piece suit, ruthlessly determined to succeed and who prioritizes profit over niceties. Although this is a narrative commonly seen in society, Kathryn Finney proves this to be untrue as a Black business owner and investor who advocates for human-centered business practice.
Finney is the managing partner of Genius Guild and the author of the book Build the Damn Thing: How to Start a Successful Business if You’re Not a Rich White Guy.
Concordia hosted Finney as part of the “Building a Trustworthy World” series, which is an initiative through the Lorentzen Center that brings professionals to campus to share wisdom about leadership, innovation and courage.
Finney said, “I’m trying to build a world where everyone wins.”
In the world of business, Finney seeks to make connections beyond profit by creating opportunities for investors, company founders and the communities that use that company’s services to benefit.
This initiative integrates large group keynote addresses with small group opportunities that function to build a better sense of community and provide multiple opportunities for connection.
Finney met with students a part of the Black Student Union for dinner in addition to a meeting with businesses for the StartUpBREW weekly event series focused on building community for local entrepreneurs.
The Black Student Union president Kumba Glay said one of the union’s goals is to increase financial literacy because of historical and continuing trends of financial inequality for Black communities, which is a “significant limitation” Glay said. Glay feels that hosting Finney was a way to bridge this gap and offer students an opportunity to learn from a successful Black company founder.
The keynote address was open to community members virtually or in-person and several local business owners were present, including the founders of Fred’s Dissonance and Emerging Prairie.
Sophomore Crisavy Seeman is the Digital Marketing and Storytelling Specialist for the Lorentzen Center reflected on the attendance of community members.
“There were so many alumni, community members and local professionals who attended and I thought that was so special for Concordia to offer a place for that connection. It gave me a better perspective on what the Lorentzen Center does and the impact we are making not only on the college but also within the community,” Seeman said.
One of Finney’s foundational insights about equitable investing was recognizing the difference between shareholder and stakeholder capitalism. Finney argues that investors and founders should move toward a stakeholder capitalistic model again to renew the sense of responsibility and long-term investment built into the model.
In a world that prioritizes increasing the wealth of shareholders, Finney suggests that moving toward a stakeholder mindset is a more sustainable and equitable approach to business. This mindset shift would encourage business owners to maintain core values that allow them to profit while serving their communities.
Finney has kept this mindset through her business endeavors. And this mindset has also taught her the capital opportunity for Black founders to level the playing field.
Selling a company for profit, although some have criticized this as a way for Black owners to be pushed out of business, is a powerful tool for Black founders, according to Finney. Through this pay out, Finney said founders have leverage which in turn can be used to create space for more Black founders.
Finney has personal experience with this. She created her first company Budget Fashionista in 2003 and sold it in 2012. With that payout, Finney invested and was able to uplift over 2,000 Black female entrepreneurs.
“You can do well and do good at the same time,” Finney said.
Using this stakeholder mindset, Finney paves the way for other Black founders by focusing on sustainable leadership and advocacy. In doing this, Finney subverts the narrative that profitable businesses become successful through hoarding wealth because of her dedication to giving back to her customers and community.
During her keynote address, Finney recognized several misconceptions in the investing industry and offered her experiences subverting expectations as a Black female business owner.
Finney said she most often experiences others who try to limit her through stereotypes.
“I try to directly challenge those who put me in a box. While some people may be challenged by my identity, there are more who appreciate me for being me,” Finney said.
This is shown in Finney’s dedication to being herself and engaging authentically with others. Staying true to who you are, Finney claims, is foundational to being a lasting and impactful leader.
After listening to her keynote address, Seeman said “I loved how genuine and true to herself she was.”
Finney’s advice to student entrepreneurs is to be yourself, to be a good person others want to work with and to ask help from others when needed. Finding others you can talk genuinely with is very impactful for being successful, Finney said.
Overall, Finney emphasized the importance of human-centered company practice as not only a business owner and a leader to others but also as a member of a community.
The Lorentzen Center will be hosting Nadine Strassen to discuss “Free Speech, Censorship, and Controversy” in February. All keynote addresses are recorded and can be found on the Lorentzen Center website.