The old saying "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game" seems all but forgotten in today's fast paced competitive culture. In the sports world, where it first originated, it sounds merely quaint; in the business world, downright naive. That's the view among a group of African American men enrolled in an unusual program that embraces both worlds. 90.3's Bill Rice reports.
Bill Rice- Hearing BP marketing trainer Walter Jackson open his guest lecture spot at Myers College, one gets the initial impression this is just a typical business seminar. But there's one key ingredient that won't be found in this sixth floor classroom.
These class participants are getting acquainted on the basketball court at a nearby neighborhood rec center. And that's fitting, since this program is heavily focused on sports. Michelle Spain is director of Myers' Minority Business and Contractors program, or M-CAP. She's been running the series of workshops and seminars -- called Excercises in Hard Choices -- since the mid 1980's, but designed and added the sports component just last year.
Michelle Spain- The principle behind it is to get the men to look at their behavior in a non-threatening and non-traditional way, so we're using sports because when men play sports, particularly African American men, their personalities are out there, they're actually involved in expressing themselves.
BR- The series is designed to help minority businessmen meet the challenges they face in making a small company a success. The sports analogy goes over big with Joe Billups, whose company makes and markets sports apparel.
Joe Billups- If you're gonna play the game you got to get in the game. We're learning to play the game through sports. And I think even with the teams and sports, you play to win.
BR- Billups says he identifies strongly with the sports theme, having played sports throughout his life. And, he says, many of the concepts of running a sports operation apply equally to other businesses.
JB- There's always a strategy that's going on in terms of how do we project our concept to the people and how do we get a response back. For everything you put out you want to get something in return. Same thing in sports, you put out a certain strategy ito practice, team playing, and working with the other team, what is it they do wrong to put us over the edge to become a winner?
BR- Most of Billup's classmates are also lifelong sports aficionados who want to have a go at running their own businesses. Bill Jones has recently resurrected a glazing company that belonged to his father.
Bill Jones- If you've ever been involved in team sports at all -- I played a lot of football and basketball when I was younger -- but if you've ever been involved in team sports you know that it takes effort from everybody to make a winning team. And that's what, you kind of use that as a stepping stone if you've ever been involved in team sports.
BR- Jones says when his father first retired he couldn't handle the business by himself, and for a period of time worked for another company. But, he says, eventually he took on a partner -- who, incidentally, is attending the M-CAP program with him -- and he's optimistic about the future.
BJ- That's the name of the game, but its tough work though. That's another thing with team sports, you just can't quit. You know I've played a lot of ball in my life. Can't play no more now though. (laughs)
BR- Jones' athletic days are for the most part over, he says. He's in his mid 40s, and Injuries keep him off the basketball court. But that's perfectly OK for this program, because each team has not only players, but owners, managers and coaches as well. Michelle Spain says that framework is used to teach students the finer points of business interaction.
MS- So we're (videotaping) that behavior and photographing it, and then we'll show them their photos and videos so they're in a position to look at how they're interacting with other people.
BR- In the process, Spain says, students also confront some of the realities of being a minority in today's business world, particularly when it comes to securing government contracts.
MS- There are lot of rules for minority businesspeople, a lot of forms they have to fill out and they all object to that. But there are also a lot of rules for sports. So the comparison is to ask them how is it that you're able top follow the rules for sports but you don't want to follow the rules related to filling out a minority business enterprise application or going ahead and getting you 8A certification straight. So if they complain about that they should complain about all of 'em, but if they're following the rules there, then we're able to teach them how to transfer that into doing the paperwork they have to do to make their businesses more competitive.
BR- Students can make of the program what they want to. Many, of course, are tradespeople who just want some guidance in getting their businesses to turn a better profit. Others with more academic goals might apply the course to a degree. Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.