Ravi Norman is the chief executive at Thor Construction, one of the largest black-owned firms in the country. During our conversation at Minnesota Public Radio two years ago he emphasized this important point: “Even if you’re not an entrepreneur, you should think like one.”
Even if you don’t want to start a business, emulating the energy, the dynamism and the creativity of an entrepreneur on the job is savvy. Careers are increasingly like mosaics where people move into and out of jobs. His insight also has intriguing implications for teaching financial literacy.
Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean. The information comes from an article written several years ago by Yana Chernyak (now with the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University). She highlighted the experience of the Gordy family in Detroit not long after the Second World War. The Gordys were a family of 10 and all were entrepreneurs. Among the businesses started by the father were a grocery store and a contracting business. The mother opened an insurance agency and invested in several enterprises.
Yet black Americans were largely excluded from mainstream financial institutions at the time. What the family did was establish a loan fund. Each family member contributed $10 a month to use as credit for any other family members’ proposed business. Their son Berry Gordy, a former assembly line employee, borrowed $800 from the family fund in 1959 — about $6,700 in current dollars. The loan was to be paid back in one year at 6 percent interest. He used the money to start a music business along with the help of his friend Smokey Robinson. Yes, that Berry Gordy and the legendary Motown label.
Consider creating a family fund along the lines of the Gordys’ to encourage an entrepreneurial mind-set and, along the way, learn the basics of money — especially for the younger generation. A surprising number of parents these days have a side hustle, a gig, a small entrepreneurial venture, often in a creative industry or business. The gig offers both meaning and money.
Get everyone involved in the business as an “owner.” This way, everyone learns the basics of budgeting, tax obligations and other critical financial concepts. The pool of contributed money will be small. But if it grows with time, the fund could back various ventures dreamed up at home.
Emulating the Gordy model strikes me as offering huge returns on investment measured in financial literacy. Think about it.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.