Moul, more business leaders to Philadelphia: Build a more inclusive economy
January 17, 2017
Dell Poncet, Managing Editor
Longtime tech entrepreneur Bob Moul made a public admission recently that surprised a lot of people: He never went to college, and he doesn’t think that’s a bad thing.
The CEO of Cloudamize — and past CEO of Artisan Mobile and Boomi — said employers in today’s tech-centric environment should look at what the individual applicant brings to the table, and not necessarily focus on academic credentials.
Speaking as a panelist at the Philadelphia Business Journal’s Economic Forecast 2017 event on Thursday in Center City, Moul said the tech industry “is as close to a meritocracy as you can get. … Employers really don’t care if you’re black or white, young or old, Earthling or Martian, it’s ‘Can you do the job or not?’ And more so than other industries willing to take a chance on people without college degrees.”
Along with Moul, the panel – Building an Inclusive Economy: The Philadelphia Challenge – included Della Clark, president of The Enterprise Center, which strives to provide access to capital and other opportunities to minority entrepreneurs; Lori Reiner, partner-in-charge, of public accounting firm EisnerAmper; and Tanuja Dehne, former C-level executive at NRG Energy and a board member of five organizations. Steven Wray, executive director of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, moderated.
“Rising inequality and stagnating mobility threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy and the promise of the American Dream,” Wray said, setting the tone of the discussion. “If you care about the future of Philadelphia, we must be sure to care about all of its citizens.”
Moul believes caring about the future of the city should begin with tech education. “It really floors me that it’s 2017 and tech is not more of a core curriculum for our schools,” he said. He goes into a high school and “there’s a track for carpentry, electrical, automotive —where’s the tech track?”
Tech involves a “broad range” of jobs, but children can’t aspire to those opportunities if they don’t know they exist. “Kids aren’t ever seeing tech as an option for them,” Moul said.
He said there are between half-a-million to a million unfilled tech jobs in the United States, and if tech education was emphasized companies would be looking here and not abroad to fill them.
At EisnerAmper, Reiner said, the focus is on millennials, how to attract and retain them, especially women, who have made great strides in accounting. One thing her firm is doing is providing a reverse mentoring opportunity, which pairs a millennial with an older partner and allows the newcomer to “teach” the more experienced partner and vice versa.
“There’s no question,” Reiner said, “that what will make millennials stay, stay in Philadelphia, stay in their careers, stay in the firm which they initially chose, is to feel connected, feel they are part of the fabric and they’re contributing to growth.”
She also spoke of the importance of companies creating a women’s initiative where everyone (men too) brings insights and lessons learned up for discussion.
Dehne emphasized the need for having women on corporate boards and the role of philanthropy. Boardrooms are more than seats around a table. “Think about the ecosystem around it. There’s independence, refreshment, succession planning and making room, switching out the talent of the boardroom itself” to make the board more diverse and inclusive. Fresh talent will enhance the sense of inclusion and benefit the company in a diverse economic world.
When considering their strategy, organizations should provide grants to entities that enhance the diversity “talent pipeline.”
Clark began by using the fact that there were some empty seats during the discussion, the final Economic Forecast panel of the day, as a metaphor for the struggles minorities face when attempting to start businesses.
“If you noticed when we came to the topic of inclusion a lot people left the room. And that is the case of what I’ve encountered for 25 years working at Enterprise Center and talking about minority entrepreneurship.”
She said the real issue preventing minority entrepreneurship isn’t the commonly advanced notion of job training but instead it is the lack of access to capital to finance a startup and sustain it until it is fully fledged. She said access to capital is more readily available to white businesses than minority ones.
People tend to hire people who look like themselves, she said: whites hire whites, Asians hire Asians, blacks hire blacks. Clark said, “That is not racial that is just a phenomenon of what occurs. … So, if we want to get more minorities employed we have to get more minority CEOs.”
She said Philadelphia does not have enough minority CEOs to raise enough minorities out of poverty.
She listed three reasons that are preventing the city from reaching that goal, and they form a vicious circle:
Capital: Minority businesses are under-resourced. They don’t have enough capital to get them to scale. Venture capital is virtually “nonexistent in the minority community.”
Connections: In order to have strong connections you need capital, to join organizations like country clubs and chambers of commerce.
Contracts: To sustain a business you need contracts, which you can’t get without capital and connections.
Finishing up the discussion moderator Steven Wray asked each panelist a question: If they could wave a magic wand and achieve one thing, what would it be?
Bob Moul said: More money and resources for public schools, and tech as part of the core curriculum.
Tanuja Dehne said: That we don’t have to have this conversation.
Wray himself had two wishes. Think like cities such as Toronto and Los Angeles that view diversity as an economic advantage and host a “Take Every Kid to Work Day" event, where all offices are open for kids to visit and see all the types of jobs that are available.