By James H. Lowry
I am in the twilight of my career, and I have had a blessed journey. I have been a school teacher in Africa, a community organizer in Brooklyn, NY, the first Black consultant at McKinsey & Company, an anchor on TV programs in two cities, the president of my firm, James H. Lowry & Associates for over forty years, and was the first senior partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG). With the ongoing support of BCG partnership, I have been inspired to author two books, Minority Business Success and Change Agent—A life Dedicated to Creating Wealth for Minorities. Both books have urged society to accept the unique contributions people of color can offer to the U.S. free enterprise system.
Looking back on my long career, I truly enjoyed my work and affiliation with these two preeminent global consulting firms, but nothing has given me greater satisfaction than being a mentor to young professionals and entrepreneurs. When I meet many of my former mentees in airports, on campuses or at conventions, they will often say to me, “Mr. Lowry, the advice you gave me changed my life because I am now a C-Suite executive.” Or, when I run into some of the entrepreneurs of the Kellogg Advanced Management Education Program (AMEP), they will say, “Dr. Lowry, before your one-week program, I was very comfortable but because of AMEP I am now rich.”
Why have I dedicated my life to mentoring young adults from Uber drivers to vice chairmen of Wall Street firms? I remembered when I began my professional career, I had no business mentors or coaches. As a son of two postal workers, my brother and I were the first to attend college. Even in college, when I was the campus entrepreneur floating loans to professors with money earned from my five campus businesses, not one professor recommended I go to business school. When I started my company I deeply appreciated the men and women of all colors, religions and ethnic backgrounds who mentored me. Thus, throughout my career, I felt a strong obligation to help those coming behind me. Deep down, I have felt a moral responsibility to teach, coach, mentor and invest in the next generation. Because the stronger and more enlightened the next generation is, the stronger America will be.
In the fall of 2018, I was the recipient of the Alvaro L. Martins Heritage Award at the Executive Leadership Council’s Recognition Gala. I was moved and honored when one of my first mentees at BCG, John Legend, accepted an invitation to present me with the award. Before his career took off, I always respected John Legend for his strong spiritual foundation, dedication to his family, unbelievable talent, but also for his desire to effect change in our society. Being with John that night took me back 18 years when I shared with him and other BCG consultants on a BCG retreat:
- Never be intimidated by whatever barriers are put before you.
- Aspire to be a leader, at BCG or in whatever field or industry you seek to compete.
- Play the game to win; most people play the game not to lose. Translated: they will have 3-5 reasons why they did not achieve their goals.
- Create mutually beneficial support networks inside and out- side of the firm.
- Study and learn from the existing “superstars” to see how they got to be leaders.
- Focus daily on improving your skill set and knowledge of the field or industry.
- Acquire a strong and trustworthy mentor and be a good mentee.
When I state the last point on campuses, I get the inevitable question, “Mr. Lowry, what does it mean to be a good mentee?” To the person asking the question, I offer the following advice.
- A mentor’s time is extremely valuable, don’t waste it.
- Be a good listener, absorb the wisdom given and demonstrate you learned the lessons offered.
- Be prepared to take constructive criticism; it might make you flinch but you will grow from the advice given.
- Come to every meeting prepared with 3-5 new questions, but do not dominate the meeting.
- Always ask your mentor what you can do for him or her; this shows in a small way you appreciate your mentor’s investment of time.
I have no plans to retire as long as BCG and individuals need me. I will continue to travel the country providing advice and sharing wisdom. The only reward I seek from those individuals I support, is that they reach back and assist the generation after them.