Three Steps to Economic Independence for Black America: The Clarence Otis Story

Stevon Cook
3 min readJul 30, 2020

During my exclusive interview with Fortune 500 CEO Clarence Otis on Cook on Monday Morning, we share an in depth discussion about what it took for him to reach the highest levels of American business. He shares his story growing up on the dangerous streets of the Watts neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles and going on to Williams College, Stanford Law, and growing Darden Restaurants from $3 Billion to $8 Billion in revenue during his tenure as Chief Executive Officer. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Verizon Wireless, Travelers Insurance, and VF Corporation.

I co-wrote an article on Independence Day, sharing insights on how the Black community would achieve economic independence, which involves a mixture of policy and hiring objectives. When I put the question to Mr. Otis, he put forward a simple three-step plan, which is informed by his own experience in corporate America and those of other Black leaders at the top of American business.

Here is the full interview on YouTube. Please subscribe to Cook on Monday Morning if you found value in the interview and comment to give me feedback on what you learned. It will help guide my future conversations.

Three Steps to Economic Independence For Black America:

  1. Start with Employment: We need to increase the Black employment rate across the board. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black unemployment has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic, but many financial experts believe unemployment was widely misreported as many people have officially left the workforce.
  2. Grow Where You Are: Black people that are employed need to find ways to seek higher positions within their companies. According to Mr. Otis, there continue to be great opportunities for growth in the retail sector. A single Walmart Super Center does close to $100M in annual revenue, and the manager of the center earns over $200,000 a year. Otis believes we should be working in the retail sector in management capacities.These are actions that can be taken today. We need longer term reforms such as fixing the school system and remedying structural inequalities, but in retail, people can ascend to higher ranks within a company by gaining an education and leadership opportunities.
  3. Go Where We’re Not: We need to be in the tech companies;we’re not in that industry and we can thrive in roles where we have shown great competency in other sectors. At the top tech companies, a huge percentage of the workforce is in Human Resources, Marketing, and Finance. According to Mr. Otis, the idea of waiting a generation to build a pipeline of software engineers doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. I completely agree with this sentiment. During my tenure as CEO of Mission Bit, an education nonprofit that sought to end generational poverty by providing coding courses to high school students, I saw the challenges involved with breaking into the software engineering space. Today, I work with companies on their diversity recruiting objectives to help solve this issue.
  4. [Bonus] Augment The Entrepreneurs: Otis spoke to the need for our sole proprietors and entrepreneurs need to be equipped with the technical support, capital, and mentorship to grow their operations to reach massive impact. Many of these operations will remain small scale, but there are a select few that should be bigger.

If you like this interview, you may also like my one on one discussion with American Venture Capitalist Charles Hudson.

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Stevon Cook

Consultant: Strategic Advising & Recruiting | SF Board of Education | Cook on Monday Morning Podcast.