Facebook to Get an African-American Board Member…Soon?

Facebook has been on the hot seat as more information comes to light about the role it played in Russia’s meddling in the November 2016 election. The hot seat treatment brought the company’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, to DC for an exclusive interview with Axios co-founder Mike Allen to discuss the situation and what Facebook was going to do about.

While in town Thursday, Ms. Sandberg visited with the Congressional Black Caucus. Apparently, one of the points of conversation was when Facebook was going to appoint an African-American director. CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond said after the meeting that Ms. Sandberg had committed to adding an African-American to Facebook’s board soon. It doesn’t make sense that no person of color sits on Facebook’s board, granted this applies to much of corporate America. That said, the question now is who would be a good candidate to join Facebook’s board?

Some would immediately think of Michael Powell, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. He has been the flag-bearer for the internet and television industry for the past several years. Before that, he was a member of the FCC, and chaired it for four years. He has a wealth of knowledge on navigating the regulatory landscape and would add a ton of value to Facebook in this vein.

The problem is that Mr. Powell serving on Facebook’s board while heading up the NCTA would be a conflict of interest, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t step down from his super powerful position just to be able to join Facebook’s board. Further, Mr. Powell doesn’t have the experience leading diversity initiatives at the scale with which Facebook needs experience. So, Mr. Powell’s not a fit.

There are two things this director needs experience with to move the needle forward at Facebook:

  1. The director needs to understand the media landscape and the regulatory system around it. Increasingly Facebook is being looked at as a media company rather than a social network. Because of that and the outcomes of the Russia-Facebook issue, Facebook could find itself facing increasing regulation to align the company with the rest of the media industry, so they will need someone who knows how to navigate that.
  2. Facebook needs someone with experience pushing diversity at a large organization and who can guide Facebook’s management as it continues diversifying its workforce. Facebook’s annual reports on its diversity numbers show that the company has quite a ways to go and having someone in the boardroom who knows how to get that done is key.

Payne Brown would be a strong fit to join Facebook’s board. He’s currently a managing director at Highbridge Capital Partners, which is a minority partner in Diddy’s RevoltTV. Mr. Brown was a vice president at Comcast where he led strategic initiatives, while overseeing program content, managing relationships with industry counterparts and governments, and standing up the company’s diversity council and leading the development of the company’s diversity philosophy.

While there is government experience on the board in Erskine Bowles, having someone like Mr. Brown who has been successful on the lobbying side of the table in dealing with Congress would be helpful as Facebook’s dealings with Congress on Russia’s election meddling and whether it needs to be regulated like a media company increase.

A counter to Mr. Brown joining the board could be that he’s not a household name and could perplex investors who are trying to put a value to the impact he could have on Facebook’s business. Well, Payne has worked on Wall Street for several years now and I’m sure analysts would easily be able to ask around and get a better sense of the impact he’s had on the media industry. If they don’t get answers on Wall Street, they could just ask Diddy!

A bit of an aside to all this is that it’s fine that Facebook has made a commitment to adding an African-American individual to its board, and that Congressmen like G.K. Butterfield are focused on getting more African-Americans into executive roles in Silicon Valley. But, we have a lot of work to do to build an ecosystem within the black community that could support my daughter building a $100 billion business.

I believe there is enough wealth within the black community today to do this along the startup venture path – pre-seed, seed, series, A, B, C, D, initial public offering, and beyond. That’s what makes the work the folks at Black Girls Code, Precursor Ventures, Cross Culture Ventures, Backstage Capital, Black Wall Street and more exciting because they are more likely to find these folks and get them started along the path.

It would be nice to have a concerted effort from black policymakers, high net worth black people, and black players in the tech space to build an ecosystem around black technology entrepreneurs and provide them with the resources they need to build the future and billion dollar businesses along with it.

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Additional Reading for the Weekend:

  1.  Shonda Rhimes Just Became the Third Black Woman in the TV Hall of Fame
  2. Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures Filed to Raise $25M for the pre-seed venture firm’s second fund
  3. African startup founders can finally start looking for big-ticket funding nearer home
  4. Lightspeed Welcomes Tara Nicholle-Nelson as Entrepreneur-in-Residence
  5. Backstage Capital acquires The Door to continue funding underrepresented founders
  6. Issa Rae Built a Hollywood Career on Her Own Terms. Next, She’ll Build an Empire

No. 41 – 3AMReads: Azure in Africa |Facebook Invests in Fiber Optic | Volvo Takes to Kenya

Microsoft Announces First Public Cloud in Africa

Microsoft announced today that it was going to stand up two data centers in South Africa, the first public data centers on the continent. Let that sit with you for a bit. Hopefully, this is the beginning of public clouds proliferating across the continent. The benefits of this reach from public sector revenue generation to auto mobility technologies I was fretting over yesterday. GM, come back, maybe?

Facebook Invests in Fiber Optic in Uganda

I missed the news earlier this year that Uganda was investing $170M in a fiber optic project in Uganda. East Africa landing $270M in fiber optic investments over the past couple months, including Google investing $100M in Csquared, is definitely a good look. Keep it coming!

Volvo Expanding Truck-Building to Kenya

Volvo announced yesterday that it was opening its third truck assembly plant on the African continent, this time in Kenya. I look forward to seeing how this operation performs considering the work the East African Community has done to ensure cross border trade is as strong as possible.

Pay Attention to the Air Through Which You Walk

Chinedu Echeruo gave a talk at Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series on the value that creativity unleashes into the world. In it, he shared a parable David Foster told in a speech to Kenyon College’s 2005 graduating class.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

I found this to be a really compelling commentary on the power of how one thinks. We see that power all around us. Political parties. Marriage. Entrepreneurship.

While thinking on this parable further, I remembered an interview angel investor Jason Calacanis did with Peter Thiel, the contrarian billionaire co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook. He made a point about how one should pay attention to things that don’t work as well as one would like. What comes to mind now is the difficulty I have getting my daughter in and out of her car seat. His argument was that opportunities for a solution lie in those instances of discomfort.

For the past few months, I have tried to document ideas that come to mind during the course of a day. After hearing Mr. Thiel’s argument, I have tried to look a little closer at the everyday things with which I engage on a normal basis. My daughter’s car seat. The rectangular shape of my laptop and iPhone. To apply the language of Mr. Foster’s parable, I am trying to shift my thinking to be aware of the water in which I am swimming, rather the air through which I am walking.

For example, I remember that I heard Mr. Thiel make this comment about paying attention to the discomforts around you while I was sitting at a red light at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and K Street. I can remember this now, but with all the head shots I delivered playing football, I probably won’t remember this experience 50 years from now.

What if I could take a snapshot of that moment in time – the image of the intersection, the two-minute portion of the conversation, the day and time, how the conversation made me feel? Imagine being able to recall that experience 50 years from now as a form of treatment for my dementia.

You’ve seen the joy on the man’s face as he listens to jazz music he’d enjoyed decades prior. Imagine creating a playlist of sorts for your older self to enjoy pivotal moments of your life.

This may or may not be a good idea (I kind of like it and will mention it to my mom who works on dementia issues). That aside, the thought exercise of paying attention to something as routine as a memory unlocks a creativity that I look forward to experiencing more.