Picture a successful business founder. Most think of a white man in a three-piece suit, who is ruthlessly determined to succeed and who prioritizes profit over beauty. While this is a narrative commonly seen in society, Kathryn Feeney disproves it as a black business owner and investor who advocates for human-centered business practices.
Finney is the managing partner of Genius Guild and author of the book Build Damn Things: How to Start a Successful Business If You’re Not a Rich White Guy.
Concordia hosted Finney as part of the “Building a Trustworthy World” series, an initiative through the Lorentzen Center that brings professionals to campus to share knowledge about leadership, innovation and courage.
“I’m trying to build a world where everybody wins,” Finney says.
In the business world, Finney seeks to create connections beyond profit by creating opportunities for investors, company founders, and the communities that benefit from those companies’ services.
This initiative combines large group keynote addresses with small group opportunities to create a better sense of community and provide multiple opportunities for connection.
In addition to meeting with businesses in the StartUpBREW weekly event series focused on building community for local entrepreneurs, Finney met for dinner with students who are part of the Black Student Union.
Kumba Gley, president of the Black Student Union, said one of the union’s goals is to increase financial literacy because of the historical and continuing trend of financial inequality for the black community, which is a “significant limitation.” Gley feels that hosting Finney is a way to bridge this gap and give students the opportunity to learn from the founder of a successful black company.
The keynote was open to community members virtually or in person and was attended by several local business owners, including the founders of Fred’s Dissonance and Emerging Prairie.
Sophomore Krisavi Seeman is the Lorentzen Center’s digital marketing and storytelling specialist that reflects on the presence of community members.
“There were so many alumni, community members and local professionals in attendance, and I thought it was special for Concordia to provide a place for that connection. It gave me a better perspective on what the Lorentzen Center does and the impact we’re having not only on the college, but in the community as well,” Seeman said.
One of Finney’s fundamental insights about equitable investment is recognizing the difference between shareholder and stakeholder capitalism. Finney argues that investors and founders should move toward a stakeholder capitalist model to renew the sense of responsibility and long-term investment built into the model.
In a world that prioritizes maximizing shareholder wealth, Feeney suggests that moving toward a stakeholder mindset is a more sustainable and equitable approach to business. This mindset shift will encourage business owners to maintain core values that allow them to profit while serving their communities.
Finney carries this mindset through his business endeavors. And this mindset also taught him key opportunities to level the playing field for Black founders.
Selling a company for profit, although some have criticized it as a way to push black owners out of business, is a powerful tool for black founders, according to Finney. With these payouts, Feeney said founders have leverage that can be used to create space for more black founders.
Finney has personal experience with this. She created her first company Budget Fashionista in 2003 and sold it in 2012. With that payment, Feeney invested in and was able to promote more than 2,000 black women entrepreneurs.
“You can do good and do well at the same time,” Feeney said.
Using this stakeholder mindset, Finney paved the way for other black founders with a focus on sustainable leadership and advocacy. In doing so, Finney subverts the narrative that a for-profit business succeeds by accumulating wealth because of its dedication to giving back to its customers and community.
During her keynote address, Feeney acknowledged several misconceptions in the investment industry and offered her experiences as a black female business owner subverting expectations.
Feeney said he often experiences others who try to limit him through stereotypes.
“I try to directly challenge those who put me in a box. Although some people may be challenged by my identity, there are many others who appreciate me for being me,” Feeney said.
This is shown in Finney’s dedication to engaging authentically with himself and others. Staying true to who you are, Finney asserts, is the foundation of being an enduring and influential leader.
After hearing her keynote speech, Seaman said, “I loved how authentic and true she was.”
Feeney’s advice to student entrepreneurs is to be yourself, be a good person who wants to work with others, and ask others for help when needed. Finney says finding others you can genuinely talk to is key to being successful.
Overall, Feeney emphasized the importance of human-centered company practices not only as a business owner and a leader to others, but also as a community member.
The Lorentzen Center will host Nadine Straussen to discuss “Free Speech, Censorship and Debate” in February. All keynote addresses are recorded and available at the Lorentzen Center website.