After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Orlando Watkins saw firsthand the role small businesses can play in rebuilding a community.
That experience with the Greater New Orleans Foundation proved to be formative for Watkins, who is emerging as one of Boston’s most prominent nonprofit executives. Watkins, who is Black, hit the ground running when he moved here in 2009 after his wife, Marla Baskerville, was hired as a business school professor at Northeastern University. Now, Watkins is leading the way for The Boston Foundation as its Business Equity Fund reaches critical mass.
Among his responsibilities as the foundation’s chief program officer, Watkins oversees the BEF, as it’s known. It’s actually become a “fund of funds” that pools together philanthropic donations and bank commitments to make low-cost loans or stock investments in Black- and Latino-owned businesses in the region. The foundation technically oversees $7 million of these funds, while Mill Cities Community Investments, where Watkins holds a board seat, manages another $3 million.
The BEF just completed two of its biggest and most high-profile deals: a $550,000 loan to help the expansion of Urban Grape, a wine retailer in the South End run by TJ Douglas and Hadley Douglas, and a $500,000 investment in the Bay State Banner’s new ownership group, to help buy out longtime publisher Melvin Miller.
At least 20 businesses have been helped since the BEF’s launch in 2018 through a partnership between the foundation, Eastern Bank, and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. (An Eastern Bank offshoot known as the Foundation for Business Equity, led by Glynn Lloyd, eventually merged with Mill Cities and took its name.)
The Boston Foundation says the BEF is geared toward helping minority-owned companies with more than $250,000 in annual revenue that can use additional financing to create jobs.
To Watkins, it’s a worthy mission because it can help bridge the region’s racial wealth gaps, spur economic development, and create new players who can give back to their communities. He said he’s starting to see these efforts pay off: Nearly all of the portfolio companies have added jobs since receiving BEF funds. Other like-minded groups, such as the Boston Ujima Project and Boston Impact Initiative, are making headway as well.
“I think we’re on the verge of something really significant in Boston,” Watkins said. “I spent my whole career trying to think about how we advance communities of color. I’m convinced now more than ever that one part of it has to be building economic power in our communities.”
A long road from Babson to boss’ seat at PwC
Lead with love.
That’s the bottom line from an executive who knows all about the bottom line: Tim Ryan, the US chair at accounting giant PwC.
Thirty-five years after graduating from Babson College, Ryan was back on campus, giving an emotional message to a crowd of aspiring entrepreneurs and corporate executives at Babson’s commencement on Saturday.
Ryan talked about how he was an OK student with below-average hockey skills when Babson admitted him. He mentioned how one professor talked him into an accounting career instead of opening a sub shop, so he took a job at what was then Price Waterhouse. He recalled how out of place he felt, a kid from modest means, among the other recruits with their fancy suits. And he described how one instructor made all the difference, by taking him to Filene’s Basement to buy two shirts for him.
Ryan flashed forward nearly 30 years to when he was starting in the chairman’s job, in 2016. Five police officers in Dallas were killed during his first week, after several high-profile shootings of Black men. Ryan pivoted and decided to focus on race relations, shutting down the company for one day to hold discussions on the topic. The decision prompted hundreds of colleagues to e-mail Ryan, thanking him. And it positioned PwC as an early leader on this issue, leading to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative, now backed by more than 2,400 chief executives.
“It didn’t blow up in our face,” Ryan told the Babson crowd. “It catapulted [PwC] to the next level, because we showed love . . . I know you have great plans. I did. Just remember the people you are counting on to help you achieve those great plans.”
Spilka holds cards close to the vest on tax cuts
Brooke Thomson, executive vice president at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, may have hoped Senate President Karen Spilka might spill the beans about the Senate’s pending tax reform package.
But Spilka wasn’t divulging any details during her visit with AIM last week — at least not about taxes — at an event Thomson hosted at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. The Senate budget plan Spilka unveiled the previous day includes $575 million for a suite of tax cuts to be named later. But unlike their counterparts in the House, Spilka and her budget chief, Michael Rodrigues, are waiting a bit longer before figuring out what tax changes they’ll support. Spilka wants to hear from every senator and monitor the monthly tax collections, particularly after an unexpectedly large plunge in April.
She did pledge to revive the “Tech Hub,” a nickname for a legislative caucus that interfaces with high-tech companies that fell by the wayside during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But as far as tax cuts go, all Spilka would say is that the Senate plan will focus on equity and also “chip away at those headwinds that could threaten Massachusetts competitiveness.”
Singh revs things up with new corporate name
Prahlad Singh was bracing for a busy Tuesday: He’s trekking to the New York Stock Exchange to lead a team in ringing the opening bell.
This bell ringing isn’t to herald a new stock — well, not exactly. Formerly associated with PerkinElmer, the newly rechristened Revvity changes its ticker symbol on Tuesday to reflect the new name. PKI becomes RVTY. Singh unveiled the lab instrument and test maker’s name change last week, to a group of 1,300 or so employees at a summit in Dallas. Working with FutureBrand, a British consulting firm, Singh’s company came up with the name Revvity to reflect the words “revolution” and “vita” (”life” in Latin).
Why drop an established name like PerkinElmer? In this case, the name will still be used by a group of environmental, food, and industrial testing businesses that was spun out to private equity firm New Mountain Capital in March, in a $2.45 billion deal.
Singh wanted a fresh brand for the company that remains — the one with more growth and profit-margin potential. This company will focus on health care sectors such as pharmaceuticals and biotech. It will keep its Waltham headquarters, employ more than 11,000 people, and generate roughly $3 billion in revenue. Revvity now has a singular purpose, and it’s a lofty one: “Expanding the boundaries of human potential through science.”
A waterfront bar honoring Boston’s former top cop
Marina Bay is getting a new addition: a waterfront bar named after former Boston police commissioner William Gross.
Victory Point owner Donato Frattaroli says he is remaking his Quincy restaurant’s outdoor bar, and renaming it in honor of Boston’s former top cop. Gross became a frequent visitor to Victory Point after Marina Bay resident George Regan showed him around the joint a few years ago. Frattaroli already has a logo for “Willie’s” that features a Stetson hat, like the ones Gross often wears. Signs should be going up in the next few weeks at the 70-seat outdoor deck.
“He’s the type of guy, he will talk to anybody, he will relate to anybody,” Frattaroli said of Gross, who was Boston police commissioner from mid-2018 to early 2021.
Regan, who counts Gross among his PR clients, says Gross considers the bar renaming to be an honor. “He fell in love with Marina Bay,” the publicist said. “And Marina Bay fell in love with him.”