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 Bridging the Barriers
Jody Conway, Dr. Cornell Bell, and Pervis H. Bearden

Photo above: BOP spans generations as well as geographical boundaries. Shown are: (from left) current student Jody (Banks) Conway, BS (ACCT) '93, MBA '03, Dr. Cornell Bell, director for BOP, and former BOP student Pervis H. Bearden, BSIM '77, North American warehouse service manager for Procter & Gamble.

Krannert's Business Opportunity Program helps develop new generations of Racially diverse business leaders

By J. Michael Lillich

Shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Krannert's then-new dean John Day and several faculty members decided to pursue a dream of their own: to provide minority students with the tools to succeed in the overwhelmingly white business world. During this time of extreme racial tension, the Krannert School created the Business Opportunity Program (BOP) to support and fund minority students' college educations and help grow a new generation of business leaders that included African Americans and other minorities. The program was one of the first of its kind in the nation.

Since taking wing in 1968 with 11 student participants, BOP has grown and blossomed under the leadership of Dr. Cornell A. Bell, expanding to include graduate students as well as undergraduates. To date, more than 500 minority undergraduates and more than 300 minority master's degree students (predominantly African Americans, about half males and half females) have graduated from Krannert with scholarship and fellowship help from BOP and the personal touch of Cornell Bell.

"We Are Family"

When graduates of the Krannert School's Business Opportunity Program talk about the program's leader, Dr. Cornell A. Bell, the same words and phrases keep recurring:

"Dr. Bell has been like a father to me."
"Even after you graduate, Dr. Bell keeps up with you like a parent." "The graduates of the Business Opportunity Program have become like a family."

The street runs both ways. Dr. Bell describes BOP as "almost like a family. I have so much respect for these students. Some have become my best friends."

Kelvin Pennington, BSIM '80, explains the relevance of the family metaphor. "For a lot of students whose parents didn't attend college and didn't have that experience to draw upon, Dr. Bell fulfilled that role."

Pennington was headed to Indiana University from Hammond (Ind.) High School when he met Dr. Bell. "He was the only person who came to our school to talk about college," Pennington said. "He offered a challenging opportunity. That really appealed to me."

That father-family metaphor remained intact once Pennington reached campus. "Other people, particularly minorities, felt like they were on their own at the big university. But with Dr. Bell and BOP, you were part of something. The other BOP students were like brothers and sisters to you," he says. 

After Pennington earned his Krannert degree, he went on to earn his MBA from the University of Chicago. He is now managing principal of Pennington Partners & Co., a venture capital firm in Chicago.

"Dr. Bell and BOP are the keys to my success," Pennington says. "What has been important is the relationship, the network, and the guidance."

Some of the BOP students didn't know they were interested in management careers until meeting Dr. Bell. In fact, some hadn't even viewed college as a realistic possibility.

Shawn Taylor, BS (ACCT) '82, was a solid "B" student and football player at Chicago Vocational High School. He grew up in the projects, his family on welfare. Taylor relates that after the last football game of his career, Dr. Bell showed up at his house. "We sat around the kitchen table, and he told us about BOP," Taylor says. "It was a totally new idea to me. I never knew there was such a thing as a chance."

Dr. Bell says that Taylor, with his vocational school education, had some academic catching up to do at Purdue. "But Shawn's discipline, determination, and desire to succeed were overwhelming," Bell says.

Taylor capitalized on his chance at Krannert, graduating with honors. After graduation, he worked for Arthur Andersen in Dallas for 10 years, where he became a manager. Then, he spent five years with American Express as a personal financial planner.

Today, he is the owner, president, and CEO of his own company that runs 32 Taco Bell restaurants in the Houston area. He still stays in regular communication with Dr. Bell.

"Honestly," he says, "Dr. Bell is like a father to me."

What is Dr. Bell's secret to finding and motivating talented students?

"He has such commitment," Taylor says. "He cares. People see that and respond to it."  

Cynthia G. Barnes, BS (ACCT) '77, was an honor student from Ft. Wayne. She had known from the age of 10 that she was going to be a businesswoman, although she didn't know what kind of businesswoman. She had scholarship offers when she graduated from high school in 1975 and "absolutely no intentions of going to Purdue.

"Dr. Bell convinced me to come down for a visit," she says. "I was persuaded to come to Purdue because Dr. Bell took me personally under his wing. I thought for many years I was his one and only. 

"It wasn't until we had a function honoring him in 1992 that I realized that I was just one of the people in a room of 400 or 500, each one of whom Dr. Bell had personally taken under his wing." Barnes laughs at the memory.

Barnes was a young woman in a hurry. She graduated in 2 1/2 years. "Funds were an issue," she says. "I came from a working family, and shortening that time span in college made a financial difference." 

Barnes graduated in December 1977. She interviewed in Chicago with KPMG, LLP, a Big Six accounting firm. When she told her interviewers she wasn't interested in working in Chicago, they spread out a U.S. map and told her she could work anywhere the firm had an office. She chose Houston, "because I knew it was booming." 

Before the fact, Dr. Bell had worked hard to make contacts with accounting firms because of the underrepresentation of minorities in the field.

Barnes is now a CPA and partner at Barnes & Lenoir CPAs in Houston.

For years, Barnes and other BOP graduates have referred others to Dr. Bell and the BOP family, the Krannert School, and Purdue. Barnes referred and recommended three Texas students to the class of BOP students who entered the program in the summer of 2001. 

"Dr. Bell was always there for me," she says. "He opened doors. He encouraged self-esteem and gave me the tools and foundation to walk into a board room, adjust, adapt, and solve problems.

"Dr. Bell was that father you always wanted. And I have a very special father of my own."

The BOP Commitment

BOP began as an idea following closely on the heels of the racial turmoil following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Several faculty members came to the new Krannert dean, John Day, and suggested something needed to be done to recruit African American students to Purdue and the Krannert School."

Faculty members were saying that if the African American community was going to progress, minorities were going to have to get involved in the economics of society," Day was quoted as saying at that time.

Those faculty members include Prof. Dan E. Schendel, strategic management, now dean of the German International Graduate School of Management (GISMA); and Prof. Wilbur G. Lewellen, finance, now director of Krannert Executive Education Programs (KEEP). Two others were Charles Lawrence (now an emeritus professor) and Joseph C. Ullman.

Very few minority students were getting MBAs in those days. From BOP's inception, Day and the faculty had their eyes on growing their own MBA students from undergraduates.

Northern Indiana schools were a logical place to find minority students for the West Lafayette campus, but Day and his Krannert colleagues realized that some of the schools weren't providing sufficient educational preparation for Krannert. Day set up a summer college preparatory term before the freshman year, funded by a loan from the Purdue Research Foundation. 

The summer term gave motivated students the tools to succeed academically: an eight-week course in mathematics, English, and economics; academic and adjustment counseling; BOP also provided tutors throughout the students' undergraduate years, and summer internships.

The only thing lacking was someone to lead the program.

In BOP's second year, Dean Day hired Bell, a former Gary, Ind., school administrator who was planning to earn his doctorate at IU. Day convinced him he should work on his PhD at Purdue. "I suggested he come on board as a professor, but primarily as the administrator of the new program," Day said. "He was very successful at this. He later started working not only with undergraduates but also with graduate students. This grew into one of the most successful programs of this type of any business school in the country."

In fact, it was one of the first such programs nationally.

Bell, who still corresponds with Day, says that the situation was not comfortable in 1968 when BOP began. American cities were afflicted with racial violence, and the Vietnam war raged abroad. Yet Day had the vision to begin the potentially controversial program.

"When I think of Dean Day and the social environment in which he started the BOP program, I think it takes a lot of courage to be a leader," Bell says,  About the faculty members whose idealism was the impetus for BOP, Dr. Bell has one word: "extraordinary."

The Ingredients of Success 

Dr. Bell discovered his gift for encouraging students to pursue their educations as a counselor in the Gary schools in the early '60s.

Bell acknowledges that BOP has come a long way since it began with 11 students in 1968. But what he terms "the ingredients of success," the qualities he looks for in students, have remained constant through the years.

"I have always looked as much at the parents as at the students," Bell says. His reason is that parents often impart important qualities to their children, especially the self-esteem, "stick-to-it-iveness, and competitiveness" that he saw as the qualities his successful students had in common.

"I am still looking for those same ingredients," Dr. Bell says. Successful students, in Dr. Bell's experience, had good role models. He knew this from his background as a principal in Gary, one of the places BOP targeted early because of the influential group of African American doctors, lawyers, and teachers there. 

While he wouldn't say so himself, Dr. Bell is one of the ingredients of his students' success. He describes himself as necessarily stern, because "I can't lose the students' respect."

But this stern father figure is often around at suppertime for his students. Dr. Bell makes the rounds to the residence halls where his students live. He has been a Faculty Fellow at Wiley Hall for more than 15 years, and it's no coincidence that he's spotted and recruited some sharp students for the MBA program. He has recruited white students as well as minorities.

"Somehow students flock to me," Dr. Bell says. "Students are good psychologists. They are keen at intuitively detecting the people who are genuinely concerned about them. Students value commitment, rapport, encouragement, and follow-up."

In addition to putting his students on the path to success, Dr. Bell has always looked after the growth and success of BOP, too. 

After Dr. Bell's initial concentration in the Northern Indiana steel-mill region for students, he began to look outward, not just in the Midwest but also in other parts of the country, to Texas and Alabama, and even to the coasts. 

"It's good for students to see young people from other parts of the country," Dr. Bell says. "Geographic diversity is almost as important as racial diversity.

"As BOP became more successful, Dr. Bell began to expand the program to the MBA level, Dean Day's original dream. As it turned out, Krannert and BOP didn't have to do all of the growing of qualified MBA prospective students. Dr. Bell was an early and active member of the Graduate Management Admissions Council, a national federation of top business schools dedicated to recruiting MBA students. "I was not only drumming up new students for the Purdue cause but also ensuring that the pioneering efforts of BOP were recognized among our university peers."

In the past several years, minority MBA candidates have come to Krannert not only from excellent undergraduate programs at institutions such as Texas, California-Berkeley, Princeton, Illinois, and Michigan, but also from historically African American schools such as Prairie View, Spellman, Hampton, Morehouse, Tuskegee, and North Carolina A&T. 

Dr. Bell says he looks for the same qualities in prospective MBA students that he seeks in BOP undergraduates: good minds, competitiveness, and motivation. But the ante is up for this group, Dr. Bell says. "The MBA is pro ball."

The Future of BOP

In some ways for Dr. Bell, the future of BOP is the past: "I am still interested in giving young people a chance to take full advantage of all their educational opportunities. The well-educated minority student today has more opportunities for advancement than ever before in this country's history."

Ana McCune-van de Velde had graduated from Indiana University in 21/2 years and was teaching journalism at West Side High School in Gary. She had heard of Dr. Bell, and sought him out when he made his annual recruiting visit to the school.

"She introduced herself and inquired about graduate programs in business," Dr. Bell remembers.

The next year she came to Krannert as a graduate student and teaching assistant-counselor to undergraduate BOP students. She received her master's degree in 1979.

"My goal was independence," van de Velde says. "As a female, I had not been previously aware of the opportunities for women in business and management. "I had not even been able to dream the dream. Dr. Bell, in my mind, is a miracle worker.

"The dream for McCune-van de Velde started at General Motors Corp. After a year, she was recruited by AT&T Corp. and went through a series of rotational assignments in sales and marketing, accounting, operations, engineering supervision, and strategic planning.

She then became vice president and later interim president of New Detroit, Inc., an urban planning and development company. 

"Then, in 1995 I became a real entrepreneur in partnership with my husband in our company, Automotive Strategies, a worldwide automotive consulting company doing competitive benchmarking, engineering, and marketing studies for all the major automakers worldwide.

"She also is a partner-owner in Paradies-Metro Ventures, Inc., which operates 24 retail gift and news concession stores in the Detroit and Flint airports. 

By the end of the year, Paradies-Metro Ventures will open 19 new stores at the airports. Van de Velde and her husband maintain homes in both the United States and France. She is also the mother of 6-year-old twin boys.

"The need for programs such as BOP and people like Dr. Bell is even stronger now," she says. "There are more social pressures today for young people - drugs, negative peer pressure, gangs, children raising children - BOP is a real alternative."

Although times have changed since 1968, "excellence" is still the byword at the university, and the original BOP design for students who might not have gone to college is still viable.

In management education, particularly at the MBA level, the competition for top students is intense. Still, Dr. Bell keeps his eye out for the motivated, competitive minority student lacking only one thing - a chance.

"The point is to be valued for our differences," says Pervis H. Bearden, BSIM '77, North American warehouse service manager for Procter & Gamble. However, he says it's important to be able to relate to others, though that doesn't mean minorities should just buy into the existing power structure. "You have to know how to assimilate yourself with the movers and shakers to have them understand what you bring to the party. When I talk to students today, I refer to this as 'savvy.'"

Another word for it is "leadership."

The Cornell A. Bell Endowment

On opening day of the 1998 baseball season in Cincinnati, Pervis H. Bearden, BSIM '77, North American warehouse service manager for Procter & Gamble, was in the stands with James Dworkin, who was then the Krannert School associate dean. Bearden brought up the idea of the Krannert School's doing something to simultaneously provide for the future of BOP and honor Dr. Bell's leadership of the program.

"How about an endowment?" Dworkin suggested. "Do you think the BOP graduates would be willing to contribute?" As it turned out, the graduates were more than willing. At first a bit daunted by the challenge of a $1 million goal, Bearden, with the help of development officer J. Christopher Smith, sent out a letter to 650 students, alumni, and friends of BOP and Dr. Bell. Appropriately, Roland Parrish, BSIM '75, MSM '76, Dr. Bell's first BOP recruit, made the first major gift pledge - for $50,000. An endowment committee was formed. The fund took off.

Ford Motor Co. contributed $300,000 in recognition of the former BOP students who had gone to work for the automaker. Dr. Bell himself made a $50,000 contribution. Suddenly, the seemingly impossible $1 million goal seemed possible.

Dr. Bell hopes the endowment will provide "more scholarships, more fellowships, more opportunities for out-of-state student tuition."

He'd like to see corporate support for BOP grow, but not in a feel-good charity way. "We've been providing companies with good people for many years now," he says.

At this writing, the gifts and pledges to the endowment have reached $922,000.Bearden, who has chaired the endowment committee, calls Dr. Bell's accomplishment "phenomenal."

"Dr. Bell isn't about the money. He stayed the course in a profession that was not the most lucrative in terms of salary," Bearden says. "And I think you'd have to say he's done it - and is doing it - for the good of mankind. His idea was to educate students to make a good living and to be good citizens. He never takes credit. He does it because it's the right thing to do.

"BOP and Bell have been good for Krannert and good for Purdue because we now have a reputation as a nurturing place to be for minorities in management and engineering," Bearden says. "It's helped us recruit students we couldn't recruit before."

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