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Black Enterprise’s Earl Graves Sr., ‘Butch’ Talk Discipline, Family Business and Legacy

Earl G. Graves Sr., professor Charles Ogletree and Earl "Butch" Graves Jr.

Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School professor and director of the Criminal Justice Institute, facilitated a thoughtful discussion with Black Enterprise magazine’s founder and publisher, Earl G. Graves Sr., and his son Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis during the Entrepreneurs Conference and Expo.

When introducing the senior Graves and inviting him to take his seat on the stage, Ogletree exalted him for his dedication to his family, serving in the armed forces as a Green Beret and supporting his own HBCU alma mater. He offers, “We are where we are because someone else has done it for us. I want to salute Earl Graves for never changing that paradigm.”

The senior Graves opened with praises for his wife of 50 years, Barbara, for her guidance, influence and support. “I am who I am because of her. She has been my Alpha and Omega for all of these years. She is the most modest person. We are a team because we set certain guidelines for what we expected of ourselves [and] of the boys, and we set certain standards of who would be our friends. Who we visited and who visited us would be of like minds.”

The father and son openly discussed everything from discipline in the home to passing the torch to leading the multimedia company, which is celebrating more than 40 years, in front of an audience of more than 1,300.

Professor Charles Ogletree, Earl G. Graves Sr. and Earl "Butch" Graves Jr.

An All-American in basketball at Yale University and MBA graduate of Harvard Business School, Butch talked about his childhood. “Growing up, for my brothers and I … my father was a [disciplinarian]. Everything was programmatic and of military precision. He had very exacting standards. We always had to work. At the time, we didn’t understand it. In terms of putting academics over sports, he was clear on academics and unimpressed with any athletic pursuits or exploits. Not that he didn’t enjoy it, but it wasn’t the most important thing. He said,’There are no C’s in this house’,” offers the junior Graves, who pushed the envelope and earned a C during his first quarter in school. “He put me on probation. The second quarter, while playing JV basketball as a freshman, I thought I was hot stuff. I brought home another C. He didn’t say anything to me Saturday … Sunday. Monday morning at 6 a.m., he says, ‘I meant to tell you I called your coach last night. You have resigned from the team.’ Needless to say, that was [my] last C.'”

Butch understood his father’s rationale that “C is for average, and there is nothing average about you. If you have low expectations, you will meet those. If you have high expectations, you will meet those.”

The senior Graves’ disciplinary methods for his children were in line with how he lived his own life. “I went to Morgan State University with $465 in my pocket. I washed dishes, cleaned windows and toilets, had a grass-cutting business and six of my fraternity brothers worked with me. I had drive, and I have certainly seen that in my three sons, John, Michael and Butch.” He also pointed out that his own father, who was an orphan and died at the age of 47, always wanted the best for him. So, he always held the same level of compassion for his own children. “The story [Butch] just described to you, fortunately, he is not sitting here today as the CEO of the company because he got C’s. We made an investment in him and his brothers that they would do well.”

Do well, they have. Black Enterprise has grown from a single-title publication into a multimedia company delivering content across six platforms: magazine publishing; two nationally syndicated television shows; professional development events; a website; a web-based application and mobile content. –yvette caslin