New responsibilities come with the age of ownership

Armstrong Williams | 5/22/2014, 2:03 p.m.
Donald Sterling’s publicly disclosed comments depict an anachronistic view of race relations in this country.
Armstrong Williams

In potentially taking on the mantle of ownership, be it Blacks or any other race, the issue of character will remain front and center. Being Black or of any race will not make ownership of an NBA franchise any easier. It’s one thing to play the victim and blame one’s circumstances on discrimination. It’s another stance to take responsibility for one’s circumstances and succeed not despite but because of the obstacles one faces and overcomes. Ownership changes one’s orientation toward life in that regard.

As a business owner, I rarely think about race or society or what’s going on in someone else’s mind or in their closet. The buck literally stops with me, and I find myself much more than fully engaged with the challenges of meeting payroll, managing TV stations, publishing American Currentsee, hosting daily talk shows, generating new ideas and providing quality products in the marketplace. There is a certain level of being above the fray that’s necessary to manage such responsibilities. Employees may have the option of not showing up, but ownership is a 24/7 job with no days off. As an owner, one has a broader constituency than just the racial or social class to which one belongs. In reality, owners themselves are owned by the marketplace. And because so much is riding on it—employees’ families and careers, providing critical goods and services to society at large—ownership demands the very best from us.

The reality is that ownership of a business is not an entitlement that one assumes based on one’s wealth, but a job—just like any other within an organization. It requires the skill of ownership, which is really the judgment to make certain sacrifices in furtherance of the overall success of the organization. Sterling, despite having demonstrated great business acumen over the years, lost sight of this. He let his personal prejudices—and, apparently, appetites—get in the way of his better judgment.

He saw the players and the team as his personal toys, not as a members of an organization that deserved his full respect and leadership. It really begs the question of how he could expect to build a championship team—and a successful business—on the backs of employees (players and coaches) for whom he has so little respect. This is a lesson that he should have learned long ago, but failed to appreciate despite several brushes with controversy. Moreover, Sterling critically misjudged the society in which we live. There are many who are outright offended by a suggestion that associating with Blacks­—or any other race—carries a social stigma. There are sizeable and growing numbers of interracial relationships and adoptions, especially in Los Angeles. In other words, you never know just based on the color of someone’s skin where their sentiments on the subject of race may lie. That’s why this issue extends far beyond the African-American community in particular and affects society and business overall. Any new prospective owners would do well to consider these lessons before jumping into the arena.

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