Episode #50: We’re joined by Kenny Vaughn, FTMBA ’16, on our podcast today to hear about his life from West Point to his career serving our country, and his journey since Haas.
We chat about everyone from why he chose Haas to our society at large and what he’s doing with his Haas degree to make an even bigger impact.
Episode Quotes:“There’s some brilliant people you sit in the classroom with, but at the end of the day, you always felt like we were in this thing together. Our success was not defined by any individual success.” Click To Tweet “I’m opening up my eyes to the world in a way that I didn’t even anticipate prior to coming to business school” Click To Tweet
[00:00:00] Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas Alumni podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today, I’m joined by Kendrick Vaughn, also known as Kenny Vaughn. What do you go by?
[00:00:11] Kenny: Kenny works, man. I can do Kenny. I can do Kendrick. I had a little midlife crisis in the middle of business school, so I went from Kenny to Kendrick, but we’ll do Kenny today. It’s good.
[00:00:21] Sean: All right, Kenny is our full time MBA graduate of 2016. Correct?
[00:00:28] Kenny: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
[00:00:30] Sean: And you’ve been in the military your entire life.
[00:00:34] Kenny: You could say that. 12 years. Graduated from West Point in 2008 and have been rolling ever since. So, it’s what I know. But I’ll tell you what, that’s part of the reason I was so excited to share my experience at Haas. Because I feel like that has been such a significant chapter of my life.
[00:00:54] I’m opening up my eyes to the world and in a way that I didn’t even anticipate prior to coming to business school. So I’m super excited to be here speaking with you today and appreciate you taking the time.
[00:01:06] Sean: You know, Kenny, I would love to hear more about your background, your family. I know your father was also in the military. Can you share a little bit about your origins?
[00:01:15] Kenny: Yeah, for sure. So, it’s funny that you ask this question because this is a question that I actually hadn’t spent a ton of time thinking about until earlier this year when things kind of slowed down with the coronavirus and, you know, I just started asking my parents about some family history.
[00:01:32] I’m originally an army brat. So, my dad was in the military for 25 years. I went to four different high schools in three different States. I’ve lived overseas. I mean, I got a chance to see a little bit of everything growing up. But that was really the depth of my understanding of our family history.
[00:01:50] And it wasn’t until probably the beginning of this year, where I started to ask some deeper questions about our family roots, our family tree. Come to find out that, you know, my great grandfather served in the military. He served in World War II. He was a noncommissioned officer for the Quartermaster Corps.
[00:02:08] My grandfather also served in the military. He was in the Army Air Corps, served in World War II. My father, as I mentioned, was in the military, is West point graduate as well. So, just kind of hearing some of those stories that as much as I hate to admit was the first time that I’m hearing. A lot of these stories was mind blowing to me because I think it put into perspective how I ended up where I am today with just the desire to serve and really continue a family tradition that I didn’t realize was as long standing as it was.
[00:02:39] Sean: Wow. Did everyone go to West point?
[00:02:43] Kenny: No. So, my uncle was actually the first member of our family to go to West Point. He graduated the class 1977. My father graduated in the class of 1983 and for me, growing up, I felt like West Point was really all I knew about the college experience because when we went to my father’s reunions, we’d go visit West Point and I’m thinking, Hey, this is one of the only options.
[00:03:09] So West Point that’s where it’s gotta be. And, so I kinda just grew up wanting to be like my dad, you know, and I think much like a lot of young men, you look to your dad and that’s kind of what you aspire, that’s the benchmark of success right there. Just seeing how he lived his life was tremendously inspiring to me and I kind of picked up that piece. On my mother’s side of the family, so, my mother is a first-generation immigrant from Dominica. She came over to the United States April 17th, 1975 from a very, very small country, rural upbringing. I mean this type of place where you go down to the river and you’re like washing your laundry down the river and you’re carrying the stuff back to your houses.
[00:03:57] It’s one of those places. And she immigrated in the mid-seventies to Connecticut. So, she flew into JFK going from this very rural place to now the heart of New York city, trying to get adjusted to a new culture and a new country. So, those are all pearls of wisdom that I’m just now at the age of 34, I’m starting to glean from my parents and my grandparents.
[00:04:22] Sean: I’m personally curious, you know, being an army brat, you know, where are all the places that you’ve lived?
[00:04:28] Kenny: How much time do you have?
[00:04:30] Sean: We got a lot. You know, a lot of these things, especially where we grew up, right, they have a huge impact on who we are.
[00:04:38] I moved here when I was seven from China and my family, we moved around Michigan a little bit and because the school districts kept changing and just having that experience, having to make new friends constantly, right.
[00:04:53] I’m curious, you know, what it was like for you having to move around.
[00:04:58] Kenny: So, it was so interesting that you mentioned that because I was born in Fort Hood, Texas. Lived in Fort Bliss, Texas. My family moved to a city called Mainz, Germany. From there we moved to Monterey, California, where my dad went to Naval postgraduate school. We lived in Huntsville, Alabama. We’ve lived in Herndon, Virginia Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
[00:05:22] But in high school I started off high school in a city called Huntsville. And the high school that I went to was called S.R. Butler. So, it was in the urban part of Huntsville, which sounds interesting when you’re talking about Alabama, but it does actually have an urban portion of the city. And, that was an eye-opening experience for me because coming from a military background, you grew up in military towns and, you know, everyone’s kind of cut from the same cloth. But going to Butler, it was a majority-minority school, so it was probably about 85% black students. And it was such an eye-opening experience for me because you realize that your people have exposure to different experiences growing up, right. And for me, I had a somewhat sheltered upbringing.
[00:06:14] I mean, just with the military family, you move around so much, you have a very close knit, nuclear family. But when we went to Huntsville, these kids are coming from some tough beginnings, man. It’s very humble beginning, single family households, folks work and support their families.
[00:06:33] You see all of that and you see the challenges that people who are the exact same age as you are having a face in high school and that was an eye-opening experience. My sophomore year we went to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. My junior year, we went to a Herndon, Virginia which is actually in Fairfax County.
[00:06:51] And that was the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Huntsville. In Herndon, it’s a pretty affluent part of the country right there outside of DC. You know, very diverse high school and just the aspirations that people had at Herndon in high school were so much different, you know. You got people talking about Ivy League colleges.
[00:07:12] You have folks who are starting to study for the SAT and in seventh and eighth and ninth grade. College readiness just rolls off of everyone’s tongue. Completely different experience. And this is, this was really one of the first times that it sunk in how much variance, how wide the spectrum is in terms of what people leave high school equipped with.
[00:07:38] And then I graduated from high school in Madison, Alabama at Bob Jones high school. The last thing that I’ll say about that is I just would agree with you, man, that I think for me, going to four different high schools, the biggest thing was, is you’re always the new kid and it’s like, you can either be outgoing and personable and try to make friends or it could be a lonely year.
[00:08:01] So I think for me, that has absolutely shaped my personality in a very good way. I think obviously it stinks, you know, having to move away physically from friends that you’re close with, but on the other end, and I’d be interested to hear if this was your experience too, I think it is added incentive to keep longstanding relationships because you never know when you’ll bump into somebody down the road, you never know where your paths may cross again. So, I’ve always tried to maintain, you know, those friendships, even from a from a distance.
[00:08:35] Sean: No, I completely agree. And it makes you cherish the relationships and the bonds that you’ve built a lot more.
[00:08:47] Kenny: A hundred percent. Absolutely.
[00:08:50] Sean: So that’s really powerful. Thanks for sharing that.
[00:08:54] So, from high school, you went into West Point.
[00:08:57] Was there anything that you wanted to specialize in going into West Point?
[00:09:01] Kenny: You know, what’s funny about the service academies is that’s not the first thing you’re concerned with. When you first get there, you’re going through something that’s, we call it cadet basic training. I know they call it different things with different service academies.
[00:09:11] But the first thing you’re doing is like the first six weeks is hot and heavy military training. So, I mean, you show up, you get like 30 seconds to say bye to your parents and then people start yelling at you. And, but, you know, what’s so funny about it is, it was actually such a cool experience because you’re doing things like rappeling out of helicopters.
[00:09:32] You’re firing weapons. You’re learning how to do land navigation. These once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that, you know, as you’re going through it, because you’re going through it with peers, it doesn’t seem like this crazy, amazing thing. But when you look back on, you’re like, wow, you know, we just did some amazing stuff over the course of this summer. So that’s like your very first experience. But once you get into the school year, as crazy as it sounds academically, it’s pretty similar to a regular college. I think the main difference is that time is your most valuable asset because not only are you taking anywhere from 18 to 21, 24 credit hours, but you have to play a sport.
[00:10:19] You have military responsibilities. There are just different requirements that are always tugging at your time. And I think that was probably more so even than my major, I was an engineering management major. I think the biggest thing that I took away from West Point was the ability to have more things thrown on your plate than you have the time and the bandwidth to handle. And then figuring out how to prioritize, manage time, and assume risk in different areas of responsibility. So, that was definitely one of the biggest takeaways. I mean, it’s a great academic experience, but I think more so than what you get in the classroom, the leadership that you get as well as some of those intangible skills are the biggest things that I took away from my experience at West Point.
[00:11:03] Sean: Right on my desk, Jocko’s Discipline Equals Freedom. I’ve been rereading it because
, civilian life, we take so many things for granted. We think that, you know, what we’re dealing with stress is the most stressful thing.
[00:11:18] And he’s like, you haven’t seen stress, you know? And, the whole idea is that, you know, we’re not tapping into our full potential. That’s really what he’s trying to get at. He’s not trying to mock, you know, civilian life or anything like that. It’s just that, you know, people are really not or even close to reaching their potential and what they could do.
[00:11:37] Kenny: So, you know what, it’s so funny that you mention that because I think there’s beauty in the spectrum too. So absolutely going to West Point, there was so much structure. There is so much rigidity that comes from that experience that when you leave, you feel like that’s commonplace. And I remember even going to my first few classes at Haas and I’m like five minutes early guy, you know, you’re like, get your seat in the front seat of the class.
[00:12:05] You know, the professor walks in and like, people are still talking and you’re like, if this was West Point, man, this is a completely different dynamic. So, I’m, you know, I’m like going through a little bit of anxiety here the first couple of days. But in that very same breath, man, I have so much respect for the Cali vibes, for the, you know, sometimes it’s good not to take life or yourself too serious because in those moments you realize that there is something to be said about the peace that comes from not having that rigid kind of strict discipline. And for me, that’s what California was.
[00:12:44] I feel like every part of this country kind of has a different vibe. You know, I’m originally from Huntsville, Alabama. Coming from the South, everything is slow motion. I mean, it’s very laid back. People move slow, people talk slow, it’s just part of the culture. I feel like, I feel like California, especially Berkeley, there is such a mellow and calming energy that comes with being in that space that I feel like you almost have no choice but to tap into your inner creativity. My wife studies East Asian medicine, like your chi is in balance, like all these things that just allow you to tap into an inner self that you might not have even realized was there. That’s what I loved about the Berkeley experience. And I’ve taken with me into my military experience subsequently. It’s been awesome to see that the combination of the two
[00:13:46] Sean: Was it intentional that you came to the West Coast to Berkeley? I mean, West Point is in New York, Huntsville’s in Alabama. Were you seeking out a West Coast experience or was it – I’m curious what the background story to that is?
[00:14:01] Kenny: So that was a very deliberate decision. So, part of it – just as a little bit of backstory. So, my wife is actually West Point graduate too. I’m the class of 2008, she’s class 2005. And at the time, our number one criteria in choosing schools was we wanted to make sure that we both could start graduate school at the same time.
[00:14:20] So as you look at a lot of the top East Asian medicine schools, a lot of them are in California. So, that was a huge part of the decision-making process. But then the second piece was we both felt like we had had that very structured experience. I think both just from going to West Point but then also being in the military for six or seven years at that point, we really craved a shakeup and a change of pace and the opportunity to embrace everything that is California.
[00:14:55] Everything that is the Bay Area. And you know, when that opportunity afforded itself through Haas, I mean, we hit the ground running and never looked back.
[00:15:05] Sean: I mean, you having been at West point and experiences that you experienced, you know, you do have plenty of leadership experience. I’m curious, you know, what made you decide and maybe this is for, you know, any potential prospective students that may be vets or maybe have a military background, but what is, what was the incentive to get a business degree?
[00:15:33] Kenny: Yeah. So for me personally, I felt like I was in the point in my career where I needed some type of professional growth. I had just finished a company command, which is, it’s almost like one of the pinnacle positions for junior leaders in the army and got a chance to have that experience.
[00:15:56] But it’s almost like you can just feel, it’s like an innate feeling when it’s time for another stage of growth. You know, the things that you’re doing, you feel pretty proficient at. You’re like, okay, I just got done going through this very challenging experience. I’m tremendously thankful for it, but I don’t want to become stagnant.
[00:16:17] And the stagnation has always been a fear. As we were looking at the different opportunities to grow personally and professionally, business school just stuck out as the number one way to do that. And you know, so I’m watching videos, I’m going all poets and quants.
[00:16:36] And the first thing that really just stuck out to me was, I don’t know if this is a strange thing to do, but I just started watching videos of the deans of all the top business schools. So, I’m like watching the Dean of Stanford. I’m watching the Dean of Yale and Harvard. And then I get to Berkeley Haas and I come across a video of Dean Lyons, Dean Rich Lyons, and not just the content of what he was saying, but the energy in the conviction in which he was saying it, it caught me completely off guard. Man, this there’s something here. There is something here that I need to spend more time looking into. And, he was talking about path bending leadership and just what it meant to have a business degree as we look at an ever-evolving society. And the way he laid it out was so eloquent. I went to the website and the next thing that I saw was the defining principles. And for me as a military guy, this was like heaven. Because, you know, for us, we like the structure, okay, tell us what you want to tell us, what to expect from us, and then we’ll go do it, right? So, I’m looking at these things and I’m like, Oh wow. Questioning the Status Quo. Okay. Confidence Without Attitude. Okay. Beyond Yourself, Student Always. Oh, this, I like this. I mean, you know, this sounds like something I can do, you know? And from there, I just think the rest is – this is going to sound a little bit crazy, but honestly feels like a beautiful love story after that.
[00:18:23] Because this all happened, this is probably the end of 2013. Ended up coming to Days at Haas, which is the admit weekend with my family. It was the first time I got a chance to actually come to the campus. And we had visited a couple of campuses before but this was the first place I brought the whole crew, man.
[00:18:43] I brought my wife. I brought my two kids. My mother-in-law came with me and this is every decision in the Vaughn house was like a family decision. So, we’re out there, we’re all out there in the Bay and we show up. And these MBA students are like picking up my kids, giving them piggyback rides, you know, and they’re like laughing and giggling like, you know, I’ve got professors that are pulling my mom to the side and having these intellectual conversations.
[00:19:06] And for me, in that moment, we knew this is a place we have to go. There’s no question. There is no doubt in my mind that if we make this decision, every subsequent decision after this is going to be a great decision because of the energy. People were amazing and it was such a… sorry to get my soap box here, but this is… you get me fired up about a place that I love a lot. So, I think more than anything else, it was the humility, man. It was the humility. I mean, you start having some conversations. These are very accomplished deep, intellectually stimulating, people have got goals, they’ve got aspirations, they’ve got dreams. And yet you hold a conversation you don’t feel intimidated, right? You don’t feel the need to whip out every accolade that you’ve ever accomplished or it’s just, it is such a welcoming and inviting feeling that a lot of the other stressors that you can bring with you to the MBA experience they seem to melt away.
[00:20:18] Because there’s some brilliant people that just sit in the classroom with, but at the end of the day, you always felt like we were in this thing together. And our success was not defined by any individual success, but we got to help each other out, man. I mean, my, my Rolodex is got to be lit after this thing. Everybody gotta be eating out here. Right. So that was, that was the number one feeling that just stuck through that whole experience.
[00:20:49] Sean: You know, the Haas experience as with most things in life is you get out of it what you put into it.
[00:20:57] And I think you, as someone who put a lot into Haas and so in kind, you got a lot out of it, right. I’m really curious to hear, what your journey has been like after graduating?
[00:21:10] Kenny: So, the cool thing, the cool thing that I think was both a gift and a curse of returning to the military after graduating from Haas was, I think I was afforded a unique level of stability and predictability while we were in school. And that is something that I tried to never take for granted because I understand the anxiety, the challenges associated with trying to find a job, student loans. I never took that for granted from my classmates. So, for me as someone who was walking into a job that I was excited about, I always just tried to take that energy and bring some level of peace or consolation to my classmates.
[00:22:01] After graduation, I ended up coming back to West Point and working as the director of diversity admissions and outreach. And in that role, my primary job was to reach out to underserved communities across the country. Try to spread the word about the United States Military Academy and ultimately matriculate the most diverse class possible.
[00:22:29] So, we really focused on African American, Latin X, Native American students. We did work within the Asian community as well. We really were trying to bring in the most diverse class possible at the Academy. So, for me, I always tell folks I would have done that job for free. To be able to give back to a place that gave so much to me.
[00:22:51] I mean, West Point was a foundational experience of my life and now to be able to play some small part of being part of that decision-making process for some of the best and brightest young men and women across the country, that was a tremendous blessing. And to meet the families, to meet the parents and just see how much it meant to be seen. That was something that I didn’t expect going into the job is you just – for a little bit of context, my wife’s from a very small town in Louisiana. It’s called Hanna, Louisiana. And she found out about West Point because her aunt was in the reserves. And I remember her mom bringing in this pamphlet about West Point and saying, Hey, you’re going to go to West Point. And, no exposure to the place prior to that conversation, she goes to her guidance counselor, tells her this is what she wants to do. And the guidance counselor tells her that she should probably reevaluate her college options. And the reason I share that story is because having worked in this space for four years, it pains me to think back on how many conversations I’ve had with students who said the exact same thing. Major Vaughn, I’m so glad you picked up the phone or your team picked up the phone and called, you know, I didn’t even think I was competitive for West point. I wasn’t gonna apply cause I didn’t think I’d get in. And there’s so many unnecessary barriers that are put in place for these tremendously talented students to get a great college education. That is what my team and I spent the majority of our time doing – trying to break down those barriers, trying to change the narrative, trying to dispel common misperceptions to ultimately bring the most talented class into West point and that was very much a full-time job. Absolutely. It was one of those things where it didn’t feel like a job. It felt more like a passion project where for the past four years, it’s just something that’s constantly on your mind because you believe in it so much.
[00:25:11] And that’s my experience post-Haas.
[00:25:16] Sean: How can we help our listeners who are alumni of Haas, who are leaders in the workplace or leaders in, you know, different organizations, profit or nonprofit? What are some strategies and frameworks to help them do what you did for West Point, but do it in their organization or do better at even Haas, right?
[00:25:43] Kenny: So not to sound cliché, but I think this is absolutely the space where we have to question the status quo because the status quo for so long has looked a very certain way. It’s been very advantageous for a small group of individuals. I think for a very long time, society at large has turned a blind eye to a lot of things that people are starting to bring to light right now.
[00:26:15] One of the greatest things that I’ve actually appreciated about this time is I’ve had some phenomenal conversations with my classmates.
[00:26:22] Since all of these challenges have really transpired from the coronavirus to what’s going on with racial inequity and some of the community policing issues we’ve seen. And I think what’s intimidating sometimes is there can almost be like a sense of paralysis. Because you feel like there has to be a very defined cause that you’re working towards, okay.
[00:26:47] How do I get involved in some nonprofit? How do I, what cause do I need to donate to what, what is it on a national scale that I need to do? And for me, what I’ve always encouraged people to do is look in the spaces where you have influence. I mean, as you’re talking to your family members and your family members, are coming back at you with some questions, with some things, you’re just like, Hmm, uncle, I don’t know if that sounds right brother, what you’re saying right now. I mean, I understand, but I mean, even because all this starts with conversations, man, I mean, it starts with conversations and as those conversations leave our households and trickle into our workspaces, it’s trusting that you are already operating in the space that you’re operating into to have great impact.
[00:27:41] You don’t have to go out and, you know, March in downtown Oakland or March and in Louisville, you ain’t gotta go marching move to have an impact. If you are working in real estate and you understand that, you know, affordable housing is a real issue, that falls under your wheelhouse and your expertise.
[00:28:04] So how do you become a champion for that in your workspace? And I think the moment people realize that there is so much inherent power that you have with your own unique experience, that’s when I think we’re going to see just a transformation. I think this is an inflection point already. But I feel like when people realize that they don’t have to look externally to be a part of the solution, that you have all the tools that you need right now in this very moment to have sweeping, insignificant impact in your household and your community, man, now we’re cooking with Crisco.
[00:28:46] So, that’s been the center of a lot of the conversations that I’ve had. The one other thing that I would encourage people who want to be a part of the solution I do is just educate yourself, man.
[00:29:02] Like for me, I mean, I’m an African American male and I’ve learned more in the past two months just from all the documents that have been circulating, all the documentaries, I mean, there have been some people who have been doing this work for such a long time. And I think until you understand the context, until you understand all of the factors that went into creating the moment that we’re in right now, it is almost impossible to come up with any type of long-term sustainable solution because you have to understand how to unpack the big knot that’s been done in this society, right? So, for me, I mean, that’s really what I’ve been doing, man.
[00:29:49] I’ve been going back reading the Declaration of Independence. I read the Constitution. I’m going back, looking at speeches Barack Obama gave about race in 2008 and you know, nothing happens in isolation. Can I share one more quick story with you?
[00:30:05] Sean: Oh, you can share as many stories as you want.
[00:30:08] Kenny: So, when I found out that my great grandfather was in the military, my grandfather was a military, I started asking my dad, I say, well, you know, why did they join the military? And you know, what’s crazy is the answer rolled right off his tongue. And he said for African Americans in this country.
[00:30:25] There were not a lot of ways, not a lot of professions where you could walk into the profession, receive equal pay, have the opportunity for upward mobility, and kind of have all these things. Now, the challenge that I didn’t realize was also inherent in that is for my grandfather, for example, he served during World War II and you know, we talk about how this was an inflection point for the United States. As you look at all these veterans returning from the war, they’re having access to military benefits. So, the VA loan to buy a house, you know, GI bill to get an education. And all of these great packages are being rolled out to essentially create the middle-class that we see today.
[00:31:14] And what you realize is that African Americans did not receive that hero’s welcome. They didn’t receive those benefits, you know. When he came to Long Island there was a certain neighborhood that he was allowed to move in and there was one that he was not based on language that was written in the city’s zoning, right? And so, as you look at these decisions that were made and how that now translates into generational wealth, how that translates into access to opportunity and upward mobility, the access to get a bachelor’s level education or to pass along a piece of property to your next generation.
[00:32:03] These are all things that had significant impact on people of color in this country. And as I’m talking to my parents and my grandparents, I’m just now starting to realize, Oh man, this is huge. And that’s the part that I think people are just now starting to really open their mind to take a deeper look at and peel back the layers of that onion because it is not by accident that as you look at inner cities, you know, you go to Oakland, you go to Detroit, you go to Chicago, you go to Atlanta, you always go to the most impoverished part of the cities, all the people look the same. You go to the wealthiest part of these cities, the majority of these people look the same. And, it is the culmination of a lot of intentional decisions that led to where we are today. So as a society, I think in my personal opinion it’s important that we are deliberate and we’re strategic and we leverage not only our personal resources but the resources of our country.
[00:33:21] I mean, the government wields so much power to be able to right and to fix some of these challenges, public school system. I mean, spending four years working in higher education, there are so many disparities that exist in just public education. And if we could just take an honest and critical look at the variance that exists there, man, we’ve got such a long way.
[00:33:49] We’ve gone such a long way. Don’t get us started on, you know, the criminal justice system. I mean, that’s a whole mother can of worms there, but we got to take the long play here. You know, we got to take the long play. And, I’m excited of the energy and the focus that I’ve seen.
[00:34:08] I mean, I’ve got a brag on one of my classmates because we were co-presidents of the Black Business Student Association while we were at Haas. The work that Elise Douglas is doing right now, raising over a hundred thousand dollars in capital for black owned businesses to really get back on their feet after the effects of the coronavirus.
[00:34:28] And you know, some of the stuff that’s going on. I mean, that’s the level of ingenuity, the level of commitment that is just so inspiring to see right now. And my hope is that this isn’t a flash point, that this is something that we can carry the momentum on.
[00:34:51] And continue to see this through so that we as a nation can more fully step into the promises of those founding documents. You know, that Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness, regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of sexual orientation. Hey, regardless of zip code. When you are an American, you are stepping into these promises regardless of what bucket that you fall into.
[00:35:29] And when we can do that. Come on now, come on. Now we talk about something, brother.
[00:35:34] Kenny: Hopefully we’ll look back on this time, 20 years from now, 40 years from now, 60 years from now, as we’re talking to our grandkids and our great grandkids, and they ask us about what it was like to grow up in the 2020s.
[00:35:54] Let me tell you, look, we had to go through some tough times. We had some unspeakable pain but because of that movement and that momentum, the world is the place that we see today, right.
[00:36:11] So, I want to go back to solutions, what this moment means, what we can do to contribute, you know, should we read a book? Should we, I think it goes back to some of the basic things that we learned at Haas, man, to some of the bases is just be the best person that you can be.
[00:36:34] And in what I mean by that is I had a very emotional moment about a month ago at work and it was the week after George Floyd was murdered. And I had a work function, which was pretty much just called a hail and farewell, but pretty much you say goodbye to the people that are leaving, you say hello to the folks that are coming. So, we’ve got a phone call set up. And, my boss is a great person. We’ve moved around different meetings for different things but this happened to be scheduled during George Floyd’s funeral. So, we are going around the office, you know, sharing what it means to have been a part of this great team and to make history and, you know, increase diversity at West Point.
[00:37:33] And I’m waiting for my turn to speak. And in the background, I’m having to listen to Al Sharpton deliver the eulogy at George Floyd’s funeral. And I think what was so difficult in that moment was the lack of understanding in terms of how difficult of a moment that was for not only my family, but for so many black families. I mean, that was such a heart-wrenching moment to be a part of. As people are going around and sharing their updates, Hey, have you been like, Oh, this is what a great week. You know, things are going good. Things are going great. So on and so forth.
[00:38:29] And when they got to me, I like this has not been a great week. I stood in the living room with my children today for eight minutes and 46 seconds as we observed a moment of silence for a man that could have been me, could have been my father, could be my uncle, could have been my best friend, and to not understand the emotional trauma that comes from living in that moment and to continue on with business as usual, that was very difficult. So, as you are in your workspaces, as you’re going into your office, as you’re going into your local grocery store, man, just take a moment. Take a moment to ask people how they’re doing. And I always do this thing where I want to ask somebody how they’re doing.
[00:39:32] Oh yeah, fine. I always ask a second time. I always ask twice because like, okay. Everyone says fine, but no, I really want to know how you’re doing. Like I know this is a stressful time, not just for black folks, white folks stressing out to them. It’s stressful for everybody. Right. Everyone’s trying to figure out where we fit in this thing.
[00:39:50] So to simply take the extra 30 seconds… the extra 30 seconds to say hey man, like I know it’s been a couple years. I know it’s been a little while, but I just want to check on you. I just want to see how you’re doing. For your coworker that you may just see in passing. Hey man, I know, you know, we just have some water cooler talk every now and again, but hey, I just want to do a little sanity check with you because I know this is a stressful time for everybody and just, just see where that conversation goes. Because I guarantee this stuff is not complex.
[00:40:32] The best things in life are so simple. They’re so simple, man. And when we as a society take the time to do not just for this particular issue, but I mean, that’s any issue, right? Like, you know, about a year ago it was immigration
[00:40:56] So, taking the time as we are experiencing these things at a macro level to do those check-ins, to have tough conversations, to step outside of our comfort zone, admit that might not be the subject matter expert in something and that’s okay.
[00:41:17] We’re going to flub it up. We may say something that’s insensitive or politically incorrect, but if you go into it with the right intent, with an open heart, and a willingness to listen and not win an argument and not make a point and not have to be right. There is so much that can be learned that I have learned. I’ve learned from just shutting up and listening to people. Oh man. I never thought about like that. I never thought what it was like to be a white male in this country. I get it. I also need you to understand my experience, but I’m glad you shared with me too because now we can help each other work towards a better society. And that is the biggest salute. If I had one thing, man, that’s the biggest one right there. What you’re doing right now, man, having these conversations with people, bringing people’s stories to life, showing that people are layered and multi-dimensional and cannot be put in a box, that’s what life is about.
[00:42:30] Because then you start to see the commonality. You started to see that our differences are far outweighed by our common ground. And that is such a solid foundation. I think this brings this conversation back full circle as people who have been the multiple schools and moved around, it brings it back full circle because having experienced different backgrounds and different races and different cultures and different societies, you understand more than anybody else.
[00:43:06] That at the core we’re all the same, man. We want to see the best for our families. We want to leave this place a little bit better than we found it for our kids. And, we want to have a good time while we’re doing it. And when you unpack all the layers that exist that are intentionally placed by the silos that we live in. And you start to unpack all these things, you realize that everybody at their core is the same. People are inherently good. Some folks a little crazy, but 99.9% of people at their core are inherently good. And if you go into every conversation with that belief, that that’s all I did at Haas man, that is all I did at Haas, like man, as a human being, I have so much respect for you.
[00:44:05] Let’s just have a great conversation. Let’s just see where it goes. Right. And if you use that as your starting point, man, the world is your oyster
. Everything else icing on the cake. Life is easy. So that’s my take on that particular topic.
[00:44:27] Sean: I appreciate you sharing all that.
[00:44:29] Sean: I talked to Marco Lindsey.
[00:44:32] Kenny: Yeah, that’s my dude right there. I love Marco.
[00:44:36] Sean: And you know, he educated me on anti-blackness. I started doing research into that and I just realized, even I have anti-blackness. I grew up with it, right. I was somehow taught this anti-blackness without even my knowledge.
[00:44:54] Sean: And, just taking all that and just catching not only myself, but my family, and correcting them really, you know, when they would say, Oh, you know, well, Africa hasn’t developed. And I’m just like, well, why is that?
[00:45:13] Why is that, right? Maybe because of colonialism, right, and learning, you know, from the Bill Gates documentary. Because they’re trying to vaccinate children and all that stuff and how they’re trouble they’re dealing with is, that these countries don’t collaborate or these villages don’t collaborate because arbitrary lines were drawn by Europeans for African nations.
[00:45:37] When just like, you’re literally dividing the villages just because – there was a river there. And it was like nope, this is the Congo. And this is going to be something else.
[00:45:48] These have huge implications as to how a society develops or how society is oppressed or economically disadvantaged. Right. And then, reading more about generational wealth, which is something you talked about as well and just denying people generational wealth.
[00:46:04] I had to educate my family on that. I said, you know, we don’t have to think about that. When you go to the bank to get a loan, right? If you, if you have the same background and qualifications as a black person, you know, this country historically has denied the black person and we not been denied that and we’re immigrants.
[00:46:23] Kenny: Yeah.
[00:46:24] Sean: I wasn’t even born in this country.
[00:46:26] Kenny: Yeah, it’s so entrenched in our lived experience and I think that’s one of the biggest epiphany is that I’ve had, that people have when we have these conversations is I don’t think people have realized or are starting to realize until now how much of your lived experience is shaped by the color of your skin in this country?
[00:46:54] How much that drastically impacts the…
[00:46:59] Sean: Quality of life.
[00:47:00] Kenny: Yeah. Yeah. And, one of the things that made me so passionate about the work that I did when I was at West Point in diversity recruitment, as well as, you know, whatever the next step for our family would be is just thinking about statistics.
[00:47:17] And one of the things that I always loved about Warren Buffet is the way that he described how he got to where he was in life is so eloquent. And he always talks about something called the embryotic or the genetic lottery. Right. He said when he was born there was a 5% chance we’d be born in the United States, just based on the global population.
[00:47:40] So 5% chance he was born in the United States that puts you on a certain level. You know, there’s another percentage that you’re going to be born, you know, white. That puts you on another level. Then is born male. So, off the jump there are these things that happen by no cause of his own that now put him in certain spheres of influence, and he talks about this.
[00:48:06] He talks about this at length. So, as I look at it, and I’m starting to look at some of the statistics for African American or black men, that one in three statistic is the one that always, always, always I’m like, man, this is like the luck of the draw. Like one in three black men in this country are in prison.
[00:48:32] One in three. And I mean, 33%, man, so for me, I don’t know how someone can hear that statistic and not be enraged, not be in assume that man, Hey, these black men must just be some criminals, man. They must just be out there doing wrong. Like, I don’t know what’s going on in the black community, but hey, they got to get their stuff together.
[00:49:07] No, no. One in three man. So, for me, I’ll look at statistics like that and that is my motivation. That’s my motivation. Because as I look at my son, as I look at my grandson, we gotta get that. I mean, because that deals with the family, right? The family structure, the family unit is the crux upon which every other portion of society is built.
[00:49:40] When you intentionally erode and tear at the fabric of fans by incarcerating black men and leaving black mothers to be single mothers, breadwinners, raise children, forego opportunities for advancement, further their education, you have hamstrung not only the parents, but the subsequent generation, right?
[00:50:10] And I think that’s so hard about breaking the cycle, right is until you acknowledge that, hey, this is a huge contributor, let’s just get families back together. How about we just start with that. Let’s just reunite some families and see what that does to the black community and to some of the communities of color, right?
[00:50:31] Because it’s, like I said, man, it just pains my heart to hear some of these facts and statistics and know that man, there is more that can be done to right some of these systemic wrongs. That’s the painful one to me is I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a great family, you know, family is wonderful, most important things to me. I mean, I feel like my kids are getting a great upbringing, but I mean, I’ve got cousins, they’re in this situation. I’ve got, you know, I’ve gotten very close friends who were in this exact same situation. And you see firsthand the tangible impacts that it has on these kids, man, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, like we’re asking these young people to do some very heavy lifting.
[00:51:35] And I think that is something that needs to be acknowledged and then worked on as well, too, you know, mentorship, man, mentor somebody that don’t look like you, mentor somebody who didn’t have the same access to opportunities that you did, you know, let them in, into those spheres of influence that they might not have otherwise had access to.
[00:51:59] Because until you do that, it is almost impossible to, a phrase that I just really hate is pull yourself up by the bootstraps. That is the most absurd phrase because I’m telling you man, people out here working, people are working with hard, man, but when you don’t have access to the same spheres of influence, is almost impossible to pull yourself up.
[00:52:32] You know, when you don’t have any money to invest and you’re stuck in a cycle of renting property or you’re stuck in a cycle of paying down, you know, debt. And, these are the type of things that people are screaming for help for right now.
[00:52:51] Right? Because this is what leads to the situations. It’s not that people are out here just doing craziness and people want to be unlawful. It’s not man. It’s out of necessity. If you have to choose between putting food on the table and because your kids haven’t eaten in a couple of days and you know, doing some nefarious, I guess what, man, I’m gonna do some nefarious deals.
[00:53:14] I’m gonna go do what I gotta do because your kids got to eat. So, this is the reality. And,
[00:53:38] We should’ve done that a long time ago. That’s nice, that’s okay. I mean that ain’t helping these young folks get a better education. That’s keeping them alive, increasing the probability that they have a chance to life, but we ain’t even get to Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness yet, we just talking about Life.
[00:53:56] We are still talking about life. So, there are absolutely things that you can do to serve as an advocate, to serve as an ally, to serve as a champion of diversity and diverse thinking that whether you work in real estate, you work in finance, you work in healthcare, you work in education, you work in consulting, within your sphere of influence, that is where the starting point is for me.
[00:54:27] Sean: I think that’s also an important message for the people who are immigrants in this country, that for us naturalized citizens in this country, now that we are citizens, it is our duty to read and understand the US Constitution and uphold what it really means. The ideas of diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s not some new idea. It’s in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution as well. You know these ideals, especially Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness is for all. And I think that’s why this country is so attractive for people to come. I remember a Raegan speech that once said America is the only country you can come to, you know, live here for 10 20 years and call yourself an American. You really can’t do that anywhere else in the world.
[00:55:33] Kenny: Yup. Yup. Yup. You know, like I said, man, I think that we are in such a beautiful time and it’s strange to say, but I feel like, wow, this is a tremendously challenging time. I think it’s a beautiful time because I feel like people are awake, myself included, are waking up to these conversations.
[00:56:01] They’re waking up to pushing the issue, really pushing the issue and not accepting that this is just the way that has to be. It doesn’t have to be this way. We make, we pass laws all the time and make decisions all the time. You know, we, as voting citizens, we have a civic duty to go and to elect officials.
[00:56:27] Sean: Yeah. And especially at the local level as well.
[00:56:31] Kenny: I mean these mayors, city council members. I mean, this is where the rubber meets the road, man. And, you know, I think for me, that has really been where my mine has gone is how do I become more involved at the local level, whether it’s, you know, just attending city council meetings, whether it’s making sure that we don’t just vote in presidential elections, but you’re a voting, you know, your house of representatives, you’re doing your local races. You’re doing all these things to make sure that we are fully exercising the rights that so many people have fought arduously for so hard. And I think that’s one of the frustrating things right now, too, is to see some of the voter suppression that is starting to creep back up, you know, in 2020. I mean, we had an election here in Kentucky and that was one of the biggest challenges, voter suppression in 2020, a Senate primary.
[00:57:36] And you know, it doesn’t sound like a huge thing, but people, when you are working, you know, on an hourly rate, you cannot afford to stand in line all day to vote. You can’t just take a whole day off.
[00:57:53] Kenny: So, these are the type of issues that I think are broadly applicable as citizens. We’ve talked about the professional space. Now, just as citizens in your local area, you know, these are the type of things that we should all be energized about. You know, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who wins the election, but if everyone get a chance to exercise their opportunity to elect someone who is reflective of the constituency in which they serve, right?
[00:58:21] Or is this someone who is a representative of the percentage of people who had access to exercise that constitutional right. So, I agree a hundred percent with you that, you know, the things that we’re talking about in this context, as we talk about civic duties, we all gotta be energized about that because you know, that pendulum could just as easily swing.
[00:58:46] I mean, I know we’re focused on the African American community right now that pendulum could just as easily swing to you name the minority group and they could be the next group in the cross hairs in terms of having rights stripped away, having opportunities not afforded to them.
[00:59:05] So I think that’s why it’s so important that we build these coalitions and really try to ensure that everyone has the equal opportunity to what we’re saying, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
[00:59:20] Sean: Any last thoughts?
[00:59:24] Kenny: For me, I feel like attending Haas was a tremendous inflection point in my life. It shaped the way that I view myself, it shaped the role that I see myself fulfilling in the future and it gave me deeper insight into what the world could be. Because we’ve got a good thing going at Haas. You go to the courtyard and you know, you can navigate life in a way in which I think a lot of people wish they could in the United States. And to be in that space with, you know, hardworking, intelligent people and to know that this is how it could be, you know, this is how the world could be, you know, people that are at their core trying to galvanize any bit of passion, energy, expertise they can to make the world a better place. That’s something special. And I appreciate you for taking the time to, you know, to hear these stories, to provide a deeper level of insight, in depth to the richness that is the highest community, you know, it is the reason that any time I’m calling on you best believe, man.
[01:01:12] I’m repping team highs all day, every day, man. I’m look out here on the front lines, man. So, for you to be able to do that and to put that positive energy out there, kudos to you, man, I appreciate your brother and I thank you for sharing your time.
[01:01:29] Sean: I just want to say, you know, you’re a role model to me. And as a fresh new grad, you make me proud to be a Haasie.
[01:01:37] Kenny: We got to stay passionate, man. We got to stay fired up and, you know, as long as we can continue as alumni to pay this thing forward and make sure that every Berkeley Haas alumni has that same energy, that vibrancy, that humility, man, I say, I say, we’ve done our job brother. I say job well done.
[01:02:03] All right, my man. Well, I appreciate your brother.
[01:02:03] Sean: Thanks, Kenny!