Socialite Spotlight Robin Billups
By: Ra’Kenna Joseph
Wiles caught up with dynamic and trendsetting businesswoman Robin M. Billups, National Director of Business Development for the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Billups discusses the importance of perseverance, female purchasing power, strategies for approaching business deals, and building your individual brand with Wiles.
Wiles: With a BA in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, what led you to transition from advertising/PR major to businesswoman extraordinaire?
Billups: My mom taught me early on that exposure is one of the keys to being relevant and that hard work will be rewarded. I worked a full-time graphics job throughout college and interned with D’Arcy Ad Agency/Chicago following a rigorous selection process via the American Association of Ad Agencies. I arrived in California with solid skills and my prestigious degree from Mizzou. However, after four interviews with a particular graphics equipment company, I was not hired. An older African-American man at the company confirmed to me in private that while I gave great interview responses, the company was not ready to hire a person of color to represent their company in a public relations/business development role. This was in the 1970s and since I didn’t get the position, plans B, C and D had to be implemented. Kenneth Billups Jr., my boyfriend my at the time—now husband of 36 years—has always been a huge champion and support to me. He encouraged me and forced me to believe in my future success. I eventually hired on with a small company in graphics and editing. We made Beta Max educational videos for Real Estate Brokers and through this experience I learned the real estate business. A friend recommended me as a management trainee in the Savings and Loan industry a few years later. My final interview was conducted by with a 13 person, all male C-Suite selection committee, which began my 35-year banking career. The professional development foundation and the constant training I received were priceless. I excelled in Commercial Real Estate Financing and transitioned to the diversity and inclusion sector after learning the ropes as a volunteer/board member.
Wiles: What do you feel is the most common myth associated with women in business?
Billups: That they are not ready for prime time! Not big enough, not smart enough, don’t have scale/scope, or territorial reach to compete. Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) constituents dispel this myth daily across a multitude of sectors – IT, Manufacturing, Utilities, Construction/Facilities, Professional Services and many more. Our women -owned businesses negotiate, win contracts, hire, partner, and support other businesses thus creating jobs and economic stability across the globe. Women either make and/or influence procurement decisions from the consumer level (at home) to the corporate boardroom. Though female purchasing power is being recognized, we are constantly underestimated.
Wiles: Tell us about WBENC.
Billups: Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) is a not-for-profit organization focused on women’s business development and sustainable economic growth. WBENC is the largest third party certifier of businesses majority owned, controlled and operated by women (WBEs) in the U.S. In collaboration with our 14 Regional Partner Organizations (RPOs) across the nation, WBENC provides best-in-class certification standards for WBEs, and is the leading advocate for WBEs seeking business opportunities with corporate America and government agencies.
For more information on WBENC, visit: http://www.wbenc.org
Wiles: As a role model to up-and-coming women in the business field, whom did you look to as a standard for which you measured your successes and evaluated your career goals when you were starting your career?
Billups: An entrepreneur, Rose Hines Broadwater, set my first career standards. I grew up in her hair salon and was exposed to all types of women – from business executives to housekeepers of all ages, sizes and life experiences. Mrs. Lillian Deutsch (St. Louis), my Sears Charm School Teacher, added more polish. Upon arriving in California, Constance Woolridge (San Diego) and Bettye Griffith (Los Angeles) are the two women who come to mind because both were very spiritual and knowledgeable in banking; renowned for their training and mentoring. Finally, I watch men operate and mimic what they do – they get [the job] done, don’t get personal in a business setting, don’t particularly ask for permission but always ask forgiveness. Larry Rossi (California), Gerry Thole (Minnesota) and Larry Morgan (Ohio) are my go-to-guys to this day!
Wiles: What are three staples all women should know in order to maintain success?
Billups: A) Dump the wagon! Stop carrying around loads of “no’s”/failures/mistreatment. Those things are part and parcel to the journey, so make room for all the new possibilities!
B) You are a brand! Work to maintain it, maximize the value and be global in your thinking/approach.
C) Stay engaged! Ask questions until you understand, active participation is your classroom, be a life-long learner.
Wiles: What characteristics and behaviors do you hope future generations of businesswomen embody?
Billups: Morals, character, compassion, and reputation are the characteristics that must be held in high regard at all times – compromise in these areas will crumble your foundation, thus hindering your growing/building power. Embodying the African affirmation of “Each one reach one, each one teach one,” active learning and sharing of ideals and concepts will honor the legacy and efforts of those who have blazed the trail. I hope future generations of businesswomen embody authenticity – we are all uniquely different and alike. Forget the melting pot! Instead, create a beautiful salad bowl, all parts stand-alone but when tossed together our oneness is still present while also reflecting diversity and inclusiveness.
Robin M. Billups, a native of St. Louis, Mo., lives with her husband, Kenneth Billups, Jr. in Inglewood, CA. She is the mother of two adult sons, Kenneth III and Jared Preston, both of whom are Florida A&M alums.