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Devin: What do you see as your superpower?
Russell: The ability to handle complexity, I would say, truly is my superpower.
Russell Fugett, a prominent Baltimorean, joined me to discuss his work supporting diverse founders, especially in his hometown. He alerted me to some news I’d missed: the White House recently named Baltimore one of 31 regional tech hubs around the country.
Russell brings his Equity Endowment to that table. He’s building a nonprofit foundation that is raising capital in a university-like endowment. The fund will invest the capital in diverse fund managers investing in diverse founders and communities like Baltimore. The Equity Endowment will then make grants to programmatic nonprofits that support diverse founders. Thus, the plan is to have two significant and parallel paths to impact for the same communities.
The Economic Development Administration shared this description of the Baltimore Hub:
The Baltimore Tech Hub, led by the Greater Baltimore Committee, aims to develop innovative predictive healthcare technologies by applying artificial intelligence to biotechnologies. Leveraging regional research universities and institutions, research and development expertise, and existing capital investments, this Tech Hub’s equitable technology model, or “equi-tech,” will develop predictive healthcare technologies that can support clinical decision-making, bioethics, personalized medicine, new biologics, and therapeutics. The Baltimore Tech Hub seeks to catalyze commercialization of predictive healthcare technologies, improving equitable care delivery and national health outcomes.
Russell celebrated the focus on “equi-tech.”
He is eager to work with the National Urban League in deploying the capital from the Equity Endowment. He shared his experience connecting with the president, Marc H. Morial.
Russell is the nephew of one of Baltimore’s most prominent names, the late Reginald F. Lewis, “who was able to secure $1 billion from Mr. Michael Milken in 1987 to acquire Beatrice Foods,” he says.
“No one's been able to do a deal quite like that to this day, Russell says. “The biggest key was access to capital. He had someone who was able to back him to do that leveraged buyout to complete that global acquisition.”
Today, the data yields a simple conclusion. Black founders face challenges in capital markets that white entrepreneurs do not. Russell’s Equity Endowment dual grant and investment program will attack this problem from two angles: grants and investments.
Russell will speak at SuperCrowdBaltimore on March 21, 2024, at the B&O Rail Museum. Of the event, he said:
Thank you and your team for coming to Baltimore. It's a very exciting time here. We were just designated one of the 31 tech hubs by the White House. We’re trying to be the hub of “equi-tech.” So, coming at this time to Baltimore in 2024–we couldn't be more excited to have you here. It's going to be a robust day of dialog and networking.
Doing business over decades, Russell has developed a superpower he’s using to build Equity Endowment: the ability to handle complexity.
AI Episode Summary
1. Devin Thorpe introduces Russell Fugett, the CEO and founder of Equity Endowment, highlighting Russell's commitment to community building and social justice.
2. Russell explains that Equity Endowment, founded in 2023, aims to close the racial wealth gap by operating at the intersection of finance and philanthropy, using a two-pronged investment and grant strategy.
3. The organization’s strategy includes creating an endowment fund to invest with minority fund managers and then using the proceeds to grant to non-profits focusing on entrepreneurial development and small business enablement.
4. Equity Endowment has a partnership with the Urban League in Baltimore, being one of their first grant recipients.
5. The current focus of Equity Endowment is to generate public support and funding, primarily through tax-deductible donations. Russell also notes future plans for a for-profit arm that could generate investment returns and fuel their charitable work.
6. Russell shares his family’s entrepreneurial history, including his late uncle, Reginald F. Lewis, who was instrumental in a billion-dollar deal acquiring Beatrice Foods in 1987 through complicated international transactions.
7. When asked about his superpower, Russell identifies his ability to handle complexity in both business endeavors and interpersonal relationships, leveraging emotional intelligence and understanding of diverse viewpoints.
8. Russell recounts challenging scenarios, such as negotiating to acquire an American division of a Japanese company, where his superpower was essential.
9. Emphasizing the need for emotional and spiritual fortitude in tackling complexity, Russell highlights the importance of faith, family support, and practicing core values such as love and generosity in achieving goals.
10. To learn more about Equity Endowment or connect with Russell Fugett, he directs listeners to visit the organization's website (equityendowment.org), subscribe to their newsletter, and follow their social media platforms, including Instagram and YouTube, where they post weekly updates and other content.
How to Develop the Ability to Handle Complexity As a Superpower
Russell reveals the optimism that underlies his complexity-handling superpower, saying, “A lot of people believe in a zero-sum game, that if somebody else gets something, that means somebody else has to lose something. I want to state very clearly that I reject that notion. I believe there's there's enough here for everyone.”
He offers some ideas to help you build your ability to handle complexity.
First, he highlights the importance of developing emotional intelligence. He says you need the “emotional capacity, emotional discipline, emotional intelligence” to exhibit self-control.
Second, he acknowledges the role of faith in developing that emotional maturity. “I'm empowered by my faith, by my Christian faith in Jesus Christ. That motivates me and inspires me. It's certainly been a faith journey throughout my life. I would certainly encourage everyone, if it's not Christian faith, to have some kind of spiritual practice as well.”
Third, he points to family support. Acknowledging the value of his connection to his uncle Reginald F. Lewis, he doesn’t stop there. “I'm inspired by my family. I have a loving family, a particularly loving wife, and two loving daughters. That buoys me and gives me the ability to be able to be in challenging situations and not take it personally and always keep the goal in mind.”
Fourth, he notes the importance of having a foundation. In a negotiation, for instance, you’ll want to find fundamental points of agreement so that when disagreements arise, you can return to the foundation and work to resolve the details.
By following Russell’s example and advice, you can make the ability to handle complexity a skill. With practice, you could make it a superpower that enables you to do more good in the world.
Remember, however, that research into success suggests that building on your own superpowers is more important than creating new ones or overcoming weaknesses. You do you!
Russell Fugett (he/him):
Founder & Executive Director, Equity Endowment
About Equity Endowment:
Instagram Handle: @equityendowment
Biographical Information: Russell (he/him) is a bridge builder who excels at building consensus and organizing teams that make an impact. By leading with a listen, Russell fosters an environment of inclusive collaboration and community that makes a difference in people’s lives.
Drawing on his experience as Chair of the Multicultural Affairs Council while a College student, Russell worked at The George Washington University Multicultural Student Services Center, where he was Senior Program Coordinator. In that role, he helped lead university-wide cultural heritage celebrations for Hispanic, Black, and Asian American Pacific Islander communities. He also helped initiate celebrations for Native American heritage and mixed-race awareness, as well as a mentoring and coaching program for Black Men.
After leaving GW, Russell became co-founder of Fugett Baseball Group, a private equity firm seeking to acquire assets in affiliated minor league baseball (MiLB). He founded a software (SaaS) start-up and a certified Maryland Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) consulting firm. In 2019, Russell traveled to South Africa, sponsored by the US Embassy, as part of a delegation of entrepreneurs and university technology transfer specialists. Later that year, he joined the team at Cook Ross, a global training and consulting firm focused on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (I.D.E.A.). There, he served as a project manager and conducted a business assessment for the CEO.
Coming full circle as a 5th generation Black American entrepreneur, Russell is the founder and chief encouragement officer at Jumla Network, a strategic consultancy and knowledge network focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Russell is also the Founding Executive Director of Jumla Network’s non-profit project, Equity Endowment, a 501c3 with a two-pronged strategy for closing the racial wealth gap. The endowment will be investing with diverse fund managers and funds with diverse strategies and granting the endowment proceeds to nonprofits working to close the wealth gap.
A winner of multiple awards for leadership and service, in 2023, Russell was appointed by Maryland Governor Wes Moore to serve on the state's Economic Development Commission. He holds a B.A. from Trinity College, Hartford, CT, and a M.S. in Project Management from The George Washington University School of Business in Washington, DC. Russell also earned a Diversity and Inclusion Professional Certificate from the University of Georgia Terry School of Business and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP). He currently serves on the selection advisory council of Greenlight Baltimore and as Vice Chair of the Board of the Indian Creek School. Russell resides in Crofton, MD, with his wife and two daughters.
X/Twitter Handle: @russellfugett
Personal Facebook Profile: fb.com/RussellFugett
Instagram Handle: @RussellFugett
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