EARL G. GRAVES SR.
Throughout his life, Earl G. Graves Sr. has advocated equal opportunity for African Americans in education and business. Yet it was only through an unfortunate set of circumstances that the 76-year-old founder, chairman and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine found his voice in publishing.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and a former U.S. Army Captain, Graves studied economics in college and began a political career in the 1960s. However, while serving as a special assistant to Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, Graves was present along with his family in the Los Angeles hotel where Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. He left campaigns behind and formed his own management and consulting firm to advise corporations on urban affairs and economic development.
“People told him he should start a newsletter for African Americans wanting to go into business for themselves,” says his son Earl (“Butch”) Graves Jr., president and CEO of Black Enterprise. “He was always a good salesman, and he figured if he could do a newsletter, why not a magazine? He found an editor, created the business and that’s how it all began.”
Over the next two decades, Black Enterprise established itself as a leading voice in the African-American business community. “It shined a spotlight on African-American executives in a way that had never been done before,” says Graves Jr. “It helped to inspire millions of young African Americans who might not otherwise have considered business as a profession and opened up many doors for those people.”
Today, Black Enterprise is a multimedia conglomerate that delivers content across several platforms, including the print magazine, two nationally syndicated TV shows, professional development events and apps for mobile phones and tablets. Likewise, Graves expanded his own sphere of influence. He is currently a director of Aetna, a former director of American Airlines, DaimlerChrysler, Federated Department Stores and Rohm and Haas, and former chairman of PepsiCo’s African-American Advisory Board.
In 2001, Fortune named Graves one of the 50 most powerful and influential African Americans in corporate America. His book, How to Succeed in Business Without Being White, made The New York Times best-seller list in 1997. Graves was inducted into the U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2007, and earlier this year his name was added to the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame.
“I think the two things that have made my father so successful are integrity and perseverance. He always does what he says he’s going to do, and he never takes no for an answer,” says Graves Jr. “He loved making the pitch as to why it is important that advertisers have a presence in Black Enterprise. It used to be that people would do business with African-American firms because they felt guilty or it was the right to do. My father convinced people that it made good business sense.”
In 1962, Eduardo Caballero arrived in the U.S. from his native Cuba with a law degree and a dollar tucked in his shoe. He promptly landed a job as an ad salesman at WBNX-AM Radio in New York, the start of a nearly 50-year career that has seen him recognized as one of the pioneers of the Spanish-language broadcasting industry.
“I never thought I’d be involved in this wonderful industry. I just needed to find a job,” Caballero says. “I was a lawyer and despite the fact that I did not speak English, everywhere I applied for work, they said I was overqualified. I was lucky to get the sales job. I didn’t know if I would be good at it.”
He would soon find out. On his first assignment, he visited a local furniture store and returned with one of the biggest contracts the station had ever seen. “I was in the right place at the right time,” Caballero says. “National advertisers were a different story. They didn’t do commercials in Spanish. It was an unknown to them.”
Indeed, Caballero arrived at a time when only a handful of U.S. radio and television stations were airing Spanish programming. His career took off in 1973 when he formed Caballero Spanish Media to launch the country’s first syndicated Spanish TV series, Lo Mejor del Cine en Español (“The Best of Spanish Movies”) with host Ricardo Montalbán.
Caballero started the first Spanish national radio sales rep firm, growing to represent more than two-thirds of the Spanish radio stations in the country. In one of his greatest achievements, the Caballero Radio Network acquired the rights to the World Series and Olympic Games, becoming the first to syndicate those events in Spanish. In 1998 he formed Caballero Television, a network targeted to young U.S. Hispanics, and in 2006, it sold 10 of its 12 stations to become part of MTV’s entertainment venture known today as TR3S, Música y Más.
Caballero credits his success to his reservoirs of patience—and to advice he received from his friend, longtime ad exec Peter Spangler. “Peter told me that buying Spanish media was not a media decision; it was a marketing decision,” Caballero says. “So I started to talk to the marketing people at all the agencies I knew. I told them that this was the future of radio and television. And it worked.”