Detroit businessman William Pickard describes role of social work training on his success

Detroit entrepreneur and philanthropist William Pickard this month told a Wayne State audience that he credits his social work training and early career in community organizing for helping him succeed in business.

“I’m not an engineer nor am I an expert in manufacturing, but I know how to manage people,” said Pickard, who during his four-decade career has owned McDonald’s franchises, established Global Automotive Alliance, LLC, invested in Real Times Media and a co-managing partner of MGM Grand Casino Detroit, and is one of the owners of Michigan Chronicle. “Social work gave me a tremendous head start in getting people to work together, and at the end of the day no matter how good you are at business, it’s a team that wins it for you.”

Pickard shared insights on how to overcome barriers to success, outlined in his upcoming book, Seven Principles of Entrepreneurship at a Nov. 10th “fireside chat” sponsored by Wayne State’s entrepreneurial hub Innovation Warriors (formerly Blackstone LaunchPad), the School of Social Work, and the Mike Ilitch School of Business. The Q&A session, which was hosted and moderated by Innovation Warriors Director Aubrey Agee and filmed at Wayne State’s Midtown TV Studio in the Maccabee Building, was part of a speakers’ series titled “Humble Beginnings” as well as a local initiative called Black Business Infrastructure that focuses on solutions to impediments facing black businesses.  Agee asked questions that delved into challenges of being a black business owner starting at the beginning of Dr. Pickard’s entrepreneurial and educational careers.  Student entrepreneur Phill Coleman, CEO and founder of digital marketing firm Young Urban Creative Collective (YUCC), was a special guest moderator and asked questions in running a startup and finding good mentors.

Pickard recalled growing up in Flint, where he grew committed to the Black liberation movement of the 1960s and where, despite low test scores and admonishments that he was “not college material,” he attended Mott Community College. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University in 1964 and an M.S.W. from University of Michigan in 1965, he worked for the Cleveland Urban League and the NAACP until pursuing a doctoral degree at The Ohio State University, which he earned in 1971. That same year he joined the social work faculty at Wayne State, where he taught until 1974.

Despite leaving the school to devote himself full-time to business ventures, Pickard characterized his years on the social work faculty as a “great experience,” where he met “outstanding people” and came to know the city of Detroit when it was still “a mecca for Black America.” He also recalled his early years in Detroit as those where he established relationships that would prove instrumental to thriving – and surviving – in business.

“Relationships are critical in this game of entrepreneurship, because people tend to do business with people they know and like,” Pickard said. They are also critical in tough times, Pickard said, describing how he avoided bankruptcy when a Plastics Company he owned grew too fast because members of the black community advocated before the bank on his behalf.

Throughout the fireside chat, Pickard returned frequently to the themes of relationships, teamwork, faith, and perseverance.

“Failure is never fatal and success is never final,” he said. “I just believe in getting up. Do good and try to be fair with people and it comes back to you.”

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150 years in the heart of Detroit