By: Eddie Jackson
It was the work of a genius, pure and complex.
It was an educational tour de force that caused a seismic shift in the racial consciousness of the corporate world.
It underscored what Black educators have been advocating for more than a century – that if you level the playing field, Black institutions would not only thrive but would take the lead in helping to shape the nation’s future.
The genius was Sybil C. Mobley, an icon of academic entrepreneurship whose name now belongs to the ages and the angels. She uprooted the traditional model of business education with results so transformative that corporate recruiters took up residence in her hallways seeking students, and the deans of the nation’s elite business schools beat a path to her office seeking wisdom.
That office is housed in the building with her name on it – a brick and mortar expression of her life’s work embodied in three capital letters, SBI, an imprimatur instantly recognized across the business world as the school where students learn to go from good to great. You can see her legacy every day in the faces of students at SBI, eyes brimming with intelligence, decked out in corporate attire, many with two or more corporate internships behind them and even more permanent job offers in their future.
That legacy extends to the world’s largest software corporation, Microsoft, where John Thompson, the chairman of the Microsoft Board of Directors, still chokes up whenever he mentions Mobley’s name, trying to explain his making the journey from FAMU to Microsoft. A former CEO of Symantec, Thompson recently presented FAMU with a gift of $5 million. He is just one of many SBI graduates sitting in the power seats of private industry as CEOs, presidents of their own firms, senior executive vice presidents or rising rapidly on the fast tracks of middle management.
Mobley created SBI in her own image because she was her own best example, starting school at the third-grade level when just six years old and earning MBA and Ph.D. degrees in nearly record time. She raised admission scores higher than the minimum required for the state university system, but also made room for those who had the moxie to believe they could catch on and catch up. Students of all races were welcomed, but Mobley believed that bright Black students often gained a competitive edge at schools where they are in the majority. Her strategy was to assemble the largest pool of gifted Black students in the nation and give them an exceptional educational experience.
During a speech she made to the Corning Glass Works Board of Directors shortly after becoming the dean of SBI, she said. “I am not here to talk to you about affirmative action or your social responsibilities. I am here to tell you that if you want the best business students in America, you will have to come to SBI to get them. And please note, I did not say the best Black business students.”
Her dream came true. Her legacy endures, and SBI lives on.
Eddie Jackson is retired vice president of University Relations at FAMU. He can be reached at email@example.com.