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Getting to Know John Rice

When John Rice founded Management Leadership for Tomorrow in 1994, he succeeded in developing a much-needed nonprofit mentoring program aimed at providing minority business students with guidance and advice. Fourteen years later, MLT is much more, although it is still true to its original purpose.

In 2002, Rice and his board realized the need was greater than their original intentions. “We took a deep dive into the major challenges minorities face getting into business schools,” Rice says. “They’re under represented in major MBA programs, largely because they are struggling to demonstrate qualifications. They’re also underrepresented in entry-level jobs and, while in college, minorities are not graduating at the same rate as nonminority populations.”

Armed with that information, Rice says, “We built a set of programs to address those critical transition points”: college-to-workforce, early-career jobs, back to business schools,and from business schools back into thework force.

Rice says the organization integrated the mentoring aspect into a more structured curriculum that includes one-on-one coaching with MLT professionals and volunteers, development seminars and boot camps. “We put more structure and teeth around the fellows we are serving.”

He stresses that MLT is not a scholarship program, but a support system that includes coaching, mentoring, seminars and networking to help its fellows develop “hard skills” such as problem-solving and communication, and “soft skills” such as navigating the business world and avoiding pitfalls that can lead to failure.

Rice expects to see an increase in the number of minorities applying for MLT’s programs because of the current economic climate. It’s a time when spending two years out of the work force might not be as much of a factor as when things are great, especially if they don’t see a bright future in the firm where they are working.

MLT has attained a wildly successful track record — placing 95 percent of its undergraduates in fast-track, entry-level jobs and being the No. 1 source of minorities at the top 10 MBA programs. Its success has attracted blue-chip partners such as Goldman Sachs, Citi, Google, PepsiCo, McKinsey & Company and Ernst & Young.

Its fellows attend top-tier business schools including Harvard, Stanford and Wharton.

Rice’s own education was elite. A native of Washington, D.C., Rice earned his MBA from Harvard Business School after graduating with honors from Yale University. It was during his Harvard years that he began to conceive of a program that would bring more people of color into the overwhelmingly White classrooms.

His early career was similar. Rice worked in marketing for the Walt Disney Corp. in Latin America before joining the National Basketball Association as director of marketing for Latin America and managing director of NBA Japan.

In part based on his own experiences, Rice founded MLT to change the racial composition of the top business schools and senior corporate management. His organization’s A-list partners and academic institutions— along with its high-achieving alumni — have attracted significant media attention.

In a National Public Radio interview last May, Rice said he wasn’t surprised at a recent Federal Times survey which found only 8.6 percent of senior corporate executives are minorities.

However, he pointed out, “The good news is the corporate world is more focused now and the demand for minority talent is as high as it has ever been.”

MLT’s immediate goal is to expand its program from 500 to 1,000 fellows per year. The plans are realistic, he says, because of the “incredible response” MLT is receiving from major corporations. “The corporate world realizes talent makes the money,” Rice says. “This is less about philanthropy and more about finding great talent.

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