I had the pleasure of attending the taping of CNBC’s Townhall which was taped here in Atlanta, but aired tonight on CNBC. http://www.cnbc.com/id/47741804 Let me say that I have mixed feelings about this show. Had I watched it with the rest of you, I probably would have a different view, but unfortunately, I have to go on what I saw live and in person. I won’t even go into the editing that occurred during the show. They basically changed the conversation as soon as it began, which was disappointing to me.
I know CNBC had the best intentions but they fell short.
When I showed up, I was unaware of who would be included on the guest panel. So I was pleasantly surprised when they announced the panel. I won’t even harp on the fact that I was told my question would be asked, but wasn’t. I was happy to be able to be present for the conversation. I walked in thinking this was going to be an actual conversation with real questions and dialog from the entrepreneurs in the audience. By the time I walked away, I was asking myself where the real questions were. The people who seemed to ask “questions” seemed more like living informercials. Hey I can’t knock them. If they were lucky enough to get air time, they had to go for it. And it also seemed (to me) that these people were handpicked because they wouldn’t ask the hard questions. Of course all of the rambling and promotions were edited out by the CNBC team, which is good. But still, I was disappointed.
I attended this show because I really thought there would be some real dialog and that we could get to the meat of small business concerns. Instead, what I found was a hodge podge of platitudes and statistics. Why I was surprised, I don’t know. It seems like every event I attend for small business devolves into a bunch of feel good advice and promises of helping small businesses find the light. But when I leave, nothing changes. I am quite aware that a one hour show is not enough time to address real issues. In fact CNBC is all about big business and if you spend enough time watching them (as I have over the years), you would realize that small business is outside of their realm. I don’t blame them though. Their job is to report on the sexy businesses, the big named giants that have contributed the the downfall of our economy. Sure there are some mentions every now and then about a small business (which is usually a tech business).
It seems that Administrator Karen Mills (of the SBA) was set up to be the punching bag for all things government. While I agree somewhat that the government is too much in the way, she is not the cause of it. It was unfair to unload on her like she has power to make banks lend or change legislation. I will say though, it is her job to make sure the SBA works with and really takes the time to HEAR small businesses. I give props to President Obama for trying. Small business maybe the backbone of the economy, but it is the red-headed stepchild of the world.
Back to the townhall. I think people who watch this show will feel the same frustration I do because it’s not enough to pull together an all-star panel and talk about small business, but offer absolutely NO viable insight or solutions. No disrespect intended because I have tremendous respect for each of these panelists. But what could they do for small business? Steve Case who started Startup America was going to be the shining light in my eyes. But he fell short. You see, I’ve tried to connect with Startup America (who by the way reached out to me first) to see how I can help with the cause. I have yet to get a response. The more I see Startup America hit the speaking rounds, the more I’m convinced it’s just a nice man who is trying to do a good thing but falls short. It seems like if you’re not a tech business, they don’t have time to talk to you. Newsflash, there are other types of businesses out there besides tech. I’m not a tech basher. Hell I love tech. I recruit for tech. But damnit, can other industries get help too?
To me, it sounded like much of the same. It was a way for the panel to sit up there and say “if we can do it so can you”. The reality is no, not everyone can. Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur. Anyone can start a business, not everyone can run a sustainable company. And that point was not emphasized. I am tired of these events perpetuating that entrepreneurship is this panacea where all is magical. It’s not. And in fact, had CNBC not edited the small business owner from Swainsboro, GA, you would have heard first hand how REAL small business ownership is. But that would have contradicted CNBC’s “we are the world, small business are the children” attitude. What people need is REAL TALK not platitudes and rah rah speeches. They need real pipelines to people in power to actually work with them.
But what irritated me is the fact that there was no mention of women owned businesses or minority businesses. We had perhaps one of the most successful women entrepreneurs of all time on the panel, yet there was no mention of any initiatives for women owned businesses. Now, don’t think I’m playing the woman or minority card. I generally try to stay away from those conversations. But I couldn’t help but notice there was no mention of any programs or options. I know I saw women and minorities in the audience. Yet, we weren’t even addressed. That spoke VOLUMES.
I said this before and I’ll say it again. After watching this townhall (because I can’t say I participated) small businesses need to create a grassroots movement and look out for ourselves.
And before I forget, I have to address the comments about lack of talent and kicking our “bright educated immigrants” out of the country. I swear I want to bang my head on the wall every time this subject comes up. I have no problem with people coming to this country. But when you start perpetrating the lie that there is no talent here in the US, I have to call bullshit. Tristan Walker, whom I have great respect for, made a comment that made me flinch in my seat. He said something to the effect that we should relax the regulations so that we can keep the talent here instead of sending them back home. Are you kidding me? I’m a recruiter. Have been for 19 years. And of those years I have spent a great deal of time hiring tech talent. I can tell you AMERICA DOES HAVE TECH TALENT. Let’s just lay the cards on the table and call it like it is. Companies are too damn cheap to pay for America’s talent. Because when you go through *my* database, there are loads of talented people who get passed over because companies would rather spend the money on HB1 visas than giving it to people right here. And then they want to cry there’s no talent? Sirs and madames of Silicon Valley, to that I politely say Miss Me With That Brand of Bullshit. I am open to discussing this topic on my show and have publicly invited many of Silicon Valley’s best, but so far have only received silence. Either they know it’s bullshit or my credentials aren’t high enough. I’m not in the “club” I guess. Whatever. I know my track record and I know my talent. And trust, America’s Got Talent (no pun intended). So stop selling wolf tickets because people are starting to believe you.
Overall I think CNBC needs to stick with what they know best- big business. Clearly they didn’t research as they should have nor did they even bother to create an environment where real small business owners could come together to brainstorm, mastermind, hash out (or whatever term you want to use). Next time, I suggest inviting an appropriate panel that is ready to talk brass tax. Don’t placate us with this remanufactured nonsense and tell us you care about small business. I’m sure you do, but we’re not your demographic. You left us with many questions and little real information. That was evident by the amount of audience members walking out shaking their heads and wondering what the hell they just took part in. But hey, if you need someone to ask the real questions and get down to some real talk, I can always put you in touch with my people to see what we can arrange. I’m ready to hit the small screen and get things done.
Til next time,
Small Business Owner who’s not afraid to put her money where her mouth is
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Adrienne Graham is the Founder & CEO of Empower Me! Corporation (www.empowerme.org). She is a strategist that helps people grow their career, business or network in any economy. She is the voice behind Views from the Top Radio Show, and the creative visionary behind Empower Me! Institute and Empower Me! Magazine. Her writing and shows focus on Career Management, Networking Strategies, Entrepreneurial Success and Small Business Management. You can also find her causing a ruckus on Forbes.com.