It’s A Burden Of The World We Live In. You Have To Be ‘Better Than.’
February 9, 2021
Lloyd Carney, a veteran technology executive and the former CEO of Brocade Communications Systems, shared compelling insights with Rhonda Morris, the chief human resources officer of Chevron, and Adam Bryant for our interview series with Black leaders. The themes we explore include race in corporate America and what should be done to increase the ranks of Black executives in the C-Suite (thus the B-Suite name of our series). Many memorable stories in this must-read interview.
Morris: What were some of the biggest influences when you were growing up?
Carney: The most influential people in my life were my father and my grandfathers. My grandfather on my mother’s side was an entrepreneur who started multiple businesses, and he taught me the basics of business, including how to trust people or not trust people. He owned a number of businesses, including a haberdashery and a hardware store. Every Saturday, all the money came in and all of it was counted and everybody had to take responsibility.
My father taught me how to deal with adversity. He also was an engineer, and he ran a business putting up electricity poles. He went bankrupt a couple of times and we had to deal with not having money in the house. I also saw the anguish he went through when he had to let people go. But I saw him rebound every time, and I learned from that.
And he said, “Here’s how I want you to decide. Pick the hardest one. If you pick an easy one and you do it, everyone’s going to expect that you can do it anyway. If you pick a hard one and you fail, everyone will think, well, that was a hard one. But if you pick a hard one and you do it, we’re going to think you’re a rock star. So pick the hardest one, and I’m going to help you make sure you get it done.” And that’s what I did. I picked the hardest path, and from then on, professionally I’ve always picked the hardest path.
Morris: What is your view about the notion that Black executives have to work twice as hard to be seen as good as anyone else?
Picking a battle with someone who I need revenue from is not a smart thing.
Carney: It’s a burden of the world we live in. You have to be “better than.” I deliver that message to my three children. I wish you could be like everybody else, but you have to stand out. I wish it weren’t the case.
When I mentor young people of color, I tend to steer people toward the sciences because it’s objective.
With a complex engineering problem, it’s either solved or it’s not solved. And so you take a lot of the subjective opinions out of the hands of people who could adversely impact you.
With that first co-op job, they didn’t even know I was Black. They came to the school and said, “Give us the four kids with the highest grades,” and I was one of the four. They used to call me “4.0 Carney,” and I even made money on the side by helping kids with their math assignments. It always served me well to be prepared and to always put in the extra effort.