Leader from one of world’s largest investment firms visits Morehouse

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Vern Perry, a Morehouse alum, manages $68B in assets as a global head at unit of Blackstone

Vern Perry walked across Morehouse College’s campus — the place where “I became a man,” he says — on a mission to engage.

Perry, Morehouse Class of 1994, is a board member of the historically Black college. He’s also the global head of a division of Blackstone, the largest alternative investment manager in the world with nearly $1 trillion in assets.

Nearly two years ago, Blackstone brought its LaunchPad program to Morehouse and other Atlanta University Center institutions to cultivate entrepreneurs. Blackstone committed $500,000 over five years each to Morehouse, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University.

This summer, 11 AUC students will be part of a 100-member internship class at the firm, some of its portfolio companies, minority-led startups and non-profit partners.

“I learned everything about who I am as a person today here,” he said in a Thursday interview.

In Atlanta, Blackstone owns a broad portfolio of companies, including AmericasMart and shapewear giant Spanx. Perry runs Blackstone Strategic Partners where he oversees about $68 billion of the firm’s total assets.

He was at Morehouse not to detail his work with the firm, but to provide guidance to budding entrepreneurs, some of whom are set to graduate on Sunday. Perry detailed his upbringing in west Philadelphia, where he lost friends to gun violence and made $4.25 an hour working at a fast-food restaurant before coming to the all-male HBCU.

“Someone once said to me, ‘Why did you go to Morehouse College?’” Perry told the students. “I said I wanted to go somewhere where I didn’t have to explain why I’m on campus studying at four in the morning. I didn’t want to have to explain to someone, ‘No, I’m a student here, I don’t mean anyone any harm, I’m not a danger. I’m just studying, trying to get an A, trying to keep my scholarship to stay here as opposed to going back home and dying.’”

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Perry said he has learned a lot of painful lessons, and wanted to help these young men from having to go through what he did.

“I don’t think there’s a better gift than imparting knowledge to the next generation,” he said.

The LaunchPads at the three Atlanta HBCUs collaborate but operate separately from each other. Morehouse’s program hosts, among other things, workshops on entrepreneurship with industry experts. The program also fosters a network of like-minded peers for students. Those who are accepted to the fellowship program get access to exclusive events and a $1,000 stipend per semester they can put toward their business if they participate in certain activities.

Tyler Greene, 20, is a rising senior at Morehouse studying sociology and a LaunchPad fellow since last fall. He has started multiple businesses, sold one of them, and is now working on a new business focused on helping communities across the Black diaspora scale climate-related projects.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

“I have a network of founders now, brothers as well, that I can literally kick it with but also get work done,” Greene told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his experience with the LaunchPad.

Having a strong network and relationships is one of the key pieces of advice Perry gave the students. He broke the overarching lesson down to four C’s:

  1. Competence — “Know your craft.”
  2. Contacts — “Everything you do will depend on the relationships you have.”
  3. Capital — “You have to have capital, whether it’s your own, whether it’s sweat equity. Somehow, it’s going to be funded, but it’d be nice if others say, ‘You know, I believe in you, let me make an investment.’”
  4. Confidence — “The first three don’t matter if you don’t have confidence. Work on your communication skills, at all times, written and oral communication skills.”

But woven into the business lessons were Perry’s own deep, personal learnings from hardship and grief from friends and family he lost while he made it. “To say I have survivor’s guilt would be an understatement,” he said. “One of the best things I can do to alleviate that survivor’s guilt is to make sure the next generation has what they need from me.”

So before leaving the room, he looked each Morehouse student in the eye and asked if they had an older brother, someone they could lean on for help.

For all those who shook their head no, Perry told them, “You do now.”

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