When Earl Graves makes one of his frequent appearances in the Sunday Times society pages, his may not be the only black face, but it is usually the only one framed by giant Edwardian muttonchops. Graves is the founder, CEO, and publisher of Black Enterprise, a 30-year-old monthly whose motto is your ultimate guide to financial empowerment. Graves, who sits on the boards of Daimler Chrysler, Aetna, and American Airlines, has certainly taken his magazine’s advice to heart. When his son Earl Jr. (BE’s COO and president) was the object of a Metro-North police stop-and-frisk in 1995, the MTA bought a full-page ad in the Times to apologize to the Graves family. “That’s what money and connections will get you,” Graves père says candidly. He was one of the few executives arrested during the Diallo protests; now, in the wake of the Dorismond shooting, Graves says bluntly, “People should be demonstrating to kick Giuliani out of office – and I don’t mean into the Senate.”
The Bed-Stuy-bred Graves, 65, is resting his right leg on a footstool behind his antique desk. An ice bag balances on a swollen knee injured during this morning’s workout – preparation for a ski race at Vail in two weeks. “Butch?” Graves barks into the phone to 40-year-old Earl Jr. “The White House called this morning. They want me at an initiative on race April 6. I can’t make it” – he is co-chairing a National Conference for Community and Justice dinner with DLJ co-founder William Donaldson that night – “so I want you to represent me.” Graves can afford to skip a White House visit: Among the photos lining his forest-green-paneled chambers in the Flatiron district are five of Graves with Bill Clinton, and his day started with a call from Hillary, who wanted to talk campaign strategy.
At noon, DeNelle Leon, one of Graves’s two assistants, pokes her head through the door: “The ambassador is still waiting.” Tom McDonald, U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe and an old friend of Graves’s, has been sitting in the hall for ten minutes. “I know, I know,” Graves shouts. “Stop calling him ‘the ambassador’! This is the best Tom’s been treated in his life!” For good measure, Graves keeps the diplomat waiting a few more minutes before the two men climb into Graves’s chauffeur-driven Chrysler LHS and head to ‘21,’ where the manager, maître d’, and headwaiter all glad-hand the CEO. After lunch, Graves introduces McDonald to Tiffany vice-chairman Jim Quinn, sitting two tables away. “Good thing I was wearing the right watch,” Graves jokes, pulling back the cuff of his chalk-striped Ralph Lauren suit to reveal a gold Tiffany timepiece.
Back at Black Enterprise HQ, Graves looks in on editor-in-chief Alfred Edmond, who favors bow ties and works in a cubbylike office. “What’s this? Lunch?” Graves asks, pointing at a Tupperware dish. “Oh, no. That was breakfast,” says Edmond apologetically, tucking the leftovers out of sight. Graves returns to the executive suite just as a delegation from the Travelers Group (pictured above) arrives. The three men shut the door to address final details on a $100 million venture-capital partnership the firm has just formed with Black Enterprise.
At 5:30 p.m., Graves changes into a tuxedo for a $550-a-head Harlem Y benefit dinner. “You’re going to see a lot of people trying to buttonhole me,” he says, stepping out of his private bathroom in nothing but a French-cuffed shirt and gartered socks. “The thing is to get the hell up to the dais as fast as I can.” When he takes the podium at 8:30, Graves’s message is as direct as his magazine’s maxim. “We need them to make money,” he says firmly, gesturing to the 22 scholarship winners seated before him. “Money makes people pay attention.”