02 Jan 2019
Not Waiting for Progress
Brickson Diamond (MBA 1999) is forging new partnerships and leveraging connections to promote diversity and inclusion in the film industry and beyond.by Deborah Blagg
Photo by Robb Dickehut
Brickson Diamond (MBA 1999) has never been one to, as he puts it, “just sit back and wait for progress to happen.” His role as cofounder and chair of the Blackhouse Foundation is a case in point. The organization took shape in 2006 after Diamond, then in the midst of a successful career in financial services with the Capital Group Companies, attended the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, with some HBS friends.
A believer since childhood in the power of storytelling on the big screen, Diamond was struck by the lack of diversity, both in the crowd and in the slate of featured films at the industry-shaping gathering. Recalling the moment in a 2017 interview with the LA Sentinel, he noted, “I was the only African American, single, and gay man in the house.” Long an advocate for expanding access and inclusion for black executives in the corporate world, Diamond recognized an opportunity “to add to the texture of a village of creative artists who have the power to influence a huge global audience.”
A year later, with Blackhouse cofounders Ryan Tarpley and Carol Ann Shine, Diamond began developing and hosting networking events, panel discussions, workshops, and fellows programs linked to the annual, star-studded Sundance event.
“There was no secret formula,” he says. “We just created a supportive space where black artists can mingle, shine, and learn about financing, production, marketing, and distribution. We also reached out to the Hollywood establishment, to help them understand the power and viability of the stories this community has to tell.”
Secret or not, the formula is working. Since 2007, the number of black films showcased at Sundance has increased from 7 to 39, and Blackhouse has added outreach programming at the Cannes, Tribeca, Los Angeles, and Toronto international film festivals. The foundation has also established dynamic relationships with media companies such as NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia, Netflix, and HBO.
Talented and Together
Throughout his career, in a variety of business and nonprofit jobs, Diamond has enthusiastically embraced the role of activist and mentor. “In every generation, there are people who have extraordinary talent and are together enough to run with it,” he observes. “I’ve always been curious about those people—how they work, and especially how I can help them build the relationships they need to succeed.”
Diamond grew up in Atlanta, Georgia,where he was student body president in his high school. He comes by his passion for community engagement and activism honestly; his grandfather and stepmother were both ministers, his dad taught theology at the seminary of the Atlanta University Center, and the distinguished civil rights movement leader Reverend Ralph Abernathy was Diamond’s godfather.
Diamond credits his mother—who worked in sales with Mary Kay cosmetics—with instilling in him a “high level of enthusiasm about business in general, and especially sales and marketing.” He brought that enthusiasm with him to Brown University, where he majored in organizational behavior and management.
The Ivy League school was “the first place where I really felt like an adult,” he recalls. Now a member of Brown’s board of trustees, Diamond says, “From the first day I stepped on campus, I felt it was my responsibility to be a fully contributing member of that community.”
At the Capital Group, where he spent several post-college years before HBS, Diamond learned about the asset management business and gained valuable sales experience working on accounts for large institutional clients. Adding a Harvard MBA to those skills, he says, gave him “the general management training and opportunities I knew I needed to pursue a strong leadership career in business.” Along with lifelong ties to classmates, he says courses such as The Moral Leader, taught by Professor Joe Badaracco, and Leadership and Organizational Behavior, taught by Professor Tom DeLong, left a lasting impression.
Returning to Capital Group in Los Angeles after HBS, Diamond spent 11 years as senior vice president of Capital Group Private Client Services, where he developed and led the firm’s $1.2 billion Consultant Relations Division. During his time at Capital, in addition to launching the Blackhouse Foundation, Diamond joined the Executive Leadership Council (ELC), a prestigious membership organization of black board members, CEOs, and senior executives in Fortune 1000 companies.
First as an active member, and then—after leaving the Capital Group—as the Council’s COO, from 2012 to 2017, Diamond deepened his involvement in opening access to “places where people of color have not been part of the leadership structure.” As head of ELC’s Institute for Leadership Development & Research, he led professional development initiatives, drawing on ties to Brown and HBS, including the HBS African-American Alumni Association, as well as his philanthropic and Capital Group connections. “The goal at ELC is to build an inclusive business leadership pipeline,” he explains, “and, ultimately, to bring more diverse perspectives to conversations that determine how our companies and communities are governed.”
As someone who “began thinking like a mentor in high school,” Diamond says his take on leadership development is that “there’s no age requirement. Since the dot-com boom, we’ve all seen that you can be an outrageously successful CEO while still in your twenties.”
In his current role as CEO of the Los Angeles–based consulting firm Big Answers, Diamond helps clients in business and entertainment who want to generate new partnerships and leverage connections to promote diversity and inclusion. Many of those connections are between successful young entrepreneurs and up-and-coming members of the same generation who share comparable career experiences and expectations.
Similarly, he says, at Blackhouse, he advises aspiring black filmmakers to seek mentors, such as Emmy-winning actress and screenwriter Lena Waithe, “who have recently traveled the path to success and can help them understand how to navigate the way forward.”
While noting that the way forward for black filmmakers is still “far too problematic and challenging,” Diamond says he’s encouraged by the collaborative mindset of Waithe, who has a long association with Blackhouse and other black filmmakers of her generation. In a description that could easily be applied to his own career, Diamond observes, “They are far more focused on sharing the pie than on just taking a piece for themselves.”
Class of MBA 1999, Section E