Interim CEO Bruce Thompson paves the path for actionable programming.
For National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) interim CEO Bruce Thompson, a myriad of skills and qualities define exemplary leadership. But one trait stands out.
“I believe in collaborative leadership, servant leadership. It’s never about me. It’s about what the mission is and how best to accomplish that. I’m a good organizer and I understand people. But I sincerely believe that I do not have all of the answers,” says Thompson. “So that means when you lead, one thing prevails: you must listen. Benefit from other people’s expertise and ideas. ‘We’ can create better solutions than ‘I’ can. If I’m listening and directing the organization, we’re much more likely to succeed than if I take an it’s-my-way-or-the-highway approach.”
A seasoned executive with more than three decades of wide-ranging, high-impact experience, Thompson’s C-suite resume astounds, including serving as president of the Hospitality Development Company, chief separation officer and global vice president at Arconic, chief financial officer at VITEC LLC, vice president at Johnson Controls, and numerous executive roles at the Ford Motor Company. His experience with NBMBAA is equally impressive.
Joining after earning his MBA at Stanford, Thompson rose to become NBMBAA president of his hometown Detroit chapter and then served on the NBMBAA national board for nine years, with three as board chair, where he led the strategic planning process for the 50-year-old organization. That plan looks to enhance NBMBAA’s value proposition and expand its resources.
“We support our members and partners very well, but we can do so much more. We’ve given out millions in scholarships over the last decade, but we can do so much more. And we must do more because the need is greater. Expanding our resources is how we move forward as an organization,” says Thompson, who believes devoutly in NBMBAA. By his estimation, it’s been critical to his success. And that drives him to give back to the organization and future generations.
“Early in my career, NBMBAA helped me learn what I needed to advance in the corporate world. Through professional development and exposure, I learned leadership tools and experience that transcend every organization,” he shares. “Yes, you learn a lot in business school, but the corporate environment is a whole different story. NBMBAA provides that necessary development. And it’s an extraordinary place for people of color to assemble and learn from each other.”
But it’s also not only about business.
“In the wake of the George Floyd killing, NBMBAA has a vital, proactive role to play,” says Thompson. “Yes, we published a statement and it’s fine to write a statement about racial equality. But it’s more important to do something, to make a difference with actionable programming. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
When it comes to effective, collaborative leadership, Thompson believes listening is the key. But it’s more than a belief. He has proven its utility most successfully in both the corporate and the nonprofit worlds. So, what’s next for him?
“I have specific business interests I’ll pursue, but I’ll always be involved in NBMBAA. I see the vision. I see what we can accomplish. And it’s too important to me not to be engaged in it.”