Earlier this week I had the honor of spending some quality time with a new friend, and someone I highly respect, the Honorable Elizabeth Warren, in her office in Washington, D.C. Professor Warren is the the newly appointed Assistant to the President for President Obama, Special Advisor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but that prominent title actually does not do her portfolio, nor her as an individual, justice. Ms. Warren passionately cares about America, about Americans, an unlike what is often said about her agenda, is not anti-free enterprise. She just wants a bit of fair-enterprise, to go along with free-enterprise.
She spoke at the recent annual meeting of the Financial Services Roundtable, with an audience of more than 800 CEOs and senior leaders from the financial services community in America, and said not one thing that did anything that made this group of leaders do anything but "think," which is a good thing. Giving leaders something to "think" about, in this day and age, is indeed a positive thing.
I have said that this is more a crisis of virtues and values than it is a purely economic crisis. Ms. Warren is interested in helping American free-enterprise to better understand the needs of the consumer, the middle class and the working class too, and how "we are all in this together." And so, the agenda is not or should not be "us" against "them," but a new commitment to the novel idea called "us." Now, everyone will be a bit nervous about "how" she goes about doing this, but I trust Ms. Warren to approach her challenges with an even hand, for this reason --- I see as an authentic person. That counts for a lot in my book.
You can read more about Ms. Warren's background here, but I must say that meeting her in person is about all the background reference anyone really needs. She looks you directly in the eyes, actually listens with her ears, talks only as much as she needs to so that you understand her real agenda, asks very real questions, and is truly open to answers that don't fit what one might perceive as her "pre-determined decision-set." Other than her obvious and understandable passion for consumer protection and empowerment, I found nothing "pre-determined" about her.
I actually found that Ms. Warren talks without being offensive, actually listens without being defensive, and works hard to leave even her adversary with their dignity. What else can one ask for? After all, every good marriage is made of constructive friction.
Where we go from here...
Ms. Warren and I already agree on one thing -- that financial literacy is the new civil rights issue, and that's a great place to start.
My mission is simple; to help her, and to work closely with her team and mine at Operation HOPE, to advance the issue of financial literacy empowerment, and what I call "silver rights" to and for every American citizen. Done right here in America, this work will also provide a best-in-class, "make-sense" regulatory framework model for leaders around the world, and in so doing, help President Obama leave this agency as one of his principle, sustainable legacy achievements.
If we do this right, we will also help achieve one of my goals at Operation HOPE; to finally "make free enterprise and capitalism" work for the poor.
John Hope Bryant
A Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum, an Oprah's Angel Network award recipient, a TIME Magazine 50 (Leaders) for the Future (94'), John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Operation HOPE, the Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), advisor to the last three sitting U.S. presidents, a thought leader, public speaker, and an innovator in the business of empowerment. Mr. Bryant serves U.S. President Barack Obama on the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, and prior to that Mr. Bryant served U.S. President George W. Bush as vice chairman of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Council, and chairman of the council Committee on the Under-Served. With the publishing of Love Leadership, Mr. Bryant became the first African-American business bestselling author published in mainstream business leadership in the country.