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This article was prepared for the October 31, 2001 edition of U.S.
1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Chamber Speaker: Trenton’s Opportunities
John Harmon, president of the Metropolitan Trenton
African American Chamber of Commerce (MTAACC), says he had been
for a chairman for his board of directors for a long time. Larry
Sheffield, a Manahawkin resident whom Harmon had known through
his business activities in the greater Trenton area, agreed to take
on the responsibility, and assumed the title in June.
"He has demonstrated himself to be a very smart businessman, with
a track record as an employee and as an entrepreneur," Harmon
says. "In addition, his style of leadership is very direct. He
believes in action, not rhetoric. That is desperately needed
Upon accepting the position, Sheffield, owner of a management
company called the Universal Consulting Group, started a new company,
Egami, and placed its offices on West State Street in Trenton. Egami,
"image" spelled backwards, is a promotional brand
company. Sheffield addresses the Princeton Chamber’s general
meeting on Thursday, November 1, at 11:30 a.m. at the Doral Forrestal.
Cost: $28. Call 609-520-1776.
One of Sheffield’s goals is to make mainstream corporate America aware
of the contributions to its bottom line that businesses owned by
of color and by women in the greater Trenton area are prepared to
make. He rejects the term "minority," for these businesses,
pointing out that more than 70 percent of Trenton’s population, and
more than 80 percent of the world’s population, is non-white.
"I firmly believe Trenton is going to be a high profile city,"
Sheffield says. "It’s going to grow like Hoboken and Jersey
He says he established a business in Trenton, and agreed to chair
MTAACC, not out of altruism, but rather out of a desire to be in on
the boom he sees coming. "I’m not Mother Teresa," he says.
"I’m about making money."
Sheffield grew up in New York City and in upstate New York. He is
the son of a teacher and a mechanic, both of whom emphasized
education, education." When he pulled a C-minus in Latin, his
mother made him quit the basketball team despite the fact that he
was a standout player who went on to play professionally for a short
time before being hobbled by knee injuries. His parents chose Notre
Dame University for him, he says, because of its strong reputation
for academics. He graduated in 1965 with a degree in finance and
He does not like to talk about his professional basketball career
— one year with the Baltimore Bullets — because he says
Americans are stereotyped as athletes. His success, he says, has
to do with sports.
Before starting his company in 1990, Sheffield, a CPA, worked for
Arthur Andersen, was compliance director for a Wall Street firm, and
oversaw accounting systems for AT&T’s Bell companies.
Despite his success, Sheffield says he doesn’t get the respect his
white counterparts receive. When he arrives at a new client’s offices
with a light-skinned employee, Sheffield says the client invariably
thinks the employee is the business owner, extending a hand and
him as Mr. Sheffield. In negotiations, he says, clients try to get
him to give discounts he doesn’t think they would ask of Caucasian
As for the let’s-all-pull-together sentiment that followed the
11 terrorist attacks, Sheffield believes it dissipated as quickly
as it sprung up.
"One of my guys was coming down Route 1," he says of a recent
incident. The man, an African American, stopped at an orange light
at Carnegie Center, drawing the ire of the trucker behind him, who
had hoped to run through it. The trucker jumped out of his rig, which
was decorated with numerous American flags, and spewed racial
at Sheffield’s employee. Says Sheffield: "For about half a day,
African Americans were not at the end of the food chain."
The trappings of success he has accumulated make no difference,
says. "I still get trailed by police. I still get looked at with
a jaundiced eye in upscale shopping centers." He cautions African
Americans never to think they are different because they have achieved
enough success to buy an expensive home or a top-of-the-line car.
At the same time, he chaffs at being identified by race.
"I don’t like being addressed as a black businessman," he
says. "You can’t tell from my financials what ethnicity I am.
It should be business first. Stop looking at us as people-of-color
For corporations, says Sheffield, awarding contracts to businesses
owned by women and by people of color "isn’t about doing the right
thing." Trenton-area companies, many of them in high-tech
stand ready to do top quality work that could boost corporations’
bottom lines. That is the reason they should be awarded the contracts.
"We’re not saying you have to do business with us," he says.
In fact, looking at some companies as "minority," and
with laws or policies demanding that a certain percentage of business
go to them, limits opportunities. Better, he says, that every company
be considered on its merits, with no advantageous treatment given
to any. Sheffield is in favor of affirmative action, but says the
concept is often misunderstood. "It just means," he says,
"that the door is open for us, too
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