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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

looking

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

here."

Upon accepting the position, Sheffield, owner of a management

consulting

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

merchandising

company. Sheffield addresses the Princeton Chamber’s general

membership

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

people

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

City."

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, 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

accounting.

He does not like to talk about his professional basketball career

— one year with the Baltimore Bullets — because he says

African

Americans are stereotyped as athletes. His success, he says, has

nothing

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

addressing

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

business owners.

As for the let’s-all-pull-together sentiment that followed the

September

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

invective

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,

Sheffield

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

businesses."

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

industries,

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

complying

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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