IRVINE, Calif. — More than a decade into a career in financial services, Tonya Bradford found her calling.
A junior employee had approached her to ask for help. Could Bradford, a Black woman and a senior executive, help them achieve the same success?
As a manager, she was used to mentoring employees, but she learned she wanted to take it further.
“I realized the part of my job I liked most was helping people to achieve their goals,” she said. “In corporate, you kind of get to do that, but in the academy, you really get to see it happen.”
It was the beginning of a path that set Bradford on course to earn her Ph.D., then become a professor at the University of California, Irvine Paul Merage School of Business. In academia, Bradford says she can focus on the long game, and a key to that has been a newly established annual conference to help connect students and professionals with investors and networks to build business relationships.
The conference — organized and hosted by the Black Management Association — makes a special point to connect all interest groups on campus with each other.
The BMA had its inaugural event in 2021 online, and will, for the first time, take place in person Saturday.
“I was actually surprised we had 150 people who stayed with us for four hours,” Bradford said. “I’m not sure if I’m more excited that we’re in person, or that I’m going to meet all these people or that we’re finally going to bring this whole community together.”
The theme for the conference is “Wealth for a Digitally Driven World.”
It won’t cover all the vagaries of new technologies like blockchain or the technical benefits or pitfalls of Facebook’s Meta. Instead, it aims to show how attendees can get financing or build businesses.
Some of the speakers have already done so.
The conference lineup includes two keynote speakers: Daryl J. Carter, chairman and CEO of Avanath Capital Management, LLC and Maya Watson, head of Global Market Clubhouse.
Part of the goal is for attendees to develop the connections and knowhow to invest. Chakema Clinton-Quintana, VP Inclusive Small Business at Live Oak Bank, will be there to help interested entrepreneurs learn how to pitch potential financiers.
But Bradford’s first goal is on the long game. Maybe attendees find someone to pitch on Saturday, a job or an introduction to someone in venture capital. But what’s more important to Bradford is creating a community that investors and entrepreneurs can return to each year.
“As a public institution, we really believe in doing all we can to achieve their goals,” she said.