Home Featured Entrepreneurship Black entrepreneur ‘Doc’ Pickard plans thank-you to Detroit

Black entrepreneur ‘Doc’ Pickard plans thank-you to Detroit

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William “Doc” Pickard is feeling mighty grateful, which is why he is planning an upcoming weekend of  “Thank You, Detroit” events for friends, co-workers and the city he has called home the past 47 years as people have supported him as he carved out a riveting career.

Pickard is one of the most successful African-American businesses owners. It began when he and his partners became among the first African-Americans to own a McDonald’s franchise.

Today, he is founder and chairman of Global Automotive Alliance, a $500 million logistics and manufacturing company; co-managing partner of MGM Grand Detroit Casino; CEO of Bearwood  Management Co.; and co-owner of five African-American newspapers, including The Michigan Chronicle.

During his “Thank You, Detroit” weekend, he will announce he is fulfilling a $1 million gift to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and new commitments of $1 million to the Motown Historical Museum expansion project and $100,000 to Wayne County Community College District to help female minority entrepreneurs.

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The weekend includes a Friday, June 22, invitation black-tie gala featuring the Four Tops at the Roostertail; a picnic for current and past employees of his McDonald’s franchises on Saturday, June 23; and a free gospel extravaganza featuring Pastor Marvin Winans, singer Karen Clark Sheard and a Detroit based 100-voice ecumenical chorus on Sunday, June 24 at the Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. Tickets are available at God’s World Superstore in Detroit.

“I came to this great city nearly 50 years ago, and still marvel today at how much I owe Detroit and the individuals who have been and continue to be hallmarks in my life,”  he said.

It’s a long way from La Grange, Georgia, where Pickard was born.

His family moved to Flint in 1956 when his father got a job working at the GM plant. Moving north proved a tough transition for young Pickard.

He loved the support he had felt down South.

“There were many African-American businesses, and we celebrated our heritage,” he said.

It wasn’t like that in Flint.

Pickard felt out of place. He and his friends used to eat our lunch “hiding out under the stairwell of the junior high school because we didn’t want to go outside and get teased.”

Both black and white students called Pickard and his friends “Russians.” It was a derogatory way of saying they weren’t from Flint.

The bullying took its toll. His grades began to suffer and he lost interest in school. He almost didn’t get into college.

“My mother, father and grandfather took me to Mott Community College and they weren’t going to let me in,” he said. “They said I wasn’t ‘college material.’”

His mom pleaded his case and he got in. He worked hard and got his mojo back. He went on to obtain degrees from Western Michigan University, Ohio State and University of Michigan.

Education remains a sweet spot for Doc, who earned the nickname as he has taught business classes at Western Michigan University, University of Michigan, Wayne State University and other colleges. He also serves as a trustee at Western Michigan.

Pickard is a believer in giving back.

In 2017, the Pickard family donated $1 million to the National Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C.;  $3 million to Western Michigan; and hundreds of thousands to Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Wayne State and Mott Community College.

He’s also a writer. He penned a bestselling  book last year — “Millionaire Moves: Seven Proven Principles of Entrepreneurship,” which is a look at his professional journey.

He’s working on a new coffee-table book expected by December 2020 featuring 100 incredible but little known African-American entrepreneurs from 1850 to 1950.

I posed a few questions to Doc.

Q: Your entrepreneurial story began with McDonald’s. How did you become a franchisee?

A: I was working for the NAACP in Cleveland, Ohio, and there was a boycott against McDonald’s. I was going to The Ohio State University and getting my doctorate when McDonald’s asked me if I knew anyone who might want to become a franchise owner. They were looking for African-Americans who wanted go to Detroit. I did.

Q: Why are you writing a book about African-American entrepreneurs from 1850 to 1950?

A: Because too many people think we have only become interested in business recently. That isn’t true. There are many amazing stories from long ago.

Let me tell you about one-Elizabeth Keckley. She was born into slavery and had a master and they had a son. She was quite the seamstress and worked on the side. She was able to save up and bought her freedom and her son’s. She went to Washington, D.C., and worked as a seamstress for Mrs. Lincoln, and General Lee’s wife and Ulysses S. Grant’s wife. She was a dressmaker to the stars and a successful businesswoman.”

Q: What lessons are you hoping people take away from those stories?

A: That they were successful in spite of the odds. If they could do it back then, we should be able to have more success stories today.

Q: Why is this “Thank You, Detroit” weekend so important to you?

I came here with nothing. Everyone who I have met and asked for help did so along the way. When I was making the leap to manufacturing, I asked Dr. Francis Kornegay of the Detroit Urban League if he could make any introductions for me. He introduced me to Henry Ford II. Do you think I could have met Henry Ford II on my own?

Q: You were also involved with Max Fisher, who was a player in national Republican politics. You ended up on Ronald Reagan’s transition team. How did that happen?

Q: Max knew Jim Baker and asked him to put me on Reagan’s transition team.

Q: What about the state of black businesses today in Detroit?

A: The good news is more young men and women are getting in the economic development space and in neighborhoods. What we need now is scale. If there is one thing black businesses do better it is hire more black employees. Mayor (Mike) Duggan understands the problem. Now we need to figure out how to fix it.

Q: What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs today?

A: No excuses. Is there a level playing field? No, but we have to find a way to do it anyway. There’s nothing wrong with a great job in corporate America. But at the end of the day, we must have more entrepreneurs in our community to be successful.”

Contact Carol Cain: 313-222-6732 or clcain@cbs.com. She is senior producer/host of “Michigan Matters,” which airs at 11:30 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62. See Gov. Rick Snyder, Mayor Mike Duggan, Warren Evans, Mark Hackel, Dr. Nikolai Vitti,  Ron Weiser, Cong. Debbie Dingell, Dan Musser and  others on Sunday’s show which was filmed at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Conference.

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