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Welcome to Episode 12 of the Property Show, we are in the midst of a national crisis, specifically the Black Lives Matter movement, systemic racism has been the catalyst for what has been not a regional, not a city wide protest, but a national movement. And it would be tone deaf to try and avoid or talk about something else today. So we're going to attempt to, as best we can see, if we can shed some new light on the topic.
So today we're bringing on a friend and my old boss, professor and dean emeritus of NYU Stern School of Business, Peter Henry, who's also a well regarded economist and author, that we're bringing Peter on a because he's an incredibly intelligent, insightful person. And as a black man who has family and law enforcement, has the bombers, just has a perspective that I can never have. And so we wanted to bring him on and get his insight and views into some of these fairly complex times.
So with that, let's kick off our interview with Dean Peter Henry, one of the most impressive people I know. True story about Peter, true story about Peter. When he was appointed Dean, I read about him, the youngest dean appointed to a business school, former scholar athlete, played football, USC Rhodes Scholar, a Ph.D. from MIT. Sam, you know, the whole just like crazy Rosemere, right? First time I ever saw Peter, he was with his mother walking her out of church on a Sunday was one of those guys who cannot believe he's for real, but he is anyways.
With that, our conversation with Dean Peter Henry.
Peter, where does this podcast find you? I am in New York City, right near NYU.
Let's let's bust right into it. This is the social unrest gripping our city, gripping the country. It's not a regional thing. It's a national thing. Talk a little bit about the inevitability of this moment and what you think it means to the country.
Yeah, I think it really was inevitable, Scott. You know, I couldn't have predicted that this would happen now. In fact, I thought the moment we're seeing right now, we'd see maybe 10 years from now. But just stepping back, if you think about it. So the United States is this amazing country founded on a bunch of contradictions. Right. So it's we've got this we have this unbelievable document called the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which are probably two of the leading institutions in the Western world in terms of being revolution, in terms of ideas of freedom and so forth.
But the is also founded on slavery and genocide and stealing women. And so you have the sort of evolution. You sort of fast forward the country a few hundred years and what's happened. So you have this amazing set of documents that talk about freedom and inalienable rights and equality of men. But the United States has never actually lived up to that ideal. Right. And not only that, it's never lived up to that ideal, but the demographics of this country, as you know, Scott, are changing dramatically.
And so by 2040, this country becomes a minority majority country. In other words, the majority, the country will no longer look like the people who actually wrote those documents. And so I think it was inevitable the United States was going to face a reckoning moment where people had to decide, are we going to really honor the Constitution when the folks in the majority don't look like the people who wrote the Constitution. And I think that's really what at a deeper level what this is about.
So a couple of things. When you think we hear a lot that if you look at how diverse we are, that we're doing better than most places. B, you think. And and it doesn't scare me that we we as Americans escaped oppression such that we can be free to enslaving other people. Right. That was kind of our founding action. And but you think it's in our DNA.
So, for example, do you think we're going to have a tougher time getting to a place of racial justice and say, for example, Germany, because it's just in our it's just not in our DNA or controversy or division or this DNA of looting a country for its human capital and enslaving them and bringing them here for tremendous economic benefit for a ruling class.
Do you think that holds back that DNA still gets in the way of our progress?
It gets in the way it doesn't. You know, the thing is, we still haven't fully had the conversation about it and we fully haven't fully had the conversation about it because it requires a real conversation, requires acknowledgement of what took place. And I think the difference between the United States and some other Western democracies is the point that you made. It's the size of the plurality rights. You've got other Western democracies where you have terrible things that have happened and where you have some, you know, multiculturalism.
But the United States has a you know, has a minority population that is huge relative to the, you know, the descendants of the founding fathers. And that's what's forcing us. Right, because if you think about it, you know, are you willing to actually honor freedom when you're not a super majority? And that's really what this is about. If you kind of look at, for instance, in the last several elections, I think the Democrats have won the popular vote last six out of seven elections.
And, you know, for years, people have said, well, you know, the Republican Party needs to be more competitive for both the parties to reform itself, to actually compete, to win votes. That's one strategy of strategies to actually suppress votes. And it's pretty clear that today's Republican Party has chosen not to compete. Their strategy is to distance is to suppress votes because of exactly the conflict that you mentioned. And so I don't think it's that I don't think it's some I think because of the way in which the country was founded, people get really uptight because they feel as though, you know, we can't talk about the history of the country honestly, because it means we have to give up everything that I got or something.
You know, people are not responsible for the sins of their father, but but we all have benefited, myself included. I'm black. I'm a black immigrant, but I'm living in a country that is that, you know, where there's blood in the soil. And so let's have that conversation that we've never fully had the conversation. We've only kind of put bandaids on it time and time again. But what's forcing us to really deal with it now is because the combination of the suppression that's going on, because part of the country is worried that they're going to basically be in the minority.
Do you think and this is so I like it's it's almost impossible. I'm a 50. Five year old white dude, right, and it's almost impossible not to fully empathize with or you can empathize, but I don't think I'll ever, like, really get it. I'm just treated differently when I'm pulled over by the cops and you immediately extrapolate. Extrapolate. Well, that's how they treat everybody.
Do you let me put forward a thesis and you respond to it that systemic racism in our society is awful, but it's less bad than it's ever been and that we elected and re-elected a black president. There are more African-American police chiefs than ever. There are more people of color elected to Congress and Senate in this last election cycle that what is happening here is the spark that has set on fire this underlying incendiary powder of income inequality that largely impacts or disproportionately impacts people of color and women.
Or is it is it that I just can't see that racism is racism getting worse in this country?
I'll tell you, it's getting worse. So systemic racism, racism has always been an issue. I felt it not as much as some of others have felt because of the problems that I have. But what has gotten worse is, again, it's sort of this inexorable kind of dynamic that's happening in the country right now. President Obama gets elected, and that's unthinkable for a large, significant fraction of the U.S. population. In some ways, it's symbolic of this demographic, 20 40 change they talked about.
Right. So the fact that you can actually a black president. Oh, my gosh. Like this day of reckoning, having a US that you know is not what I defined the US to be, which is essentially a white Christian, largely Anglo-Saxon country. Right. And so I think that sets off fear and anxiety on top of the other issues you mentioned related to income inequality and so forth. And it just it forces the question, who are we?
Am I going to say I'm actually going to allow the country to continue to evolve in such a way that, as you said, with more black police chiefs, more blacks and corporations, and we have made some real progress and a lot of these issues. But when the rubber hits the road, in terms of what you mentioned, sort of basic individual freedom, when I Peter Henry, I'm not in my institutional role as a professor at NYU, former Dean person with a Ph.D., blah, blah, blah, and I'm just encountered in the street or on the highway.
And I have an encounter with a law enforcement officer. We're back in that sort of kind of primitive, primordial space of the fundamental power dynamics have always defined the cornerstone of this country, which is, frankly, that, you know, this is a country for white men. And everyone else is sort of, you know, allowed to sort of play as part of that system as long as they play a certain role. And I think that the changes that we've seen from President Obama being elected twice to the Democrats winning a larger and larger fractions of the popular vote and more frequently because of changing demographics of the country or alarms to a certain subset of the GOP.
And they have really taken it upon themselves to try to basically undo many of the safeguards in the Constitution that actually underwrite the very principles of the country. And so it's a very complicated mix. So you can have, you know, if a weakening for the chipping away of systemic racism in many institutions, but a fundamentally law enforcement. Right. Which is about protecting people's lives or as we've seen, endangering people's lives. If that particular institution still can act with impunity in killing black men and people of color, then you've got a problem.
Talk more about your personal experiences with law enforcement. I know you went to high school in an all white Chicago suburb and you you interned with the Minneapolis Police Department in the late 80s. What has been your exposure and experience with law enforcement?
Yes, it's interesting. So I have great respect for police, but I've family members in law enforcement and I've had family members who serve in the military. And, you know, you mentioned the Minneapolis Police Department. Really terrific experience in many ways, you know, having a public safety internship and seeing what law enforcement does. But frankly, I'll be honest with you, after that summer, the single biggest change that I made in terms of my own sort of personal behaviors, I never left home without an ID.
I had the conversation with my four sons about, you know, how you can put yourself and how you need to always you can never leave the house for identification because otherwise the police can see you are whoever they want to say you are. You're you fit the description of some black male that's under suspicion unless you've got an ID. After my experience, the Minneapolis Police Department and seeing various encounters between, frankly, black men and police officers, I just made a conscious decision.
I was never leaving home with ID, specifically my driver's license after that.
When you think about so you've lived this privileged life, but you've had this crazy trajectory.
You're an ambitious guy and you've done I mean, you're sort of something out of central casting for the American success story. Where do you think you've seen it the most? Is it in random situations where you don't have the veneer of NYU or the badging of people don't know your degrees and your accomplishments and you're just pulled over by law enforcement is a more subtle things every day at work. These I mean, I just think about it. Yeah, that's a great cause.
A great question, Scott.
And so for me, the heart stopping moment is always I mean, again, I have great respect for law enforcement officers, but I don't want to encounter in a law enforcement officer in an uncontrolled environment, I'll do anything I can to avoid that, because that's that's a risk you have very little control over.
The bad news is, is that is a dangerous moment because you're dealing with someone who has a gun and the ability, the authority to and our society so far seems to air on the side of poor judgment with the guy with the badge and the gun. Right. And the good news is we should be able to tackle that. I mean, although there are four thousand police districts around the nation, that is it seems like a population that we should be able to educate and hold accountable.
Why is it that so much the negatives of systemic race and so much of the fear that you feel are the things you have to educate your boys around? Like why wouldn't we be able to fix that, I guess is a question.
We can't fix it. You're right, Scott. We have to want to fix it. And when I say we it's got to be a collective. We have to be enough people, enough voters. Right.
If you vote in judges and and chiefs and and other elected officials who have positions of power, particularly law enforcement, who are actually going to make change and people have to stand up and say, I'm not going to accept this anymore. And so unless people, you know, it's not enough to say I reject the status quo or you can say anything you want, you can say I'm an ally because the question is, will you actually vote to allocate resources?
Will you actually convict people who are in violation of the law and in violence and violate people's civil rights?
And really importantly, you know, will the people who occupy positions of power, national office in particular, the president in particular, use their bully pulpit to make. Very clear this will not be tolerated. Mm hmm. Know what a president says really matters. As you know, absent that, you won't get the change, which is why I say we will have to want it to change. And I think what it means right now, I think, is why people are what you're seeing, you know, not just blacks protesting, but I think I was in Portland, Maine yesterday, in Portland, Oregon, yesterday, that the probably the most diverse group of protesters I've ever seen people actually say, OK, you know what, if we don't actually begin to act, this is not going to change.
It feels like just to put a pause there, it feels like this isn't so much a racial divide as it is a generational divide. And that is the way people feel about this. The largest indicator, I think, of how people feel about this is more age based and race. It feels like people under the age of 30, at least as I talk to, almost feel a civic obligation to protest. I've been struck by how passionate they are about this and going back to this notion of voting and this is another get off my line comment.
I look at the people protesting. I look at the cohorts protesting. I think, OK, should I go protest? And I say, OK, this is this is really inspiring because there's a lot of people getting involved, expressing their viewpoint, taking risks. And then I think, why is it young people don't vote in the same proportions as the I mean, it strikes me, Peter, and tell me if you agree with this, voting has become too powerful that our elected representatives are overrunning our institutions, our courts, our laws, our Constitution, that voting has almost too much power at this point, that our institutions is a liberal democracy have been overrun by our elected officials.
It strikes me that you vote for the prosecutor, vote for the representative, vote for the judge.
Why do young people do you think they've just given up? They've just said, OK, democracy doesn't work. I've got to take to the street.
Yeah, it's a great question. Clearly, young people don't vote as much as they do as they should. And because of that, as you as you said, we have kind of a set of elected officials that's skewed towards the preferences of the older and skewed towards a preferences, frankly, of those who have the most to lose from actually having a more kind of a flattening of the playing field, if you will. So, again, go back to this point of this.
It's a generational divide and people becoming increasingly worried about, you know, what will America be if we actually honor the Constitution? What's going to happen if we actually allow all of these black and brown people who are not Christians and so on, so forth, to actually have a vote?
I think in particular, I think there's there's an older generation that older, whiter, more Republican generation that is frightened of that. I think there was one of those important things that's happened from this point forward, as we just think about November, for instance, is people need to vote. And frankly, we need a country how to make it easier for people to vote and easier for people to vote without endangering their lives and their health. That's going to be critical.
And then, you know, we'll well, we'll have an election. And I think this election is even more pivotal that people realize, because I really think the question on the table in this election, Scott, is, is America going to be we, the people? Or are we going to vote for an America that says, no, we can't be we the people, because we the people today looks very different than we the people two hundred some years ago.
And therefore, you know, what about the Constitution, as Gilda Radner used to say? Just kidding.
Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Let's talk a little bit about let's move to the corporate side. You you serve on boards of directors from firms ranging from Nike to Citigroup. That's right. And I see a lot of these ads and tell me if I'm being cynical, I feel as if we've gotten to the point where we've jumped the shark around statements from corporations saying we stand with Black Lives Matter, that unless you're willing to make concrete actions. I mean, what.
Let me back up. You're on the board of Nike. What would you how would you tell them to respond to this? Not recognizing you can't you're not speaking as a spokesperson for Nike, but someone who's a fiduciary for all stakeholders. How does Nike handle this, in addition to compelling ads saying, you know, don't do that or just don't want? And I'm just going to point out that eight percent of Nike's VPs are African-American. And, you know, there's a lot of great things going on at Nike, but they fall under a lot of criticism for this is an organization that makes a ton of money off of indorse.
Athletes, people of color selling shoes into people of color and senior management ranks doesn't reflect either of those things. What advice do you have for companies like Nike who play a big role moving forward in addressing systemic racism?
It's corny, but just do it. And, you know, one of the reasons why I'm frankly going to sound biased but honest why I'm really proud to be associated with Nike is Nike takes criticism better than any organization I've ever seen. It really reflects sort of an athlete's mentality that way. In other words, coach tells you you need to work on your left hand or your left foot or whatever it is you go do it to get better. And the criticism you just made of Nike is a conversation that we have and almost almost every board meeting, which is what are we doing to improve the numbers?
And I was I was a black employee network event invited to participate in Nike earlier this year. And it was really moving to me because, you know, I got a chance to really sit with black employees and Nike at various levels and just hear honestly from them. You know, what they're pleased with about what the company's doing and what the company needs to work harder. And one of the things that really strikes me, Scott, is, you know, you pointed it out earlier.
That's at odds right now with just odd. It's corporations and all corporations. But I think a lot of corporations are actually put down. They're not where they need to be, but they're certainly out of our federal government in terms of actually understanding the importance of diversity, not as a nice to have, but as a must have, because they know that it affects their performance. And so we find ourselves in a strange situation where I think actually a lot of corporations are actually a head of the government because it used to be that the government, the federal government had to push, whether it be through affirmative action or other means to get companies to actually do the do the right thing.
And this is another point, I think, because you point out really the importance of this new generation. You know, you see it and I see we both teach in at NYU, this generation of students, a business school students, they want to work for organizations that are authentic.
And so one of the things that I'm seeing in the boardroom conversations that I'm a part of is the realization that if we don't behave authentically and not just talk to them, but actually behave authentically by getting our numbers to change, making sure that we're actually really listening to our employees, we will be able to get those top students coming out of school because they'll go elsewhere.
So I want to switch gears for a second here. I think of you someone I admire you because your professional success. But I you're a role model for me because of your personal success. Married for a long time for kids. I know that you're a man of faith and you just seem very comfortable in your own skin for lack of a better term. We for some reason, this podcast, it skews very young and it's used very male. What advice would you give to a man who wants to be a better husband, a man who wants to be a better father and in general wants to be a better man?
What piece of advice can you give to the young men out there after having had what from all exterior measures looks like a very successful partnership with your wife for kids who are thriving? What advice do you have for young men?
I love the question, Scott. Thank you for that. I would say a couple of things.
I would say, number one, learn to listen. Learn to really listen. I think men have this desire or this need to somehow feel so they're powerful and in control. And I think it often gets in the way of being able to really.
Here with another person saying to you, and the reason why listening is so important, because if you think about how to be a better husband, for instance, communication is at the heart of a good marriage. And if you don't listen to your wife or your girlfriend or your spouse or your significant other, how are you going to communicate with them? And I think that men are sometimes so drawn to this image of like the Alpha guys, the guy who always knows what to say or always is in charge.
But if you actually really want to be a leader and get people to follow you with your family or organization, then you got to listen to those people. So it's the number one. You learned a lesson learned to really listen a number to it and maybe maybe one day. So I think it's equally important and very important. They learned this lesson from my mother. Learn to say, I'm sorry. I can't tell you how many times in my life was critical as million dollar gifts or multimillion dollar gifts.
We're trying to work through a difficult dispute. If you as a man can say to the person across in particular, if the other person or person across from you is a man, say, you know what, I'm sorry, my mistake, my bad, it changes the dynamic of the conversation. If you do if you do the things you love to say, you listen, learn to say I'm sorry and own your mistakes and make changes. People will run through fire for you.
Peter Henry is a professor and dean emeritus of the NYU Stern School of Business Economists and author of Turnaround Third World Lessons for First World Growth. He joins us from New York. Stay well. It's great. It's great to catch up with you.
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OK, a quick algebra of happiness today, I think one of the keys to being a successful parent, a good friend, a productive member of a family unit, a good manager, a good leader, a good officer of the law, and a good protester is knowing when to de-escalate the situation. And that is not giving in to your fast thinking. We are tribal. We don't trust people innately who don't look like us. And we perceive threats, especially among people who are in a different uniform than us or have a different skin color than us.
And if we give in to our fast thinking and become tribal and primal, things can escalate fast and the ability to de-escalate and call on our slow thinking, according to cornerman, is key to our evolution as a species. One of our superpowers and I don't care if you're in a meeting and people start arguing for the wrong reasons, or if you find yourself in an argument with your partner or your spouse, the ability to be the bigger person and de-escalate the situation is a skill set.
I wish I had learned at an earlier age, but I think we need a lot of that now. Unfortunately, the person who should have the greatest skill set of being able to turn down the temperature should be the president of the United States. It is largely, if you think about it, the most important role in the world and the one role, the one role where you would really hope that this person brings an ability to dial the temperature down around all the burners or different burners around the world.
And the fact that we don't have that makes the world a much less safer place. So think about your own ability in any situation to bring forgiveness and grace and call on your slow thinking and develop the ability to de-escalate, to turn the temperature down. Our producers are Caroline Sharon and Drew Burrow's, if you like what you heard, please follow, download and subscribe. Thanks for listening. We'll catch you next week with another episode of the show from Section four and the Westwood One podcast network.