FLINT, Michigan—Chairs arched away from tables, shoulders leaned in for a clearer line of hearing, and eyes — old and young — were held forward in full attention. Flint native and entrepreneurial powerhouse William Pickard, Ph.D., sat down among mentors and mentees to bestow his business wisdom and timeless life advice.
“I love Flint, man. If you can come out of here, you know, you can go anywhere in the world. I really believe that,” Pickard said to the group gathered Tuesday afternoon at Berston Field House.
Flint residents like Arthur Thrash, 79, a close relative and friend of Pickhard, brought his grandson to the dialogue as a way of introducing him to a long time example of how hard work can pay off.
“(Pickard) is a great role model for youth to see,” said Thrash. “That they don’t have to be mired down in...what they’re in, especially with our school system.”
Pickard recalled growing up on McClellan Street and working his first job cleaning the locker rooms of Berston Field House. It was a humble start that shaped his outlook on life and a drive to always want to do more and beyond himself.
“Whatever I am I am I owe it to Flint because I wasn’t smart. I didn’t look like Denzel Washington,” said Pickard. “And I knew I wasn’t smart and I knew I didn’t look like Denzel Washington. But I also knew I wanted to do something for my momma. That was my goal.”
His steady drive for success pushed him to pursue his education — first at Flint Northern High School and then Mott Community College, Western Michigan University, the University of Michigan, and Ohio State University, where at the age of 28 years old he earned his Phd in psychology.
In 1971, he acquired a McDonald's franchise and 14 years later founded and chaired Global Automotive Alliance, the nation’s most prestigious coalition of minority-owned businesses.
And, while trailblazing a path forged with entrepreneurial and executive prowess in Detroit and across the state, he bought his mother her dream home.
At the heart of it all, said Pickard, is the the relationship-building, where a good businessman is ultimately a good community member.
He has continued to give hefty donations to many institutions including Mott Community College, Morehouse University, and Ohio State University — supporting young men of color pursuing their college degrees. It’s his mentorship, both monetary and personally, that place him in high regard with youth.
“For me this is very important to me because I feel like it’s not enough representation in the world, especially in Flint,” said Blake Spencer, 16. “Being a black multi-millionaire and being somebody that’s very successful in business...I (am) very excited about meeting Mr. Pickard.”
Spencer plans to pursue a career in international business and feels all the more motivated knowing someone like Pickard has already shown that a millionaire can have a hometown head start.