Bryant McBride was the first African American class president at the famed United States Military Academy at West Point. He earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University and worked as an analyst before becoming the highest-ranking African American executive in the history of the National Hockey League (NHL). Today he is the Co-Founder and CEO of Burst, a UGC engagement platform for media companies and brands. He is the producer of ‘WILLIE’, a sports documentary film on the pioneering hockey player Willie O’Ree.
Entrepreneur → Investor
So first things first, what do you feel has driven your career? What’s a driver for you?
To me, at least, I’m very much a small company guy. I very much want to control my own destiny, my own future. A big company infrastructure, it feels constraining. So that has led me down a path of building great teams, surrounding myself with great people, picking big, audacious meaningful important goals and going for it.
Talk a little bit about the biggest influencers who have helped shape your career.
When I was at the NHL, I met a gentleman called Elliot Katzman who is a serial entrepreneur and investor up here in Boston, we talked a lot about risk appetite, what your risk appetite is and when you take that entrepreneurial leap.
He said building young companies, building startups, is like jumping off a cliff and building the plane on the way down. And he’s right, he’s absolutely right.
You have to understand that you have the stomach for it, and that you have the can do and resourcefulness to figure that out, and that the modus operandi on an everyday basis is failure.
You keep trying things, and trying things and trying things, until it works!
Who were some of the leaders that you really took to, and whose disciplines you still apply today?
I was a cadet at West Point and we’d be up at 4:30am/5am in the morning getting ready for hikes and just doing crazy army stuff, that’s what you do, and the people that would wake you up were the upper class men. They’d be banging pans and just rattling your cage to get you moving, and it was jarring and it was hard, but it made me realize, if they were in full uniform, spit shine, looking fantastic and buttoned up at 4:30am, that means they were up at 3:30am, right?
We’d get through all of that, we’d do a 20 mile hike and breakfast at 7:30am and these guys would be out front leading and you’re trying to keep up to them.
There was no making excuses, there was no dog ate my homework, there was no oh I slipped and fell, it was like figure it out, you’re going to be in situations, high impact, high stress situations where you have to figure out or people’s lives are at stake. That stayed with me.
Talk a little bit about what you see today, as far as hiring strategies, building teams and what organizations are doing well and what some are not doing well as far as hiring for the future?
You’ve got to understand what you’re not good at, because there’s lots of stuff you’re not good at. It’s an orchestra. If you can play the trumpet really well, it doesn’t mean you can play the tuba or percussion or flute or clarinet, and you’ve got to find people who can play those better than you if it’s going to sound good.
Do you see organizations having that same mindset?
They fill offices, they check boxes, they’re too afraid of diversity, and not just diversity of skin color, diversity of gender, diversity of experience.
A lot of people don’t want to hear or know something different, because they just want to get paid and they want to go in and out, they want a frictionless world. I don’t, I live in a high friction world where you’re constantly sharpening that skate, and there are flames and sparks flying all over the place, and that’s disconcerting to a lot of people, it’s unnerving.
But I’d rather have that, and then when things come out the other side and people go wow how did that happen, that’s amazing.