Photo courtesy of MEDA

MEDA’s Lifetime Achiever

Interview with Jan Jordet, who devoted her career to entrepreneurs of color

In November at the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) gala (in which Minnesota Business magazine was a media partner) the Minneapolis nonprofit awarded its Lifetime Achievement Award to Jan Jordet. She retired at the end of the year from her position as Senior Director of Consulting Solutions. Jan has spent more than 20 years at MEDA. She did a 10-year stint starting in 1981, and rejoined MEDA in 2005. In between she continued her work in economic development, including four years at WomenVenture. She has a BA in business administration, and along the way earned an MBA at the University of St. Thomas.

MNBIZ: Why so dedicated to MEDA?
Jan: MEDA pursues minority economic development through minority entrepreneurship and that’s near and dear to my heart, because you’d think after all this time that a good business person with a great idea could get financed, but it often is the color of one’s skin that gets you gets you banked or not banked and we’re here to fill that gap. You’d also be surprised — a minority business owner who’s been in business for 10 or 15 years will go to refinance his debt and he’ll be offered an interest rate that’s two points over anyone else’s offer. You’re wondering why and I believe that’s because unintended racism is still alive and well.

MNBIZ: You’ve been overseeing consultant solutions. What does that entail?
Jan: When we say consulting at MEDA, we approach every entrepreneur as the unique individual that he or she is, and so consulting services can be to help someone learn how to close a sale or to speak in public or to explain their finances to a banker or to learn about a new way to market, peer-to-peer networking. A whole variety of elements go into our consulting service.

MNBIZ:What did you do at MEDA when you started in 1981?
Jan: I was a receptionist. There were only ten employees then at MEDA and I was the only white person there. I remember one time a fellow walked in and he was late for a meeting of a peer group, and he said, “I didn’t even want to go in there because there’s a person in there with a million-dollar business, I have just 100,000.” I said, “Well what’s your margin?” He said, “50 percent.” I said, “You go in there and you teach that million-dollar business how to make a 50-percent margin.” He or she could be chasing that one penny around the drain because they spent a million dollars and one cent, so size is not usually an issue; it’s your profit margin that keeps you alive. At that point there were only five or six business owned by entrepreneurs of color that were over a million dollars of revenue back then. Now we are tracking about 150 that are in the multi-millions.

MNBIZ: Tell me more about the economic climate back then.
Jan: There were very few existing businesses and many entrepreneurial spirits who wanted to start. They didn’t know where to start or how to start and banking doors really closed completely on them. The housing — if you were lucky enough to own a house — the housing stock in the minority community was of lesser value because they’d been red-lined out of other communities. You didn’t have a collateral base that met the norm of a white family and that’s still true in terms of disparities. I think the latest statistics are something like a black or Hispanic family has $15,000 in equity and a white family has $100,000 in equity. Number one, that narrow base makes it hard to borrow money and number two, you cannot make a mistake. You make one mistake and you’re done and that’s why MEDA services are so valuable.

MNBIZ: What has been your motivation that has sustained your career?
Jan: I became passionate about making this entrepreneurial lifestyle, entrepreneurial spirit available to those who had the gumption, who had the intelligence, who had the talent, the skills but didn’t have the assets and business knowledge to surround that. I wanted these folks to really succeed. If you look at the demographics, you’ll see that the minority population is going to become the majority population, and they will be the employers of my grandchildren. I want them to be sustainable and have great quality jobs, and that’s what we focus on, sustainability and quality jobs.

MNBIZ: You must feel good about your career.
Jan: I feel really, really wonderful. If someone came in and saw my MBA on the wall and said “You could have made a lot more money in the corporate sector.” I would say, “Well I’m a cheap date and the intrinsic reward that I get is so much greater than the paycheck.” These entrepreneurs became my friends, and when I see them succeed it’s just like I glow, there’s very few jobs that help you glow from the inside.