Legends in Business Q&A

Dave Bing founded a steel company called the Bing Group in 1980, which is currently one of the largest African American-owned businesses in the United States. He also went on to acquire Superb Manufacturing, a $28 million-per year metal stamping company, as well as a small construction firm. During his offseasons while playing in the NBA, Bing held management positions at the National Bank of Detroit, Chrysler Corporation, and a small steel company, where he taught himself finance and deal-making.

NBA.com recently interviewed Dave Bing to learn about some of his highlights and challenges both on the court and in the business world.

1) One of the greatest challenges in leading a successful business is bringing together individuals of different personalities and backgrounds, and using those diverse resources to take a business to the next level. How have you been successful in accomplishing this level of diversity within your business environment?

I think you really have to make a personal involvement in terms of selecting the right people and getting those people to work together. Everybody has to understand their roles and responsibilities and what they can add to the overall team because without that youíll fail.

Additionally, how do you identify quality hires?

Based on where I am and how long Iíve been here, we have pretty good industry knowledge. What we wind up doing outside of using recruiters, depending on the position, I have quite a few of my management team that will interview the respective client before he or she ever gets to me to make sure that the team that Iíve got in place feels comfortable with the person that is going to come on board.

2) Most people have role models they aspire to be or mentors that help shape them. You have referred to William Roundtree, your high school basketball coach, as a second father. In addition to William Roundtree, were there other individuals who helped guide you throughout your career on and off the court?

I would say that Earl Lloyd had a big impact on me. Earl not only being the first African-American to play in the NBA, but obviously when we met he was retired. He was a big guy in the community because he was very involved, but he gave me a lot of advice both as a basketball player, a community activist and somewhat as a business person.

What advice can you offer to others in becoming a mentor?

The first thing youíve got to do is create an area of trust. I think so many people just feel that they donít know somebody very well, they donít know backgrounds, etc., they donít know hidden agendas, so it takes a lot of time to build up the trust. But without that, nothing works. So I think you have to take a lot of time building trust.

3) You held several jobs while playing in the NBA. As you looked to retiring from the NBA, how did you decide to start Bing Steel?

By being in Detroit and the automotive industry being so prominent in Detroit, that was an area that I was pretty familiar with. Having met a lot of people Ė in my offseasons in particular Ė that were involved in the automotive industry led me to the automotive industry, but not necessarily from a steel standpoint. When Bill Davidson bought the Pistons back in 1973, two of his partners were in the steel business. I met them and had an opportunity to interview and work with them. Then I worked with them for my first two years after I retired and thatís when I felt that that was the business that I wanted to go into.

4) Bing Steel, which you launched in 1980, is one of the largest African-American-owned industrial companies in the nation and is an extremely significant business. How do you keep your staff motivated and focused on success?

I think the big thing is opportunity. Our company was a start up company and we had the opportunity to grow the business. If I had the appropriate people with me as I grew the business, I wanted them to have the opportunity to grow also. But I also was very honest with them and let them know that I wasnít going to put them into a position to fail, if in fact I didnít think they could do the job. And we talked a lot. Communication is very important. Just because they were with me from the beginning didnít necessarily mean that they were going to move up the ladder real fast. So you really have to keep the lines of communication open and you really have to be brutally honest with people.

What advice can you offer to others thinking about starting their own businesses?

You most definitely need a game plan in the business arena. Game plan obviously is not a reference only to basketball or sports, but I think it really dovetails into the business arena also. You talk about your business plan. You have to develop that because if you go into a business without having a well thought out business plan, it is a recipe for failure. So youíve got to be able to have something you can measure on a pretty frequent basis and look at. In basketball, for example, I knew what my plays were, I knew what my options were, I knew what the tendencies of my teammates were and I think that is the same thing you have to do in business. Donít just assume because you want to go into business that youíre going to be successful. The other thing that you really have to establish is a relationship with outside professionals. Your lending institutions are extremely important. Your HR person, if you have one, is extremely important and you have to listen to those people.

5) Were there any resources available to you as you got started that helped you get Bing Steel off the ground?

I got a lot of support in terms of direction from programs that some of the auto companies had to help minority businesses, and I did borrow some money, which I obviously had to pay back. But if it wasnít for the program that the car companies had, specifically General Motors and Ford, there is no way that I think I would have been successful.

What advice do you have for minority business owners who are just starting out?

You have got to be prepared for failure. So many people go into a business deal thinking everything is going to go pretty smooth and it never happens that way. Some of the things that I learned as an athlete, you donít get too high on the successes that you have, nor do you get too low on the failures that you are confronted with. You have to try to be as even keeled as you possibly can so that you can bounce back. Everything is not going to go your way. Itís not always as easy as putting something on a piece of paper and it works out that way. So you have to make sure that you are flexible.