Jamarlin talks to real estate and tech investor Barron Channer about the real value exchange between Nike and Black America. They debate where entrepreneurs are in the economic cycle and how to adjust risks and speed to profitability. They also discuss Andrew Gillum’s win in the Democratic primary for Florida governor.
This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re listening to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin. We have a go-hard-or-go-home approach as we talk to the leading tech leaders, politicians and influencers. Let’s GHOGH! We have developer and investor Barron Channer, the founder and CEO of Woodwater Investments, a holding company of technology and real estate. How’s it going?
Barron Channer: Going well. Thanks for having me Jamarlin.
Jamarlin Martin: Tell us a little bit about your story, in particular your Jamaican roots and your path to getting into real estate.
Barron Channer: Sure. Well, I was born in Jamaica, lived there until roughly the age of eight, nine years old. My mother told me one day we were moving to the U.S. and it was, I remember it was two weeks away and so I came to the U.S. the middle of fourth grade, and moved to Miami, specifically in the North Miami area and grew up in an area that was transitioning. So it was clear that we were the wave of immigrants moving into this particular area. So, funny story, for the latter half of fourth grade and a portion of fifth grade, I was actually placed in English for speakers of other languages, which was amusing for people who know, because Jamaicans speak English and I kept saying to the lady, ‘Lady, I speak English’, and she’d applaud as if I were learning English. So they were becoming acclimated to immigrants. Went on from there, went through the public school system in Miami Dade and just learned very early on, grew up the child of a single parent and as an immigrant and in my case, a first-generation immigrant, it was very obvious to me in the U.S. that I did not have the benefit of a sort of social support structure that was going to help me succeed. And so I latched on very quickly to my path forward was going to be competition of some sort. Initially it was athletic competitions. I was a very athletic young person into all sorts of sports. And then ultimately I drifted to academic competition, which was really revisiting my roots in Jamaica, which has a very competitive education system. So it’s sort of up or out. You know very quickly if you can’t be one of the top students in a class, eventually you’re going to be filtered out of the system and filter down a pathway that’s not going to lead you to success as an adult. So I lost that for a couple of years in the U.S. while I focused on athletics. But I picked that back up probably around 10th grade because someone told me colleges started to pay attention to you in ninth grade. And I figured, wow, I’d already lost a year. So let me catch up with my academics and I really buttoned down and had the great fortune of performing well. Didn’t have particularly strong decent, but not particularly strong academic grades. But my tests were always well above the norm. So I had the great privilege, in those days you still had affirmative action, not shy to say I benefited from what I believe to be an affirmative action scholarship to go to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which happens to be the oldest engineering school in the U.S. and decided to do engineering simply because math and science has always been my saving grace.
Jamarlin Martin: Isn’t that the MO of a lot of folks from the Caribbean, in terms of that I’ve met, they’re relatively stronger at math and science. What is that about?
Barron Channer: Well, I think it has to do with the educational system that we’re brought up in. So it’s a challenge- based system that’s highly competitive, so it’s less about you growing your talent in the humanities and more about you being able to perform strongly on tests relative to your peers. So those things tend to be right or wrong answers, calculation-based, and so you develop that sort of acumen. Also in the culture, the level of entrepreneurship and the capital for entrepreneurs doesn’t exist as helpfully as it does in the U.S. culture. So what you find is most really talented people drift towards professions and the professions are a lawyer, doctor, dentist, or some form of engineering. So you start off as aspiring to do when things that ended up requiring some technical ability because you see that profession as success. You’re not thinking about being a venture capitalist, at least not during the time that I lived in Jamaica. Yeah. So I, I get to college and you know, at that point your. Mind you. I’m a byproduct of Miami Dade Public School system and I remember still to this day, there is one point in the 11th grade where some statistic had come out and the basic premise of this statistic was that the kids in the Miami Dade public schools school system were the worst-performing kids of any major public school system in the nation. Now we’re all silly young kids, so we’re all celebrating that we are the dumbest in America. So I fully expected, I didn’t have hope for it, but I fully expected that if I went to RPI, I was likely to fail out of RPI and end up having to come back because I just imagined these individuals from New York and everywhere else are so much smarter than we were and so much more educated because I’d never had that kind of perspective.
And to my great surprise, my education had prepared me very well. So I actually graduated from there with a much higher GPA than I had in high school while also playing on the football team while also being lead in a couple of the biggest student organizations in school. So I kind of found myself and developed the confidence, you know, always had a healthy level of confidence that I think is almost endemic to Jamaican culture. But I found myself as an American there because I realized I could compete with anyone. My peers around me were Japanese, various countries in Africa, Chinese, various European nations and then of course all over the U.S. and I was still enjoying a great amount of success relative to them.
Got out of that and realized midway through it that, you know, while I loved engineering that really what appealed to me was computers and technology and the hybrid of that in business. So had an IBM scholarship, I interned with IBM for three years, actually ultimately had the opportunity to pursue postgraduate education and still be affiliated with IBM. I had the great fortune of going to RPI. I fully expected to fail and actually chose RPI because my best friend in junior high was from New York, had moved to Miami and as we started looking at the list and I started figuring out salaries, I figured out that RPI was, at that time the average graduate was among the top 20 highest paid on average in the United States. I remember the number of somewhere around $40,000 and I think my mother was making maybe $20,000. So I thought, man, I could graduate college and make twice as much as my mother. That’s the place to go to. So two of my friends from Miami, we applied, all three of us got in, two of us went, one ended up going to West Point, but while at RPI I expected to fail out and in part because, you got to remember, at that point I’m exposed through athletics. So I competed particularly in wrestling against kids from all over. But academically I’d never competed against other folks. And I remember sometime around 11th grade some statistics that come out.
Jamarlin Martin: Have you used those wrestling moves on the street?
Barron Channer: Never used any of those wrestling moves on the street. Actually, I did use them to save a police officer once. So the police officer was being beaten up by a really big guy. The guy had to have been 6.5, maybe close to 300 pounds, but the guy clearly was mentally impaired and not actually trying to hurt the police officer. So he was just throwing off with him. But I figured at some point the police officer’s going to shoot this guy there in my backyard because they had jumped the fence somehow. And I’m thinking the last thing I need is the police officer to shoot someone in my backyard. So I go out there and I raised my hands to the officer because I don’t need him to shoot me, another black guy running up on him and said, ‘Officer, do you need some help?’ And he says, ‘Yes please’. And he’s winded. So I jumped on the guys back and literally disease the basic leverage move. I was shorter than the guy and he was standing tall, used leverage to bring him down. And then the police officer cuffed him.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah, I could see a lot of people out there saying like, ‘Man, I’m not getting involved with that because I’m gonna mess around and get shot’.
Barron Channer: Well, I was thinking that, but he’s literally my backyard. Someone’s going to get shot.
Jamarlin Martin: Meaning, if I even try to help the police officer, I could end up being shot by the police officer.
Barron Channer: That’s the first thing I thought. So I walked in his eyesight, put my hands up and said, ‘Officer do you need help.’ I didn’t just run up to help him. That was my first inclination. I said, he’s gonna shoot me or the guys coming to help him are going to shoot me because they’re gonna think I’m with the other guy beating up the police officer, so I just put my hands up and he, and he was winded, and he said yes, and then I jumped in and helped him. The short thing is I fully expected to fail out of RPI, because I just didn’t know. And the presumption in those days for me and my peers was that we were among possibly the most ignorant kids in America, not because we’re inherently stupid, but we felt that our education was poorer in part because in those days. This is mid-90s, there was some statistics that had come out that essentially ranked Miami Dade public schools among the bottom of the major cities in the U.S. The truth behind that is that they were comparing a lot of kids who did not speak English as their native language. They were factored into that number and we had such a high percentage of folks migrate into the U.S. that our performance was depressed, but to us we just thought, you know, the kids in New York, DC, Maryland, wherever they’re from, if they’re not from Miami, they have to be better than us, and I knew that I was going to a very highly-ranked engineering school and just figured there’s no way. That said, I’m an athlete, so in my perspective in life, whether it be in sports or in a fight is I’m not running, I’ll show up and you’re going to have to find a way. So I just figured they’re going to have to find a way to kick me out of the school. They’re going to have to convince me that I’m not as smart as the rest of the kids and to my great surprise and delight, I actually ended up being one of the better students in the school and also applied myself because of that fear of failure. In a way that allowed me to actually get a better GPA in college. I graduated I think with a 3.65. While also being on the football team, while also being the president. I didn’t work when I was a football team. I was president of two of the major student institutions on campus.
Jamarlin Martin: Were you privileged in a sense where you didn’t have to work during college?
Barron Channer: No. I was fortunate to get a scholarship so I had a full scholarship, one. I was interning for IBM academic for like a full academic scholarship. I ended up playing football, but I never wanted a scholarship because my cousins who had gone to college on track scholarships and other scholarships, I had witnessed that they literally were discouraged from studying in order to live up to their sports obligations. Right. So I just, I was never interested in that academic scholarship. So that took care of almost everything at the time. I was also paying some of the bills back home, but I was able to use money I was making during my internship for IBM. I was paid fairly well. I think my first pay was somewhere around $18, $20 an hour working full time for IBM roughly three months during the summer, which was a pretty good number for where I was coming from, so I was able to use that. And then I used credit cards as well. I just wanted to focus in on school because my experience had always been, my mother worked three jobs. My grandmother worked God knows how many jobs while she was an active adult, so everyone around me had always invested themselves fully in work and that robbed them even though they were highly intellectual people. It robbed them of the ability to develop their mind and to start to work higher work. So from a young age, I developed a sort of disdain for manual labor. So I always said to myself, I’m not working until I can get $20 an hour. So I never worked in high school. Now that meant I didn’t have as many pairs of shoes or the same kinds of jeans or t-shirts as other folks, but I just always just said I’m here to change the game. When my mother was moving to the U.S., it was obvious to me by the age of probably 11 or 12 that the reason we were here was for me to get to the next level and have that benefit the family, so I always just said it’s going to be academics or sports.
Jamarlin Martin: What area in Jamaica is your family from?
Barron Channer: Kingston.
Jamarlin Martin: You go to U Penn, Wharton for business school. And then you connect with Don Peebles, a notable a real estate developer.
Barron Channer: So, funny enough I actually connected with Don before going to Wharton. Almost didn’t go as a result of it. At that time I’d been in consulting — a technology consultant. So I was a systems architect for Accenture initially and then transitioned and I was working sort of pre-dot-com meltdown, which was probably February 2000. I was working for tech firms that were startup firms but doing systems architectural work. So that combined with the local civic activism — I’ve always been active in the community — exposed me to some fairly prominent lawyers around town. They learned that I was going to school, learned that I had an interest in real estate and one of them, I think I identified Don, but I was introduced to the idea of Don by someone who said, ‘Hey, there’s a black guy in town who’s developing hotels. I know you’re interested in real estate, you should check it out.’ So I checked it out and I was impressed by what I saw and reached out to his office and scheduled to meet him. This was before going to business school and then we just decided to continue contact with each other.
Jamarlin Martin: So he has to be worth a lot of money at this point. He’s already successful. You’re not introduced, you just send an email to his office?
Barron Channer: Yeah, I just sent an email to his secretary and he responded. She responded and said, sure, come in.
Jamarlin Martin: Did you put your bio out there…
Barron Channer: Basic elements of it. Young African American. I’d love to get into real estate. I’ve been in technology at that point. I didn’t know which school I was going to. I was considering a couple of options. I’m preparing to go to business school and intend to study real estate. Would love a moment of Mr. Peebles’s time. I think I said 15 or 30 minutes. You got to say really short so you can get in the door and they want you to stay there, then you’ll stay. I think I stayed two hours, but initially, I had a 15-minute meeting.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah, I’m thinking of Charlie Sheen in “Wall Street” when he’s meeting Michael Douglas.
Barron Channer: Never ask for an hour. You got to ask for 15 minutes, but there’s no human possible who can have a meaningful conversation with you and cut you off at the 15-minute mark unless they’re just so busy and that he should be happy. You got to 15 minutes anyway.
Jamarlin Martin: You reach out to Don Peebles. He bites. What happens after that?
Barron Channer: We talk. I think it’s always important for folks to impress upon people your intellect or your value to them. You don’t have to do a hard pitch. I was making it clear to him, I wasn’t looking for a job, I was really looking for more his perspective, but I was making it clear to him that one, I had a passion for it, and two, I expected to be successful at real estate. We stay in contact and he and I were trading emails maybe every couple of months. He happens to be doing some real estate in Miami. I think he was starting the Bath Club project on Collins Avenue on the beach. Invited me to come to the groundbreaking and for that project I went out and just stayed in touch.
Jamarlin Martin: Thanks everybody for listening to GHOGH. You can check me out at Jamarlin Martin on Twitter and also come check us out at Moguldom.com. That’s M O G U L D O M dot com. Be sure to subscribe to our daily newsletter. You can get the latest information on crypto, tech, economic empowerment and politics. Let’s get back to the podcast.
Barron Channer: The Royal Palm came about, at least the opportunity for Don and this issue about the Cuban community. There were no specific protests, none of this related specifically to Don, but the context in which this came about, Nelson Mandela is going on his world tour after he was freed, he makes his way over. I believe he had gone to the Caribbean, I think he had visited Cuba and then on his way around, he was coming to Miami to visit for the Cuban politicians who were in power at the time, received tremendous amounts of pressure from their community to not extend a formal greeting to Nelson Mandela.
Jamarlin Martin: Because he met with Castro?
Barron Channer: Not just because he met with Castro but because he was known to have been very friendly and they expressed mutual admiration publicly. In the face of that, I’m not sure what they thought personally, but as politicians, they did the safe thing they felt, which was just not extended formal greetings to him. So Nelson Mandela lands at the Miami International Airport. The city did not formally welcome him. Now mind you, there are African Americans who were on the city commission as well and the county commission, and then the larger community took umbrage to this and coming out of that, some of the leaders in the community at the time put together the idea, among the many things they did, of a national boycott of Miami Beach. And so for probably two or three years, they, through their national networks discouraged all African American groups from coming to Miami beach and eventually…
Jamarlin Martin: What leaders were putting this together in Miami, this boycott?
Barron Channer: There were a bunch of them, but the two most notable would be the two very prominent lawyers, H.T. Smith who is still around and, and affiliated in practice law and also teaching. And then Marilyn Holifield who was still around and a practicing attorney. They were surrounded by others. But you know, they’re probably the two most well known leaders of that group than they were of course connected at some level with the historical civic organizations, the NAACPs and the Urban Leagues, not sure about the total composition of this, but they mounted a successful boycott. Miami Beach which had never paid attention to the amount of business they were doing with African Americans, started to realize that something was off in terms of the numbers, and then they learned that there was a boycott against them.
Jamarlin Martin: That’s the only thing they understand. You hit them in their pockets and let’s have a talk.
Barron Channer: Yeah, right. Well, I think respect is often attached to something tangible. And the most tangible thing for respect to be attached to his money. The intangible is I just like you, and so I respect it because I like you. Once they realized that you know, what they had done was a faux pas, and that there was now this boycott and it was hurting my beach. Mind you, this is pre-modern day South Beach, so we’re not attracting a wave of Europeans who are coming to South Beach. We’re not the destination for women who are getting married. It’s really a rising beach.
Jamarlin Martin: But is it fair to say that this is the black community uniting, being strong and banging back against the white Cuban community in Miami for their treatment of Mandela or their political position with Nelson Mandela, and his alliance with Castro?
Barron Channer: Yeah. I would characterize a little bit different. I don’t think it was targeted at one particular community. I think they were saying…
Jamarlin Martin: But those are the people who were most agitated, right. Other folks are not probably going to be as agitated with an alliance with Castro as the die-hard Cuban community here in Miami.
Barron Channer: Yeah. Correct. But I think it was a combination. So there are people who acquiesce to that. And my sense of what those folks were thinking was how could it be that in a city in which black people have been an active part of it since the beginning, that we’ve gotten to the level where your concern about Nelson Mandela, whether we argue they’re legit or illegitimate, you’re concern about him, translates to you being willing to offend him in such a way to not even greet him at the airport after these circumstances. The black community took that as an insult to us. Forget whatever you think. They took that as an insult and thought, well, you know, if, if we can be insulted in this way, if Nelson Mandela can be insulted, we’re all being insulted.
Jamarlin Martin: A hero from the black community.
Barron Channer: That’s exactly it. So they were defending his honor, but then also they were recoiling on the idea that a Miami could be so dismissive of the perspectives of black people to not even be willing.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you think that situation with the Cubans and Mandela in Miami? What was the date of that roughly?
Barron Channer: That was probably mid-80s.
Jamarlin Martin: Mid 80s. Is that comparable to recent events around Keith Ellison, Tamika Mallory, an activist with the Women’s March, black political leaders, activists coming under attack from Jake Tapper and other folks about being in pictures with a minister, Louis Farrakhan, going to Savior’s day to have dialogue with the Muslims from the nation of Islam. Do you feel like the treatment of black people in Nelson Mandela in Miami, in terms of people coming in and say you shouldn’t align with Mandela because he’s hooked up with this Castro, that evil person? He was murdering people. He’s the worst person ever. Black people, hey Nelson Mandela’s a hero. Don’t try to tell us who our leaders are. Recently, black politicians, democrats, black activists have been attacked by Jake Tapper and other folks for not condemning minister Louis Farrakhan. Like, ‘Hey you took a picture with him, you know, 10 years ago, you went to an event where he’s allegedly made anti-semitic remarks. You black people shouldn’t be associating with this particular leader.’ It sounds like, at least in Miami, that there was a political stance where, hey, black people, you should not be embracing — or Miami should not be embracing — Nelson Mandela because he’s aligned with someone America and the Cuban community hates — Fidel Castro.
Barron Channer: There some elements of overlap, the nuances, there are different circumstances, but I do believe that in general, people who are not in power and certainly blacks in this country are judged by a different standard, and they’re judged by that different standard because our power in society has often been given to us by folks who don’t fully understand our circumstances and so they’re judging us based on their lens. So you can judge a Barack Obama or attempt to judge a Barack Obama because of what you perceive about the church that he went into. Right?
Jamarlin Martin: Folks who want black leaders, black politicians, black activists to go out there and condemn Farrakhan because the establishment wants them to. In Barack Obama’s book, he talks about how he loved reading The Final Call (a newspaper published in Chicago, founded in 1979 by Minister Louis Farrakhan and serving as the official newspaper of the Nation of Islam). These statements are not new.
Barron Channer: Yeah. Well, it says that you can be narrowed down to a myopic Lens, right? You have to fit into a specific mold and listen, there’s a legitimate reason for people to argue with folks about what they like, right? But most folks who have a relationship of mutual respect and perceive each other to have equal stature, recognize that we won’t agree on everything. There’s certain things that are egregious, but I don’t need you to like everyone that I like and I don’t need you to hate everyone that I hate. It certainly won’t define you simply by your lack of willingness to agree with me on who’s admirable versus who’s despicable.
Jamarlin Martin: With this request to condemn other black leaders from the political establishment, how far do you go with this? For example, do I stop going to black churches or aligning with black churches who have a negative view of same-sex marriage? Do I have to cut off that segment of the black community that has very strong beliefs about that?
Barron Channer: Well, people ask that question, but I always say it’s about equity, right? If you have to do that, then remember, most of the history of the Catholic Church was condemning those very same people — maybe in different language — but they were condemning the same people. Right? And that that filtered over into our culture. I believe that if you respect someone, you should give them the benefit of explaining their perspectives on things that you disagree with them on, and you should do the same and you should appreciate that you know the folks that you like and admire. They’re not simplistic people. There are complexities to who they are and what they are. Whatever you think about the relationship between Mr. Mandela and Castro, getting back to the original topic, it’s reasonable to understand why a Nelson Mandela, who was a freedom fighter in South Africa, could see Castro, who was lending troops to his cause, as someone who is a friend or someone to be respected because he doesn’t share the horrors of the Cuban-American community. And if he knew that, he probably would have been sympathetic or empathetic to their plight, but still had a certain perspective that’s positive. So there’s a yin and a yang. And so I think that the challenge for the black community in general — and folks are going to always judge you — the challenge for us is to put ourselves in a position where our power as individuals and as a community is not born in having to have a pass or have acceptance from people who don’t fully understand our circumstances. Right? So when you have power within your community, to their great credit, the folks who are in the Jewish community do not have to defend themselves ad nauseam for their stance on people in Israel, while others may oppose those individuals.
Jamarlin Martin: Should Jews be pressured to condemn Netanyahu. For example he’s kicking African immigrants out of Israel and the policies of Israel in terms of, just the other day, I believe 19 Palestinian protestors were killed and murdered. Would you feel comfortable going to Jewish folks and saying, ‘Hey, why aren’t you condemning Netanyahu? His government just killed 19 innocent Palestinians?’ I don’t have a record of. Well first we don’t have a lot of power, but I don’t remember any kind of pressure, uh, put on white elites to condemn the actions of their brethren. That’s your brother over there. That doesn’t necessarily reflect your beliefs in totality?
Barron Channer: Yeah. I think it would be silly to go to any of my Jewish friends and ask them to condemn Netanyahu or anybody else with whom they have a relationship framed based on a bond that I don’t have, right? Now in conversation, if I disagree with them about factual things, I may ask them to enlighten me, but they have a relationship and an agency as it relates to Jewish culture that I do not have. So why would I ask them to condemn someone who is viewed in that culture by a high percentage, I don’t know if it’s everyone, but a high percentage of people, as someone who’s been a defender of the culture for a very long time, even if I believe that the person has some flaws right now. We can talk about the flaws, but it’s like anybody, right? If you look at a Malcolm X, some people see flaws, some people see strength. I would say on the net net, Malcolm X was a very significant and positive contributor to the advancement of black culture. So in that sense, I respect him tremendously and it’d be silly for anyone to ask me to reject him on the basis of something that they may disagree with.
Jamarlin Martin: When Barack Obama stepped back from Reverend Wright, the establishment is going to Barack Obama and say, you need to condemn your pastor. He’s Obama’s pastor, as you know, for 20 years. He baptizes the daughters there, clicked up for over 20 years. But now that the media is pressuring this black leader, an aspiring president, they kind of forced his hand to condemn Reverend Wright, Farrakhan. If you are Barack Obama’s friend, not like advisor or anything, how would you have advised them on, hey, you know, if you want the presidency, do you off your pastor publicly?
Barron Channer: Yeah. I would probably have told him to do something very close to what he did on the following principle. I don’t know what your upbringing was, but most of us have within our family, someone who is objectionable, the most of the professional people were around most of the academic people that were around and you know, certain things that cousin can’t come to that event. It’s not that you don’t love your cousin, you’re going to see him next week and you’re gonna see him at the barbecue, but he was running to be the president of all of America and the reality is most of America is not black and at that point a tremendous segment of America was pressuring him to make a decision. Do you want to be the popular black guy or do you want to be the president of the United States of America? If you look at the way he did it, unfortunately the media, I thought it was amplified, but the way that he dealt with it to me was not in a very insulting way. He tried to shake himself away from it, but he didn’t completely disavow the guy.
Jamarlin Martin: Well Reverend Wright would say something different.
Barron Channer: He was offended personally.
Jamarlin Martin: From his perspective, Obama’s just being a conventional politician. You gotta kind of pick and choose your battles. And he picked his.
Barron Channer: Yeah. And because of who he wanted to be and who everyone was encouraging him to be. We all asked him go and run to be the president of United States of America, which only 13, 14 percentage, the people are, are black, right? So 86, 87 percent of the people have a different perspective and now you’re being asked to choose between a core black issue, a fiery minister who they were making certain allegations, or being the president of all. And I don’t think he could have won the race without backing away in some shape or form. And the media jumped on it.
Jamarlin Martin: What would you say to, in my view, the Republicans got Obama right, where when I heard Obama speak, some of his speeches, I believe there was a speech in Wisconsin where he started using: ‘You’ve been bamboozled, you’ve been led astray’. And I felt like he was like on a plane where most people did not understand. But when I first heard Barack Obama, I said that this guy has really tapped into similar teachings that Malcolm X followed at one time or another. And you know, when I started to study Obama early on, I read his book. It wasn’t a shock because my intuition said that when he said that, ‘hey, you know, I used to read The Final Call’, I could tell in terms of his trajectory and his words that there’s a part of Obama that a lot of black people do not understand, at least at that time in terms of 2007, 2008, and America did not understand, but he can only let so much out. And so when Republicans were skeptical in terms of Reverend Wright and his name and all this other stuff, and they had this kind of paranoia, I share a lot of Barack Obama’s views from a cultural and political standpoint. I didn’t have a problem, of course, with the very pro-black more nationalistic side of Barack Obama, and I knew that he only could reveal so much. So when he’s condemning Reverend Wright after saying that he loved reading The Final Call when he’s making speeches on the run-up to the election and he’s talking about, ‘You’ve been hoodwinked, you’ve been led astray, you’ve been bamboozled’, pulling from Malcolm X without calling out Malcolm X. I felt that this guy has really tapped into something that’s blacker than most people think and I believe some of the smarter Republicans, they got that about him, that he wasn’t your typical Negro politician. There’s a side of him that he’s hiding from us and I believe the Reverend Wright situation kind of brought that to the surface. What do you have to say about that?
Barron Channer: Well, two things. On one side, I viewed him as someone who had the advantage of being the classic outsider. If you think about, and I don’t know this for a fact, but I imagine this, if you think about being the mixed child, your father being from a foreign country, you growing up in Hawaii, which has relatively few people who look like you, right? And you moving to live in Asia. He has never been in an environment where he was naturally the insider. So probably his entire life he has spent observing the insiders and understanding how to navigate himself, and that includes his relationship with, quote-unquote traditional African Americans, right? So he understands a wide swath of humanity and he packages that and so as a candidate, as a politician, he was being initially bottled into ‘this is a black politician’ and that was being made to oversimplify who he is, what he is and what he should believe. So yes, he’s familiar with Malcolm X and yes, he’s also familiar with Buddhist philosophy and yes, he is also someone who is probably listened to rock and roll and yes he knows of and enjoyed Bob Marley because he’s always been, I feel like he’s probably always had to be an outsider and enjoy what the insiders are doing and find his way to navigate there. And you don’t get there naturally. You have to study it and understand it.
Jamarlin Martin: Would you cut off your pastor to run for president? The white establishment Democratic Party is coming to you and say, look, we’re not going to back you on this ticket unless you can dim your pastor of 20 years. This guy has really helped you spiritually. You guys are like family together, but if you want to make the impact that you want to make, we need you to off your pastor in public.
Barron Channer: I don’t know that he offed the pastor. Would I explaine myself? Yes, because if I want to be president under those circumstances, you flip the numbers. You telling me 87 percent of the people will understand Reverend Wright, then I’ll take my chances, but if 87 percent of the people don’t have that cultural context and I want to be the president of those people as well and I’m forced, I’m going to explain myself. Now where I think things went a little bit awry. There was a sort of back and forth. If I were, and this isn’t to blame him, I understand why, but if I were Reverend Wright, I would’ve said, hey, he is not going anywhere. I found myself in the position of being the cousin who’s not invited to go to graduation. Let me just stay home and wait until he comes back home and I’ll meet him there. Don’t come out and be upset publicly because now you force him to have to push back because he’s in the throes of an election. I don’t think at that point, and maybe it could have, but couldn’t have suggested it would have been wise for him to not respond to that issue and President Obama to not back away at that point if he wanted to win.
Jamarlin Martin: I don’t think this happened, but I think you could have two winners out of this where you’re not being disloyal to your pastor, but you get to where you need to go in which you believe you’re going to really help the people. Specifically. I’m talking about black people. So you sit down or Reverend Wright and say, ‘Hey, there’s this controversy, these white elites, they’re saying I’m not going to go forward until I condemn you for some of your words that you said. I do think that if I do not, I cannot move my campaign forward and become president. And so strategically, I’m going to need to say some words, but I want you to know that I’m fully behind you. I back you 100 percent, but you get council from the pastor. The pastor endorses you offing him based on your strategic objective.
Barron Channer: Yeah, but that’s where I saw things when I have to imagine that they’re mutual friends. Someone tried to do that, but I think at that point, remember Reverend Wright has been around for a very long time, President Obama is now ascending, so they both are prideful individuals. So for Reverend Wright’s, we put into a position where he’s now being asked to go sit in the corner, had to have been a difficult thing and I thought the way he handled that complicated the matter a little bit because he came back and now you’re popping up and it’s like whack a mole. I think he allowed the moment and is justified sensitivity to what was going on to influence actions that were never going to lead to a positive outcome. President Obama was not going to apologize to him at that point publicly.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. At the time I actually thought that a Reverend Wright should have understood that we have a chance, coming out of Chicago, to put a black president who’s from your community into office. You have to take an L. It’s not about you, it’s not about you individually and how you look, but strategically, we’re thinking on a kind of a military strategy level. You have to take an L on this one Reverend Wright.
Barron Channer: But it’s not even a military strategy. You just think back to when you’re a kid. And I was relatively poor. When my friends were dating rich young ladies and they said, ‘Hey, I’m going to go hang out with her’. I didn’t ask them can I tag along? I just sat in the background. I waited till he acknowledged me and out introduced myself as politely as I could and try to hide the fact that we’re all poor as dirt because he’s dating someone and I don’t know the context on which he’s being judged. So let him, let him live. He’s still going to be my friend. We’re still going to be hanging out in the neighborhood when he comes back from the date. So, President Obama was not going to stop being black. He was not going to stop going to church. Right? He just had to be elected as president. It became inconvenient that…
Jamarlin Martin: But do you think Reverend Wright represented the selfishness that you find within black leadership where sometimes folks don’t know how to take an L for the greater cause where you individually may have to take a hit for the community to move forward, but you can’t go beyond how this impacts you individually.
Barron Channer: Yeah. No, I, I don’t think he represented that in acute because I think our community knows how to do that and historically we’ve done it especially around generational issues where the elders have taken a back seat for the younger folks. Here it’s a situation in which we were now reaching a different plateau. Right? You actually had a chance to be the president. Everyone figures I’m going along for the ride and now you’re telling Reverend Wright he can’t ride. He can’t swear you in when it’s time for you to get into the White House and he was being ejected at such a late stage, so I just think the moment was so big. The moment met the expectations and that turned into a certain level of tension. Has this been just simply, I’m running for Alderman in Chicago and listen some stuff is coming up, I need you to lay low. I’m sure Reverend Wright would have just laid low. But if my friend was running to be the president of the United States of America, I’m thinking where I’m gonna live, what position I’m going to be appointed to and if he comes around and he tells me in a public way, ‘hey, I have to separate from you’, and I feel alienated after I campaign for him. I’m going to feel a certain way. And I think Reverend Wright’s emotions caught up to him. But you know, if you look at where they are now, if you actually ask, you know, I’m sure there some resentment there, but I don’t know that there’s a level of disdain, so I think that’s washed out. I’m not sure the relationship ever gets back to where it was.
Jamarlin Martin: Let’s talk about U Penn and then you ending up working with Don.
Barron Channer: Sure. So I started U Penn in 2002. I was I supposed to start a year earlier than that, but if you recall, we were having in those days dotcom meltdown and I was active in supporting my mother at least contributing to her financial circumstances and I was concerned about leaving at the height of that downturn, so I stayed out to continue working and just basically just to bankroll some money so that while I was in school I could do it if I need to do in support of her. So started 2002. By that point I had a very good understanding of where I wanted to go in life. I knew that I wanted to be a real estate investor-developer. I knew that I wanted to be actively engaged in civic life and not as an elected official, but as a business person who is, who’s doing things in and around the community and I’d already had my history with technology, so I knew that I would continue with that amazing experience. I was actually headed to Harvard business school initially in part because my mother is from Jamaica, and you know Oxford, Cambridge.
Jamarlin Martin: So you got accepted to HBS?
Barron Channer: I did and I was prepared to go there and then ultimately I decided that I wanted to focus on real estate and that was my calling and if I was going to focus on real estate, it was just unquestioned that Wharton was the best school when you looked at it and then you factor in why the numbers? Harvard and Wharton are the two largest business schools around, so I thought, I’m not losing anything at all going to the best business school for real estate. That happens to be one of the largest business schools. That also happens to have an undergraduate in a network that is equally expansive, so I just thought this was going to be an opportunity to meet all different types of people.
Jamarlin Martin: Have you heard anything about, more psychopaths come out of HBS than any other business school?
Barron Channer: I’ve not heard that. I don’t know who said that. Who said that?
Jamarlin Martin: Well, obviously they produce a lot of graduates, but a lot of fraudsters, criminals have gone through HBS. The HBS folks that I’ve met, they seem to struggle with ethics.
Barron Channer: Yeah. I’m not sure about that. I don’t know that data, but I do know that for all of these schools, including Wharton, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed because after I got into the school and I was graduating, I realize now there’s actually no excuse, right? Yeah. I can say I’m, I’m a black guy and that’s why. But there’s no excuse not to realize the highest level of success. So when you’re facing that pressure and there’s no excuse and reality faces you where hey, I can make a decision to make a tremendous amount of money or not make that decision, and I end up being quote-unquote average, which nobody goes to those top-tier MBA schools with the expectation of being average. It forced it, it challenges your character at times in terms of how you respond to it. And unfortunately some people, their ethics comes into play and then their willingness to compromise their ethics in pursuit of living up to the expectations. I think it’s really more a story of the hype of expectations that are held for the graduates of this school and the expectations you put on yourself meeting the frailties of the human psyche. Right? Which also includes, you know, depression and anxiety. Some people get to a certain stage where they’ve not realized the success that they expected to have as a graduate of Wharton and other schools, and they become really anxious about what’s going on in their life. And when you look at it, you’re saying, hey bro, you’re making $200,000 a year, you’ve got a Mercedes Benz and you’ve got two cars. No, you’re not a billionaire. But we all knew that not everyone was going to get there anyway.
Jamarlin Martin: You turned down Harvard Business School, you go to Wharton. Was there a financial aid consideration?
Barron Channer: No, there was not a financial aid consideration. It was really about wanting to be two things really. One, my pedigree up to that point had been as an engineer, so I learn best through, you know, understanding the formulas and doing the work. And so the style of teaching between the two schools was substantially different. No, I don’t know if one is inferior or superior, but for the way I learned, I was mature enough to know that Wharton would teach me the best for the way I learn and two, Wharton is just the best real estate program in the U.S., maybe in the world, if you judge it based on the sheer volume of people who graduate, where they’re situated in life in terms of the firms they’re working for and the level of success that they’ve had, and I thought, if you’re going to join a gang quote-unquote, you don’t join the small weak gang, you join the large strong gang, and I was looking to get into real estate as someone where there’s no one before me.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you believe Trump hurts the brand of Wharton?
Barron Channer: No, because there’s just so many people you can layer on top of that who you know have stellar success. And then to the extent that some of us disagree with Trump, there are other people who agree with him. The one thing that cannot be disagreed is that during the eighties he had as good of a run in real estate as anyone had. We can argue what happened after that and I don’t know all the facts, but if you go back to the eighties and most people forget, he’s been around as a professional. Forget the politician’s stuff. As a professional, he’s been around for a very long time. Yes, he started with a leg up, but he did a tremendous amount with that leg up that others didn’t do during the eighties. I’d like to believe that some of that had to do with the environment, but also some of the education he received. He was a Wharton undergrad, they produced some really high-quality kids. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get into Wharton as an undergrad. It took me my own undergrad years to mature academically and get to the point where I was fortunate enough to attend the MBA program.
Jamarlin Martin: You graduate from Wharton, what do you do next?
Barron Channer: Well, immediately, as I graduated, I had a job with Peebles’s corporation, so I went to work with Don Peebles. I was actually working with them my first year of school. At that time I knew that I’d be close to Atlantic City. Today everywhere has gaming, but in those days it was Atlantic city and Las Vegas. So I thought I could be useful to him in terms of introducing them to the casino gaming world because that would be an hour away from Atlantic City. So I was actually helping out while in school I interned with them 2003 and so I knew that I was going to. I almost didn’t come back to the school the second year because at that point I start to think, well, I already have the job that I want starting out. But then it dawned on me that it’s kind of silly for me to miss out on the overall experience of business school and actually getting the degree given that only have one year left. So I went back, finished up, actually graduated on a Friday or Saturday and started working on the Monday.
Jamarlin Martin: And what was your title working with Don?
Barron Channer: My title then was I was a development associate, and so I made up the title. He asked me to make it up. The role was effectively to support the underwriting of deals, so the financial analysis, but the title I made, he asked me to suggest him what the title should be and I gave him a structure that was analogous to the investment bank in slash consultant world because I figured titles only matter to people who are paying attention to traditional industries and I wanted them to appreciate that my level was comparable to someone from business school who had just gone into investment banking.
Jamarlin Martin: Add some context of uh, the skill that Don Peebles is kind of developing his footprint at the time you started working with them.
Barron Channer: His largest project at the time was an $85 million dollar project — The Royal Palm. He was in the process of undergoing The Bath Club and that was probably a nine-figure project, about $100-plus million. So it was significant in scale. But there is an important part. Listen to this and something that you know, I, I treasure from my experience having worked with Don, is he does not suffer from the perception that he is inadequate, certainly not in business, right? So his perspective is if that person can do a $500,000,000 deal, it’s all arithmetic in multiplication and division, I can do a $500,000,000 deal. The reality of our business is that our business depends heavily on leverage, right? Other people’s money. Now, some of it’s your own, but the business is about bringing your skill and your ability to make money to the table, finding a good project, impressing upon other people that you’re a good bet and having them bet on you in the form of either lending you money, debt or providing you equity. And so Don’s approach to a billion-dollar deal, he is not afraid of a billion-dollar deal. True story: at my summer internship with them, now I’m very good at math and had always been. But the reality is how many of us actually multiply and divide with two commas, right? So you never actually do math where the number’s a million or 10 million, right? So I’m doing math now where the number is tens of millions of dollars and you find yourself questioning, well what’s 10 percent of $10 million is actually a million. Everyone knows that 10 percent of 10 is one, but you never actually do math that large and so that initially was daunting for me because you start to question yourself because you’ve never dealt with numbers that large. That’s not something Don suffers from. So to him, even when we were doing the $100,000,000 deal, in his mind, he was thinking as soon as I get the opportunity, I want to do a billion-dollar deal. He’s not thinking, let’s wait 10 years to get there.
Jamarlin Martin: My discussion with Barron Channer continues in GHOGH episode No. 14. Let’s GHOGH! Thanks everybody for listening to GHOGH. You can check me out on @JamarlinMartin on Twitter and also come check us out at Moguldom.com. That’s M O G U L D O M dot com. Be sure to subscribe to our daily newsletter. You can get the latest information on crypto, tech, economic empowerment and politics. Let’s GHOGH!
This has been edited for clarity.