Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Last week, I had the opportunity to gather in a room with outgoing Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg and some of my favorite Triangle leaders for a small-business roundtable and fireside chat hosted by the NC Chamber. 

You might not have guessed it by reading this column, but despite how much I love learning about other people and their leadership styles, I’m a stone-cold introvert. I didn’t want to go. 

Photo courtesy of Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson

My team encouraged me, and I’m so glad they did, because here’s what I remembered while standing in that room.

  • The NC small-business scene is thriving. I was so impressed by the energy, vision, and dedication of the leaders around me. But here’s the surprising part. Even though many of the people I saw that day were the same people I email and talk with by phone regularly throughout the month, in those virtual conversations it’s so easy to lose sight of the ways we’re all connected and depend on each other. 

NC small businesses are the economic engine of this state – and in many ways, we are the culture drivers too. When we lean on each other, we also push each other forward, and we all get better together. Because we’re all working together to shape the future of the workplace, we hold the power to build a more sustainable world: one that makes a positive impact on people and planet, not just profits. Our organizations benefit, our employees benefit, and the state of NC benefits as well.

I particularly loved seeing Lindsay Wrege and my friends at 321 Coffee recognized for their business impact and the ways they are driving inclusion. Seeing Christopher Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), was another big win. He and his team recently visited our offices for some DEI-focused media training, and it inspired me to see how he is using that training to drive economic growth and better business outcomes across our state.

  • The NC Chamber is doing some amazing things to support NC businesses and business leaders. As Lindsay put it, “In a social business, having community buy-in is the key to success. Beyond individuals, it’s powerful to have strong relationships with other companies where you can work together and leverage each other to make an impact. Attending networking events like this round table and fireside chat with Sheryl Sandburg is so beneficial to helping 321 Coffee grow because it puts you in the same room with other leaders to build partnerships and spark conversation.”

This first-class event is just one example of how they’re driving growth across the state by supporting businesses with networking events, free resources, guidance, and more. I couldn’t be more proud to know them, especially my good friend, NC Chamber president and CEO Gary Salamido and board chair Sepi Saidi.  

Here’s the thing I want every single business leader to know. No matter what industry or profession you’re in, you cannot create a thriving, sustainable business without women. That means, in the very near future, you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to attract women candidates, support women employees, develop women leaders, and create inclusive workplaces where women are able, encouraged, and expected to contribute their best, consistently. 

  • In-person networking is worth it again! As I said, I didn’t want to go, but as soon as I walked into that room, I felt energized and optimistic. After nearly three years of mostly virtual meetings, I think some part of me had forgotten how important it is to spend time with dreamers, leaders, and friends who are doing big work. I left feeling recharged and resolved. I saw old friends, and I made some new connections.

You see, I thought this event was about going to see a global tech leader to hear about her lessons, and yes, Sheryl Sandberg was truly great to hear from. But more importantly, the event allowed me to remember – and take pride in – how many people in NC are doing great things to shape the future. Even when the macro news of the day tries to divide us and make us feel separate, we are caring for each other and supporting each other all along the way. 

About the Author

Donald Thompson is co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement which offers an employee-experience product suite that personalizes diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through data, technology, and expert-curated content. Their microlearning platform, Microvideos by The Diversity Movement, was recently named one of Fast Company’s “2022 World Changing Ideas.” With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, Donald is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture and driving exponential growth. An entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach, Donald also serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. His autobiography, Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, is available for pre-order now. Connect with or follow him on Linkedin to learn more.