Opportunity Knocks | University of Central Florida News
Among his childhood memories, Inez Long ’98MBA recounts two most vividly. In the first, she is playing in the yard with her cousin. The cousin says to Inezshe really hungry. They go inside and find only one banana to eat as a snack. Inez cuts it in half and keeps the smaller piece for herself. Later, Long’s mother asks, “Inez, why did you give the biggest chunk to your cousin?”
“Because,” said little Inez, “she was hungrier than me, Mom.”
In the second memory, Long is looking at a shelf inside the same house. The shelves are sagging under the weight of the encyclopedias her parents bought for Long and her brother. It would take Long years to fully understand the reason for all these books.
“It was not easy for us to go to a public library because it was built on the ‘white’ side of town, so my parents found other ways for us to expand our knowledge. That’s how they invested in us.
These two precepts – recognizing people’s level of hunger and investing in them – are the cornerstones of Long’s work as chairman of the Black Business Investment Fund (BBIF). Long has had such a positive impact in his 32 years with BBIF that Orlando Magazine named her one of the 50 most powerful people in town for 2021. In April, she will be inducted into the UCF College of Business Hall of Fame.
“It’s always a blessing to not only enjoy everything that happens to me,” Long says, “but also to help others get the most out of life.”
“Sometimes an opportunity is all a person needs.” — Inez Long ’98MBA
With BBIF, she paves the way for black, minority and underserved small businesses to receive management training and financial support. Under his leadership to date, 1,061 businesses have been approved for more than $81 million in loans, enabling them to support nearly 14,000 jobs, often after encountering unscalable walls at traditional lending institutions. It has also provided $148 million in the New Market Tax Credit, which attracts private capital investment in allocations to low-income communities, and leveraged more than $350 million in economic development projects.
And that leads to perhaps the most important statistic of all: over 96% of business loans through BBIF resulted in investment gains. The leaders of traditional banks can only wish for this kind of success rate.
Let’s just say these banks had their chances.
“Sometimes,” Long says, “one opportunity is all a person needs.”
Growing up in Winter Garden, Florida, young Inez James rode bikes and played marbles, football and baseball with her older brother and the neighborhood boys. She never thought her mother and father were poor. Both parents had similar backgrounds, having been raised by their grandparents, uncles and aunts, after their own parents died when they were very young.
“Mom and dad never made excuses,” Long says. “They were determined to work hard and create their own opportunities as a young couple.”
At that time, home loans were not available to blacks. So each of Long’s parents worked multiple jobs and saved enough money to buy land and build their own homes. They filled it with love and books, and with a love for books.
“Mom and Dad taught us that knowledge could open up a world of possibilities.”
While attending the University of South Florida, Long considered going to law school, but when her father died suddenly, she knew the financial resources and support she needed would not be available. A classmate, Fitzhugh Long, encouraged her to try a few business classes to see if anything clicked.
“I never expected to fall in love with accounting,” she says.
She also fell in love with Fitzhugh. They got married and moved around the country for a few years, while Fitzhugh landed a corporate job with Kmart Corporation. They later landed in Orlando where Inez began a career in banking while raising their first two children. After a while, she recognized the sexism and racism pervading the business environment. Long would need a source of leverage to push him through.
“The people at UCF encouraged me to be a mom, to work and to develop my skills. I will always be grateful for that. — Inez Long ’98MBA
“More knowledge would be my most powerful tool,” she says, explaining why she signed up for the executive MBA program at UCF during the busiest time of his life. “The people at UCF encouraged me to be a mom, to work and to develop my skills. I will always be grateful for that.
In her loan underwriting work for major banks, Inez also noticed one hurdle after another each time she tried to get approved financing for black-owned businesses.
“My bosses were literally telling me to pull the loan policy manuals off the shelves,” she says. “I knew what was going on. They found reasons to deny the necessary loans to these black people to develop their businesses. »
So, Long would go see black business owners in person, after work, and share his knowledge on building strong financial statements. She also met with the president of BBIF, who offered Inez a job. Friends said she would be stupid to leave a great banking job for a non-profit organization.
“I prayed about it for a year,” she says, “until it became clear that at BBIF I could help a lot more people. What I saw during the process of taking out loans in banks still motivates me today to continue working to eliminate long-standing barriers in the financial sector.
She has helped owners of IT businesses, restaurants, hair salons and daycares. They are engineers, lawyers, contractors, manufacturers and builders of commercial properties and affordable homes. A young UCF grad started a junkyard service and needed a loan so he could hire staff and grow. This business is now a million dollar business.
Entrepreneurs receive other assets from BBIF that they will not receive directly from a traditional bank: training and advice.
“We spend time with owners for two reasons,” says Long. “First, we can help them become stronger managers. Also, if I see a person every month, it’s very difficult for them not to repay the loan. It is also important, because we have investors to repay.
Major corporations, including Starbucks and Google, have recently partnered with BBIF. They see value in an organization with a 96% success rate. They also see what Long has always seen: an opportunity to invest in hard-working people. Partnerships reflect progress. Some of the business owners BBIF supported 25 years ago passed the businesses on to their children, creating second-generation businesses.
“My parents had instilled in me the lesson, or the obligation, of sharing. I’d like to think I did that, like they taught me. — Inez Long ’98MBA
“It’s extremely satisfying,” Long said.
As for the children she bathed and nurtured while pursuing her master’s degree at UCF, all three are also UCF graduates. The same goes for a nephew and niece she and Fitzhugh raised after Long’s brother died.
“As a child, I watched my mother donate clothes to less fortunate people in our neighborhood, and my father shared the fish he caught,” she says. “I could have stayed in the bank and made a very good living, but my parents had instilled in me the lesson, or the obligation, of sharing. I’d like to think I did that, like they taught me.