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Tristan Walker: Companies need to serve people of color with empathy

February 10, 2021, 10:30 AM UTC
Tristan Walker on Leadership Next.
Rog Walker @papermonday

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When Procter & Gamble acquired Walker & Company in 2018, founder and CEO Tristan Walker did something unexpected: Instead of moving his family and two brands to be closer to the Cincinnati-based new parent company, he moved everything to Atlanta to be closer to his core consumers. Walker’s brands include Bevel, which makes grooming products for men of color, and Form, which develops hair care for women of color.

The first Black CEO of a P&G subsidiary, Walker made Fortune’s World’s Greatest Leaders list in 2019. He joins Fortune’s Alan Murray and Ellen McGirt on this week’s episode of Leadership Next, a podcast about the changing rules of business leadership.

On the show Walker discusses the importance of big brands stepping up to better serve people of color. “Every company in 20 years, when folks of color are the majority of this country, if they do not have a plan to serve this audience with empathy, I believe that they will not exist,” Walker says. “I think it is that critical.”

Murray and McGirt also talk with Walker about the importance of helping people in the community that your company serves and where it’s based. Walker shares how he partnered with the mayor of Atlanta on a COVID-response program.

Though he says that nobody expected the COVID pandemic or the summer’s social justice uprising that followed the killing of George Floyd by police, Walker notes that his company and the people who work there were “pretty prepared for it.”

“We have a company that is majority folks of color,” he adds. “As some of the things started to take off in the summer, we were all impacted by that. But we were very quick to recognize that, you know, a company like ours can help acknowledge the kind of trauma that we all face and show folks how we can kind of stand firm in our values and pick a side. And then lastly, act.”

During the episode, Walker also discusses the dearth of Black CEOs in America, as well as Code2040, a program he cocreated to help nurture Black tech talent.