By Reginald Stuart
NASHVILLE, TN — As a child growing up in Nashville, LaDonna Boyd did not know she might someday rise to become chief executive of the R.H. Boyd Publishing Corp, the nation’s oldest African-American owned publishing house. For sure, Boyd, a different leader for a different generation of the company, has prepared for the job.
Over the years, Boyd learned the ropes of the publishing company from the ground up, working the stock room to sales to planning and management. She’s earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Spelman College in Atlanta and a master’s degree in finance from Tennessee State University.
She’s on the homestretch for earning her doctorate in education from Pepperdine University in Southern California, having commuted monthly for her first year of classes, while working full time. Now, she’s writing her doctoral thesis on organizational leadership and focusing on the church as her topic.
Today, six months after being passed the helm of the company from her father, Pearl High School graduate T.B. Boyd III, LaDonna Boyd talks of ambitious ideas for the Nashville-based publishing house with more than 150 full-time employees. Noting the publishing company is privately owned, she is zip-lipped about it’s fiscal health beyond politely and proudly commenting it is fiscally sound.
Her enthusiastic thinking about the company’s future is tempered with her common sense and formal training in finance and management, she says, helping her keep a close eye on that ambition to make sure it stays in balanced with the financial ability to achieve for generations to come.
“This job is never ending,” said the 32-year-old Boyd, the first woman to rise to the top of the 127 year-old company. She is a member of the fifth generation of the Boyd family to run the Christian education publishing company started by R.H. Boyd, her great-great-grandfather. He was a freed slave who could not read or write when freed. Few black people could go to college in his day, never mind earn a doctorate degree.
Speaking of her pride in the role she’s playing in the decades old family enterprise, Boyd said she appreciates the importance of the family “legacy” and of keeping it in tact. “I’m blessed to have that connection to my history,” she said in a recent interview. She said she fully understands not all people have knowledge of their family histories. “It’s not a set cookie cutter definition,” she said of the history of the Black family since slavery.
In a wide-ranging interview to be carried on Trending With The Tribune, the Web-tv video service, Boyd offered insights on a variety of subjects. She spoke of her agenda for the publishing company to her thoughts about the future of the Baptist church, of which the Boyd company is a major provider of literature. A person who values her private life and doesn’t like talking about it that much, she added a sprinkling of personal thoughts about music, colors and the role of technology in Black society as it relates to the historical community church and emerging so-called mega churches.
Boyd, who had been chief financial officer at Boyd Publishing before rising to the top job last November, described her new role as “exciting” with a never-ending list of responsibilities ranging from finance and strategy meetings, greeting pastors, vendors, employees and potential partners who might write for Boyd Publishing.
Under her leadership, the company’s near-term agenda is highlighted by “expanding” products, “partnering with new authors” to produce an expanded line of religion-based books and installing a new Heidleberg six color printing unit, she said, offering highlights and protecting details. Heidleberg is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of high quality, high performance printing presses.
Boyd said she has had “no direct challenges” to her responsibility as chief executive of the company in the days since she took over. She said indeed there has been “a cultural shift,” with a woman leading the organization whose mass of followers are lead mostly by male pastors. She did not elaborate.
Boyd says she has developed “a great partnership” with pastors, noting she’s “not new.” Most have literally seen me for a while,” she said, noting she grew up among the church leaders she now serves. “So, I’m not some new or random person they have to build trust with.”
As for her relationship with customers and co-workers, she focuses on efficiency, being cognizant of product prices (“being fair for our market place”) and having a workplace in which people are happy being there. A vegetarian and practitioner of Yoga, Boyd said she “needs them (employees) to be well-rounded, to find happiness in their day-to-day life” and that will carry forward into the workplace. Falling short of the day-to-day sense of happiness bleeds into one’s feelings about work-life, she said, and that isn’t good for anyone involved.
In working on her doctorate, which she hopes to earn next year, Boyd said part of her work is studying the impact of technology on the Black church.
“The church has always been an epicenter of the social justice movement” and the church’s “responsibility for decades has been to be looking out for our brothers and sisters.” Her concern is how technology will impact this historical role.
That said, she acknowledges the Baptist church, in which the Boyd family is rooted, is changing dramatically as is the Church in general. Mega churches with multi-thousand members are overshadowing the community church of past decades, she acknowledged, hastening to make a business executive’s observation that “Church goers can decide what their church experience will look like. I support both,” she said. “I find comfort in being, the Holy Spirit is wherever I am.”
Boyd said she respects the fact that “some people may thrive” in a mega church. Still, she cautions, “I don’t want us to lose that (traditional relationship with the church) by shifting to a mega church.” Having hymnals and other religious materials on electronic screens overhead doesn’t take the place of having the hymnal or a Bible in one’s hand, she said.
“It’s not the same as face-to-face,” Boyd said. “I like to talk to people” she said. “I like face-to-to-face.” She cautions letting technology become an “addiction” rather than a “connection” with the church message.
Talking about the impact of technology of the church aside, Boyd said an important thing she is increasingly learning is the responsibility of her age group to work with the church to help those behind her learn to be leaders of their generation.
She said she got a good refresher of that obligation earlier this month when she went to Memphis and participated in various activities honoring civil rights icon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated April 4, 1968 in Memphis.
“I want young people to understand what it means to be a leader in social justice,” she said. The church has a responsibility to help in a variety of ways, she said, including working with students who go to college to learn how to finish college and not with a “ton of debt.’ The current college generation is drowning in debt, due to a lack of understanding money, she said.
On the reading front, Boyd cited the book “The Art of War” as her favorite, saying she “loves strategy and logic.” While couched in historical terms, the book gives “great principles and advice” that is of value in her work today, she said.
As for the best advice she gives to herself for staying afloat in her increasingly busy life, she remembers to “take care of myself,” she said, from what she eats, to making sure she gets rest when needed, putting the cell phone down and always practicing self-awareness.” Boyd said she works hard to “take care of myself.”
When it comes to music, jazz legend Nina Simone tops Boyd’s list. Simone, being honored this year by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was “a fabulous singer…with her earthy tone” voice, Boyd said. She learned much about Simone from the recent movie about Simone’s history. She said. “There was beauty in her sadness.”
As for colors, Boyd says her favorite color is black. “Black is beautiful,” she said. “It looks so sophisticated. Elegant,” she said with a modest, confident smile.