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Robert D. Blackwell, Sr.

Corporate executive and technology entrepreneur Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. was born July 28, 1937, in Eastville, Virginia. He attended Rosemont Elementary near his boyhood home of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, a very wealthy community. Blackwell graduated from Radnor High School in 1955, and went on to Wichita State University on an athletic scholarship, where he played football with future NFL Rookie of the Year running back, Ted Dean. Forced by injuries to leave football, Blackwell came under the guidance of his math teacher, Ms. Fugate, and graduated with a B.A. in psychology in 1966.

In 1966, Blackwell went to work for IBM while the business computer industry was in its infancy. Beginning as a systems engineer, Blackwell was working as an IBM salesman by 1970. He left IBM for a brief period to work in public relations for the State of Kansas. Blackwell then returned to IBM; this time, as director of Greater Chicago Consulting Services. After serving as IBM’s highest-ranking black executive, Blackwell left IBM in 1992 to form Blackwell Consulting with his son, Robert Blackwell, Jr. The younger Blackwell would later form his own entrepreneurial company, Electronic Knowledge Interchange. Based in Chicago, Blackwell Consulting and their nationwide offices offer a range of IT services, from web portal development to networking, messaging systems and workflow applications, generating revenues in excess of $37 million per year.

Blackwell and his wife, Marjilee, live in the Chicago area. He is a board member of the eta Creative Arts Foundation, the Joel Hall Dancers and is a supporter of other non-profit arts organizations and community initiatives. He enjoys spending time with his six grandchildren.

Accession Number

A2003.290

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/9/2003

Last Name

Blackwell

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

D.

Organizations
Schools

Rosemont School

Radnor High School

Rosemont School of the Holy Child

Wichita State University

First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Eastville

HM ID

BLA04

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Virginia

Favorite Quote

Now You Understand Me, Right?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

7/28/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Short Description

Corporate executive and technology entrepreneur Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. (1937 - ) worked for IBM for many years before forming Blackwell Consulting with his son in 1992. Blackwell Consulting and their nationwide offices offer a range of IT services, generating revenues in excess of $37 million per year.

Employment

IBM

State of Kansas

Blackwell Consulting

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert D. Blackwell, Sr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his mother's views of success

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his mother's views of the black power movement

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes how he takes after each of his parents

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about the influence of Bryn Mawr College on his parents' class mentality

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about the difference between his father and his maternal grandfather

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his experience in school and his first understandings of racism

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about sports and the racism he witnessed outside of Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about his experience at the predominately white Radnor High School in Radnor, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about how he was treated by his coaches

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about enrolling at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his experience at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his experience at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about those he met at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about his interest in psychology and his decision to work for IBM

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes being offered a position at IBM

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his experience working for IBM and the State of Kansas

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. reflects on his career at IBM

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes how he met his wife and living away from his family

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about his decision to move to Wheaton, Illinois instead of the South Side of Chicago, Illinois in 1973

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his job with IBM in Chicago, Illinois and why he left IBM in 1992

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about starting Blackwell Consulting Services with his son, Robert Blackwell, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes the success of Blackwell Consulting Services

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his hopes for Blackwell Consulting Services, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his hopes for Blackwell Consulting Services, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about his confidence in Blackwell Consulting Services to become a major competitor in computer consulting

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about the difficulty of training employees at a small firm

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about Blackwell Consulting Services clients and locations

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. talks about the importance of black arts programs

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. shares his advice for young African Americans in business

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. reflects upon what he would do differently in his life

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

3$2

DATitle
Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his experience at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas, pt. 1
Robert D. Blackwell, Sr. describes his job with IBM in Chicago, Illinois and why he left IBM in 1992
Transcript
You know, I learned a lot of bad things but I learned a lot of good things. And I was exposed to some things that I had never seen when I got--$$For instance?$$Oh my--a guy that was my roommate, a guy named Howard Stewart [ph.] invited me to come home with him in Tulsa [Oklahoma] and he and I were talking and he said to me, "Man you don't know anything about being black, Bob." And I said-- you know. So he said you have to come home with me and I went home with him and he took me to a football game. Booker T. Washington [High School] versus Okmulgee, Oklahoma and all of sudden I saw this band with these high stepping black girls, I had never seen anything like it in my life. I've never seen so many pretty girls that were African Americans in all my life. I'm just--I mean these stands going, oh my God and that was one and then the funniest story was we couldn't stay in hotels in Oklahoma or Texas when we went to play football so we played Hardin-Simmons University which is Abilene, Texas. You go to Abilene; we can't stay there so I get to stay with a black person at there home. So we're driving down the street and this guy hits this button, now remember this is 1956, hits this button and we see a garage door open. Ted Dean and I said do that again, he hit the button and the garage door came down, I had never seen that in my life and he's laughing, right. And we go in and Ted and I feel the same way, we've never met anybody black who wasn't poor, we didn't know anybody and here we meet this guy in Abilene, Texas that's got this big house, right and a garage door opener. I remember we were thinking to ourselves "wow" and then we went to Houston [Texas] where we played Rice [University]--no we played the University of Houston [Houston, Texas] and we couldn't stay in Houston, we stayed on the campus of Texas Southern [University in Houston, Texas]. So we got to see what Texas--$$Black college?$$Yeah a black college and we got to see what that was like. Then I went down to Tempe, Arizona to play--there you could stay in the hotels, played Arizona State [University] but when the game was over these guys invited me to a party. I wander into the party and there is this, I mean beautiful, beautiful, beautiful black woman who walked over to me and said hi Bob how are you and she said welcome to my home. We were looking around this house; this house must have been 10,000 square feet, right and the (unclear). Tim and I we couldn't believe that we were in this, you know. That people that look like us owned stuff like this, did what these people did and I saw through this thing of playing football and going around and seeing a world that I didn't know existed. You know, because not everybody is taking care of babies, right. Not everybody is doing domestic stuff. There were some people out there doing things and I'd also never seen you know all-black high schools and all of that.$How are things at IBM? What were you-how are you progressing with IBM at that point?$$Oh when I came up here in '73 [1973], I really figured out I wanted to be in management. I really pushed for it and I had a really successful career in IBM. I was-I got a first line manager and a second line manager and I ended up a director at IBM and it was good. I just had a wonderful career at IBM. I love IBM, I still do. I don't work for them anymore but they gave me a chance and they provided me all the training that anyone could ever need. They gave me an opportunity to be who I could be. I wouldn't argue that IBM is perfect, there are lots of imperfections and they have a lot of problems other companies had but when I was there, I was really pleased. They just treated me very well and when I came into this job, I really realized that I really had been well-trained to step out on my own and do the things that I did. So, you know, with me IBM was a wonderful part of my life and still is.$$Okay now you were at IBM when the computer world sort of changed from the big mainframe computers to small PCs [personal computer]--(simultaneous) (unclear).$$That's kind of why I left, yeah.$$Tell us about that. How did that happen?$$Well you know IBM is in what's called the mainframe world and that's what I did. I sold these big boxes for lots of money and we'd done it for years and IBM was, you know, just dominant in every market and I like a lot of other people in IBM thought we were invincible. That there was just nothing that could get in our way but some things did get in our way. We had competition on the mainframes which were getting out of hand and then when the PC came on board, and IBM embraced the PC, the sales force and lots of other people hung on to mainframes for dear life and one thing led to another and IBM's business really, really declined to the point that under the rubric of severance packages right, which are layoffs by any other name. I decided when I walked up on fifty-five that the chances that I was going to survive this downsizing at IBM was very low and I was--I had moved from the hardware to the services business and it was immediately clear to me that in the services business, the barriers--the entry were low and that a smart guy could plan and build the business in services with a little bit of money. So I made plans to get out of IBM and do just that as soon as I retired. So I retired July 31, 1992 and then I started my journey with Blackwell Consulting.