Ebbie Parsons

Q&E: Entrepreneurship a Way of ‘Spearheading the Charge Globally’

Friday, April 9, 2021

Questions & Entrepreneurs, or Q&E, features entrepreneurial Carlson School alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends. They will share successes, challenges, and insights about their journey of bringing ideas to reality, whether through new companies, new ways of thinking, or solving new problems.

As more businesses look to improve their diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, Ebbie Parsons ('06 MBA) and Yardstick Management are at the center of creating that global change.

Parsons is the founder and managing partner of Yardstick, the nation’s leading Black-owned consulting firm. His company has worked with some of the world’s leading brands on management consulting; diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting; and talent consulting.

Parsons spoke to the Carlson School about what makes a successful entrepreneur, why consulting has always interested him, and how his work has changed since the killing of George Floyd.

How did you go about starting Yardstick?

Originally, we started as Yardstick Learning and primarily focused on the education sector. I started the company with the thought in mind that I could really make a big difference. Then I began thinking deeper about diversifying leadership and education and providing greater opportunities for kids from communities of color. And soon thereafter, we started getting interest from a lot of different types of organizations that were outside of the education sector. 

Why was this an industry that you wanted to be in?

I thought I'd make a greater impact. What I love about Yardstick and consulting is we can support millions of people in lots of different organizations, and it allows me to be a little scatterbrained, maybe that's probably the best way to explain it. I like confronting different problems. I like to solve different problems. And I think consulting is for the scatterbrain. It's for those of us who get bored easily.

How has your work changed since the killing of George Floyd over the summer?

We’re really spearheading transformational change globally. Now, post-George Floyd, a lot of companies are taking Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion much more seriously. And if you know about the diversity and inclusion space, many of them are white, female-led organizations. And when companies started looking for Black-owned firms to do the work, we kept rising to the top because this was embedded into everything we've done and we've always done it. So I think we had a bit of an eight-year head start.

What motivates you on a day-to-day basis? What gets you excited to come to work?

I get excited about challenges—problems motivate me. For instance, how can we figure out solutions that many of the smartest people in the world haven't been able to figure out? So I love the competitiveness of it. Being an entrepreneur, you have to be a gambler, a hustler. You've got to be willing to take big risks. And, you've got to have a level of confidence that you can curate into a unique solution that's going to be different for every client that you serve. So I’m motivated by knowing that every day I wake up, I'm going to be directly involved in solving 10 different problems for 10 different clients, impacting, you know, millions of different people.

Are there habits or traits that you think have helped make you successful? Or broadly, do you think that there are traits that make good entrepreneurs?

People trust good entrepreneurs. Trustworthiness is key. You actually have to keep your word. I would say that is one that all entrepreneurs should focus on, the promises they make. It's also been something I think has benefited me tremendously. People know that when I say we can do something, we can do it.

If you were talking to an aspiring entrepreneur, what advice would you give them?

The advice I would give you is to make sure whatever it is that you want to do, there's a market for it. There's a demand for it. You can do it better than everybody else, and people are going to buy it from you. People are selective in who they buy from a lot of times, especially the services businesses. They're buying your brain just as much as they're buying your personality.