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Source: Bevel / Bevel

BEVEL, the popular Black men’s grooming company founded by Tristan Walker is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. But according to the 38-year-old entrepreneur, the past decade is only one step of a generational vision for Black men — and Black people altogether — that actually puts faith, family and work at the forefront. And that legacy begins with one of the most discussed subjects in the Black community: hair.

Walker was only 4 years old when he lost his father to gun violence. “My being introverted is partly a function of my upbringing,” the Jamaica, NY native once told Fast Company. “You couldn’t go outside as much, out of fear of what might happen.” But he thanks his mother for always insisting on the power of learning and education.

In 2010, Walker earned his MBA degree from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He would go on to acquire numerous accolades for his acumen, such as being recognized by USA Today for his initiatives around diversity in tech as well as landing on Ebony’s list of “100 Most Powerful People.” And he recently visited his alma mater to discuss the “The Problem With Sameness.”

Read about how faith, family and the needs of Black people around the world continues to drive the enterprising businessman to go beyond hair and skin and towards a much deeper theme for Walker & Company: the authenticity in telling our story.

CASSIUSLife: So to start out, what are some of the things you’re reading lately?

Tristan Walker: I recently got done with W.E.B. DuBois’ Black Reconstruction. I think it is one of the most important books I’ve ever read, and I encourage everybody to read it. Completely changed my point of view about how this country messed things up for us. And I’m grateful for the work that he did.

And I actually just got the Frederick Douglas biography, Prophet of Freedom in the mail. I started cracking that open. I’m very excited about that.

I highly recommend, if folks haven’t yet, to read anything by Isabel Wilkerson. The Warmth Of Other Suns, Caste…And then I know you asked for a few, but I can kind of go all day with this stuff. One of my favorite, favorite things to read, which I read probably every day. Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Lyrics of Lowly Life. [He’s] probably my favorite poet of all time.

Now, at CASSIUSLife, we talk to everybody but really focus on Black men: self-improvement, self-care and things like that. So for our readers, what’s the 30 to 60 second breakdown of BEVEL?

The way that I would describe BEVEL, from inception to today, is exactly the same. We’ve only had one ambition and that’s to be the number one trusted brand delivering personal care solutions to Black men in the United States — full stop.

We started with our shaving line, and we ended up with participation in multiple categories: shaving, body, hair and skin. I think I’ll also end [that] by saying we started and ended with the same core beliefs that we’ve always had.

First, we prioritize the needs of Black consumers first.

Second, we believe that consumer-centricity really does require a “problem-solution” approach. We only make things that solve problems that Black men have.

Third, I think we see ourselves as this cultural institution that transcends race and nationality. While we make things specifically focused on the needs of Black men, we solve problems that all men have.

And we’re a generational brand that I think really focuses, and is connected deeply, to the trials and successes of those who come before us and those that will come after. We’re uncompromising in our support of that connection.

So from the time that we started this company in 2012, 2013 to now, we’ve been consistent and will continue to be.

I’ve been working on that case for about 10 years [laughs].

Why do you think Black men tend to downplay or neglect what it means to have a really healthy hair care and skin routine? Do you think it’s a price thing or that we feel we’ve never been catered to? Do you think there are questions around how we define masculinity? 

I don’t think we either neglect nor downplay it. I think it comes with education. As you mentioned, things like masculinity. I don’t think that applies elsewhere.

Think about fashion. We like our drip just like everybody else does. But as it relates to skin care, we’re educated by those who’ve educated us. And for far too long, a lot of these large companies have been delivering products and services that don’t work for us.

Images Of Bevel

Source: Bevel / Bevel

You know, we started our company on hundred-year-old technology: a single blade, double-edged safety razor. And for the past few decades, or the entire time since this industry has started, we have been sold something that hasn’t been as efficacious for us.

Before I started the company, I was using depilatory creams on my face only because my brother told me to, [and] his father told him to, and the story continues — and that’s a story that has scaled for far too long. And BEVEL was started because we felt that we deserve better.

So it’s neither neglect nor downplay. I think BEVEL has stepped in to help educate and celebrate, and I think that’s a big reason why we’ve been as successful in doing so.

Four years ago, Walker & Company got sold to Procter & Gamble. And you once said in an interview that you saw yourself as “a Black kid from Queens who couldn’t shave, made his way to Silicon Valley and networked enough to know that you could raise the money to start the business at that time.”

But there’s always this conversation around minority representation in Silicon Valley, the need for us to own our own products, equity in business, etc.

So how do you balance that with the conversation around some people saying you sold out? Because I think that’s a big part that we wrestle with. Should we ever sell? Does that compromise the integrity of the brand? And what does that mean in the greater scheme of things?

I appreciate the question, and I’ll kind of address it in multiple ways. First, there are two definitions of selling out.

There’s a literal [sense of selling out as in], “I sell my business to someone.” And then there’s the [usual], you know, “You are now devoid of the same principles that you started with.”

I would challenge anybody to suggest that our principles and our values and those beliefs that I shared with you earlier are different than what they use to be. In fact, they are enhanced. So that’s number one. We did not sell out in that way.

Number two, ultimately, at the end of the day, businesses need to expand and grow. The wonderful thing that we learned about Proctor & Gamble is this is a company that spends $2 billion in research and development every single year. This is a company that serves five billion people around the planet every single day, the majority of whom look more like me than the executive leadership in companies like it.

Additionally, I am the first Black CEO in their 180-year history. The amount of impact that I can have in shaping a point-of-view in service of five billion people, can be accelerated in partnership rather than doing it by myself.

Lastly, growing and scaling businesses is not easy, and it’s not always required to be done alone. When I started this company, I never said that I was going to own 100% of it in perpetuity. I started this with a 100-year vision to celebrate and support folks who look like me with products that matter, with a design that is actually inspiring and with a team that’s representative of the consumers that we serve.

So that leads me to another point: I challenge other folks to really think about companies that have a makeup of representation like we do.

We are an overwhelming majority of people of color in my company, [with] overwhelmingly majority of folks of color in positions of leadership, specifically Black women in positions of leadership at my company. And that has ensured that we’ve maintained a consistency in our delivery and our promise to our consumers.

The last thing I’d say is that I own things. And Walker & Company is just one of those things that we felt the next progression for growth for this business has to be through partnership and doing it on our own. And I think we’ve delivered. I’m still here five years later, and I don’t think that we have sold out, certainly in the figurative sense of the word.

I would challenge anybody to challenge us on that.

I know that one of the things the company focuses on is really addressing the lack of diversity from a business perspective. In terms of companies that cater to us but also seeing ourselves on the boards of directors and in the background as decision makers.

So how does Walker & Company’s success and vision translate to Code2040? I know you have a fellowship program going on, is that right?

I founded Code2040 a year before I founded Walker & Company, funny enough! And the goal of Code2040 is to activate, connect and mobilize the largest racial equity community in tech.

We’re most well known for our Code2040 Fellows Program. And the reason we chose that name–2040– that’s around the year where folks of color end up as the majority of this country. So we use it as a kind of “North Star,” almost a 30-year plan of engagement to realize that initial goal of activation, connection and mobilization.

For our Fellows Program, we would find the highest performing Black and Latino engineering undergraduates around the country, get them internships out in Silicon Valley and provide them with all the tools they need to be successful: media training, fireside one-on-one chats with tech luminaries, interview buyers training, etc.

Since [the moment] we’ve founded it to now, we’ve graduated some 700 fellows through the program. We have a 90 plus percent full-time offer rate, which is higher than the Silicon Valley standard offer rate. We are bringing the best and brightest talent that happens to be Black and Latino for an emerging demographic shift of the world. We are at the leading edge of that.

And these aren’t only the folks that are coming from Stanford and MIT. These are folks that are coming from Stony Brook University, where I [attended], or other not-as-well-known schools from around the country. We’re finding emerging talent everywhere!

Now, if you think about Code2040 and Walker & Company, how is it all connected to my mission work? Well, there are three themes of the world that I care about fairly exclusively, and they explain everything that I do.

First, is the demographic shift happening in this country and the cultural influence of Black folks within it. I think it is singularly the most important theme of my lifetime, and I’ve dedicated my life to it.

Second, is technology, of course! Its impact on organizations, but I think a lot about its map vectors and demographics. Specifically, how do we equip these curators of culture with the tools they need to spread that culture?

And then last, I love great brands, right? Primarily because they’re fun and sexy and cool and dope! But I think the good brands will really be a force for good in the world. And if you really get it right, I think you can be this kindling to the brush fire of public opinion. You could change sh-t.

Everything that I’ve done over the past decade — and God willing in the next five decades — fully embraced those three themes. Walker & Company, Code2040, the boards [of companies] I sit on, like Foot Locker and Shake Shack, right? They are really exclusively focused on the intersectionality around these three themes.

And Walker & Company certainly is no different to the makeup of the individuals within it because I think that there is incredible power in our telling of that same narrative ourselves.

You don’t have to tell me that [laughs]! And if you have to keep harping on that, then something’s lacking, something’s missing. Are you doing it for yourself or are you trying to sell me on something?

Yeah, I think that’s resonant. It’s important that when folks think about my work that hopefully they’re not thinking about my career first. I tell my team and folks in situations like this that I have a hierarchy of engagement. It’s my faith first, my family second [and] my work third. I’m very clear about that.

My work does not define who I am. My work is defined by the set of values that come from the former two. And as a result, now you have to judge me based on my own personal values and am I being consistent in everything that I do. [And] not only the things I decided to participate in, the products we make, the folks that we hire, the way that I engage with our consumers, the way I engage with friends and family, etc.

So what you said deeply resonates, and I think it is hopefully positive proof to the way that we do show up in the world.

One last question. What’s your five-year plan? When you look at what you’ve done with Walker & Company and where you are now with the business, where do you see yourself? As a business person, a disruptor in the world and as father?

I walked in on my son one day in the bathroom, and he had all this stuff in his hair, and he had a curl sponge doing his hair. He’s 8 years old. I was like, “What are you doing?” And he was using BEVEL product on his hair with a curl sponge for the first time, because he saw me doing it.

I was like, “This is special.” That he himself felt ownership in that experience, even as an 8 year old. So for me, what can I [do] — as a father, businessman, enter any kind of word you want there — is to prepare myself, my family, for any season that comes; the good ones and the bad.

And I know that kind of each season will be followed by another one. Like, the good will follow the bad, and the bad will follow the good. And I just don’t know how long each one is going to last, but I know another one is coming. The best way to prepare for it is to show up in the world with a consistent set of values. So folks know where you stand, and our family knows where we’re standing together.

My success as a dad will come when I know or feel that my sons start to articulate those values as they show up in the world. When I see [my sons] Avery and August be courageous. When I see them practicing good judgment. When I see them respecting folks. When I see them taking care of themselves through wellness. When they really understand that they have a loyalty to not only each other but [also] the folks they choose to interact with.

Those are my personal values. Those are our company’s values. And if we continue to spin that flywheel and embrace those values, but also have a celebration of it, we’ll be prepared for any season whether or not this company continues to thrive. That purpose will scale, and it will scale to as many people as possible. And that, to me, will make me feel like I will have succeeded.