Among her memories from childhood, Inez Long ’98MBA most vividly recounts two. In the first, she’s playing in the yard with her cousin. The cousin tells Inezshe’s really hungry. They go inside and find only a single banana to eat as a snack. Inez cuts it in half and keeps the smaller piece for herself. Later, Long’s mother asks, “Inez, why did you give your cousin the bigger piece?”
“Because,” little Inez says, “she was hungrier than me, mom.”
In the second memory, Long is looking at a bookshelf inside the same home. The shelves sag under the weight of the encyclopedias her parents have purchased for Long and her brother. It would take years for Long to fully understand the reason for all those books.
“It was not easy for us to go to a public library as it was built on the ‘white’ side of town, so my parents found other ways for us to expand our knowledge. That’s how they invested in us.”
These two precepts — recognizing the level of hunger in people and investing in them — are cornerstones in Long’s work as president of the Black Business Investment Fund (BBIF). Long has made such a positive impact in her 32 years with BBIF that Orlando Magazine named her one of the city’s 50 Most Powerful People in 2021. In April she will be inducted into the UCF College of Business Hall of Fame.
“It’s always a blessing to not just enjoy whatever comes my way,” Long says, “but to help others get the most out of life, too.”
“Sometimes, an opportunity is all that a person needs.” — Inez Long ’98MBA
With BBIF she paves the way for Black, minority and underserved small businesses to receive management training and financial backing. Under her leadership to date, 1,061 businesses have been approved for more than $81 million in loans, allowing them to support nearly 14,000 jobs, often after they’ve run into unscalable walls at traditional lending institutions. She’s also brought in $148 million in New Market Tax Credit, which attracts private capital investments into low-income communities allocations, and has leveraged more than $350 million in economic development projects.
And that leads to perhaps the most prominent statistic of all: More than 96% of the business loans through BBIF have resulted in investment gains. Traditional bank executives can only wish for that kind of success rate.
Let’s just say those banks had their chances.
“Sometimes,” Long says, “an opportunity is all that a person needs.”
Growing up in Winter Garden, Florida, young Inez James would ride bicycles and play marbles, football and baseball with her big brother and boys in the neighborhood. She never thought of her mother and father as being poor. Both parents had similar backgrounds, being raised by their grandparents, uncles and aunts, after their own parents died when they were very young.
“Mom and dad never made excuses,” Long says. “They were determined to work hard and create their own opportunities as a young couple.”
At that time, home loans were not made available to Black people. So, each of Long’s parents worked several jobs and saved enough cash to buy land and build their own home. They stocked it with love and books, and with a love for books.
“Mom and dad taught us that knowledge could open a world of possibilities.”
Long had thoughts about attending law school while studying at the University of South Florida, but when her father died suddenly, she knew the financial resources and support that she needed wouldn’t be available. A classmate, Fitzhugh Long, encouraged her to try a few business courses to see if anything clicked.
“I never expected that I would fall in love with accounting,” she says.
She also fell in love with Fitzhugh. They married and moved around the country for a few years, as Fitzhugh landed a corporate job with Kmart Corporation. Later they landed in Orlando where Inez began a career in banking while also raising their first two children. After a while, she recognized sexism and racism pervading the business environment. Long would need a source of leverage to push through it.
“The people at UCF encouraged me to be a mom, work and grow my skillsets. I’ll always be grateful for that.” — Inez Long ’98MBA
“More knowledge would be my strongest tool,” she says, explaining why she enrolled in the executive MBA program at UCF during the busiest time of her life. “The people at UCF encouraged me to be a mom, work and grow my skillsets. I’ll always be grateful for that.”
In her job underwriting loans for the big banks, Inez also noticed one obstacle after another whenever she tried to get funding approved for Black-owned businesses.
“My bosses would literally tell me to pull loan policy books off the shelves,” she says. “I knew what was going on. They were finding reasons to deny the loans necessary for these Black people to grow their businesses.”
So, Long would go to the Black business owners in person, after work, and share her knowledge about developing strong financial statements. She also met the president of BBIF, who offered Inez a job. Friends said she’d be foolish to leave a great banking job for a not-for-profit organization.
“I prayed about it off and on for a year,” she says, “until it became clear that at BBIF I could help a lot more people. What I saw during the loan underwriting process at the banks still motivates me today to continue to work to break down long-standing barriers in the financial industry.”
She’s helped owners of IT firms, restaurants, hair salons, child-care centers. They’re engineers, attorneys, contractors, manufacturers, and builders of commercial properties and affordable homes. One young graduate of UCF started a garbage service and needed a loan so he could hire people and expand. This business is now a million-dollar business.
The entrepreneurs receive other assets from BBIF that they won’t receive directly from a traditional bank: training and counselling.
“We spend time with the owners for two reasons,” Long says. “First, we can help them to become stronger managers. Plus, if I see a person every month, it’s very difficult for them to not pay back the loan. That’s important, too, because we have investors to repay.”
Major corporations, including Starbucks and Google, have recently partnered with BBIF. They see value in an organization with a 96% success rate. They also see what Long has seen all along: an opportunity to invest in hard-working people. The partnerships reflect progress. Some of the business owners that BBIF supported 25 years ago have passed the companies to their children, creating second generation owned businesses.
“My parents had instilled in me the lesson, or obligation, of sharing. I’d like to think I’ve done that, as they taught me.” — Inez Long ’98MBA
“That’s extremely satisfying,” Long says.
As for the children she bathed and fed while pursuing her master’s degree at UCF, all three have also graduated from UCF. So has a nephew and the niece that she and Fitzhugh raised after Long’s brother passed away.
“As a child, I watched my mother give clothes to less fortunate people in our neighborhood, and my dad share the fish he’d caught,” she says. “I could have remained in banking and made a very good living, but my parents had instilled in me the lesson, or obligation, of sharing. I’d like to think I’ve done that, as they taught me.”