Melissa Muhammad is the Founder and CEO of the Black and Global Business Network (BGBN). An international tax attorney, Melissa founded BGBN after 20 years with the US government, connecting businesses with exporting resources, creating opportunities, lowering trade barriers, and working with other countries to avoid any “double tax” that might stifle trade.
When racial tensions in the US intensified after the killing of George Floyd, Melissa was called to reevaluate her “cushy government job” and address her “professional tragedy” of never seeing a black-owned business come across her desk throughout her 20 year career. She had worked in 50 countries, lived on 3 continents, but never used her time or talent to help the black business community.
Challenging her fears of becoming an entrepreneur, and with help from a black-owned marketing company, Melissa formed BGBN. Success was immediate and Melissa attributes it to the richness of her existing relationships (in 54 African countries, Canada, the UK, and the Caribbean) and her ability simply to “listen to the people with the expertise.” In its inaugural virtual summit in April 2021, BGBN welcomed 1,100 attendees from 58 countries.
Melissa is often met with disbelief by black-owned entrepreneurs that the government resources she touts actually exist. Breaking down that barrier – the historical belief within the black community of a suspect Federal government – is part of the BGBN process.
BGBN provides exporting education, tests for global readiness, offers cultural competencies training, and incubates black-owned businesses at any and every stage. Its “done for you” solution means BGBN represents a company to government agencies.
Melissa’s best advice is that your mindset changes the game. Making the shift to an international focus and challenging your uncertainties isn’t easy – “keep the paycheck if you’re looking for easy” – but will leave you fulfilled.
Connect with Wendy - https://www.linkedin.com/in/wendypease/
Connect with Melissa: https://www.linkedin.com/in/melissa-muhammad-829a6a15/
Music: Fiddle-De-Dee by Shane Ivers - https://www.silvermansound.com
ATTENTION: Below is a machine generated transcription of the podcast. Yes, at Rapport International, we talk a lot about how machine translation is not good quality. Here you see an example of what a machine can do in your own your language. This transcription is provided as a gist and to give time indicators to find a topic of interest.
[00:01:00] Wendy: Welcome to another episode of the Global Marketing Show. We are continuing on with our series at the EXIM conference here in DC where we've talked to so many fascinating people, and I've got another one that we're gonna talk to now.
Her name is Melissa Muhammad, and she is the founder and CEO of Black and Global Business Network, and she's also an international tax attorney. So I am so fascinated to hear about your background and why you founded Black and Global Business Network. So Melissa, welcome.
Melissa: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
So tell me a little bit about your background and then why you founded Black and Global Business Network.
Melissa: Sure. So I am an international tax attorney. Most people don't know what that is, but when you [00:02:00] see large multinationals operating around the world, many of them do that through government resources.
So the government has resources to help, multinationals to be able to avoid. What's called double tax, and that's done through treaties. And so the government will send people like me around the world to be able to create opportunities or lower trade barriers and actually work with other countries in order to determine how much tax is paid in that foreign country.
Because the more tax you pay overseas, the less tax Uncle Sam gets coming back to the us. So the US always wants. Make sure that US businesses have a clear roadmap to not to be double taxed, which can stifle trade. And so that's what I did working for the government. Fascinating.
Wendy: Okay. So you were an employee of the US government mm-hmm.
then doing that to make sure that the companies got what they deserve and paid what they deserve? Yes. Okay. [00:03:00] So are you still doing that work now?
Melissa: Well, now I have transitioned into a different area of life. So in working with the government in 2020, after George Floyd, I started to look at how I had spent my decades right servicing, and I had, my professional tragedy was I'd never seen a black-owned business come to the government where I worked in order to get support to expand globally.
And I started to ask myself, Melissa, why don't you see black owned businesses in 20 years? I never saw one a served. . Wow. Yep. Not one. And so as I talked with colleagues trying to figure out and answer that question, I decided it was because, Melissa, you've been living in your good government job living around the world.
I worked in 50 countries, lived on three continents. I've trained tax officials in 153 nations, and I was having myself a [00:04:00] good old time, but not taking any of my time or talent to help the black business. C. and so I just decided to find a way to do that. Good for you.
Wendy: Mm-hmm. , I mean, but part of me is just so dismayed that 20 years you had never helped a black-owned business.
Mm-hmm. and the other part is completely inspired, so, so what did you decide to do?
Melissa: Well, actually, I read this book and I went to a conference because I thought that my value add was I know how to do expand a business globally through. And my, my, when I went to this conference, I was called the Global International Tax Network.
You couldn't tell me that wasn't sexy. I knew that was it. I knew that was the best game in town. And so I met a marketing company and they were call the black CEO and I fit their demographic. They were looking to help, businesses to start. I literally, I've never wanted to be an entre.
Like [00:05:00] never. No. Yeah. I, I'm a paycheck aholic. Yeah. For real. Yeah. I love a paycheck. Mm-hmm. . So when I went and I met this guy said, our number one problem is our addiction to our paycheck as our only source of income. I said, yep, that's me. That's me, that's me. I'm addicted to the paycheck. Right, right. Yeah.
And so I challenged my fears. I met with. and they told me that they could help me build a business. So fast forward I went through a process with them. I didn't know how to translate my talent, though. I didn't know how to take what I did and make it something that was usable for a business community.
And they created Blacking Global. And they, and listen, when they came up with the name, I said, black and Global. I don't even like that name, but my mindset said, Melissa, this is not your wheel. This is not your expertise. Listen to people who spend time [00:06:00] doing this, and I'm so glad that I did it. Yeah. Oh yes.
Yeah. Oh, I think it's how
Wendy: that started. It's so catchy. I mean, it's like black and gold, the global goes. Yeah. And it says exactly what you do. Yeah. And yeah. Okay. So you go, you decide to, to jump into this entrepreneurial
Melissa: venture. Yes. And so we had our very first summit, April, 2021. We were not even incorporated.
I just did what they said because I told them, listen, all you have to say put you, push the button and say Melissa talk. That's all I can do. I can talk, but somebody else has to push the button. And so that's what they did. They made the process easy. So the first summit was April it virtual, right? Cuz we're still in Covid.
Virtual summit was 1100 people came from 58. Yeah, fantastic. That I did not know what we had, Wendy, but I knew it was something. [00:07:00] Yeah. So after that I incorporated ,
Wendy: wait, so 58
Melissa: countries? Yeah, 58 countries. Because what I did was I leveraged the relationships that I had built in other countries. Like I had relationships with all 50, the tax administrations, and all 50.
Countries in Africa. Then I leveraged relationships that I had in Canada the UK and the Caribbean. And actually, so the organization that is similar to the United Nations, but they're in the Caribbean, they're called Cark, they're Secretary General spoke at our event. So I invited people, you know, to, to talk about international business, why you should go global, expanding your mind.
I just asked and people.
Wendy: Okay, so you had people from 58 countries that were coming in as experts and talking, but then the majority were black business owners that wanted
Melissa: to go through Oh, they were all, all a hundred percent. 100. All of them. All of them [00:08:00] were black-owned businesses.
Wendy: Black-owned businesses.
Yep. And there were that many people that were interested but had never accessed any of the government resources. You got
Melissa: it. Never let me, can I tell you how many times people tell us this is a scam? This is fake. The bank won't. The XM bank won. There's no such thing as XM Bank that will help us to sell globally.
There's no such thing as commerce that will help go. They have diplomats sitting in other countries to go get you contracts. I get told that all the
Wendy: time that it's a scam because they didn't know that it actually exists or that it's a scam because they tried and
Melissa: they couldn't get services.
Well the majority are the fir, the latter. So, because in the black community, we don't have a good history with the. , right? So there's always a level of suspicion, right? Yeah. And so part of our job is to really break down that suspicion, one, to validate it because it is true, right? And then secondly, two, start to break down that process.
So, okay, [00:09:00] so,
Wendy: and then when you're gathering a group of successful business owners together, you've got a larger voice to then say, what are the resources?
Melissa: And how do we get 'em? Let me tell you how we have grown. If I didn't, I, I would, I wouldn't believe it. No, seriously. Because look, we have, that was last year.
I just started to reach out to people, right? And ask people to come and talk about exporting and selling around the world. I would invite Millionaire Businesses, black home, who are currently selling globally. So one of the people that I invited and that accepted was Steadman Graham and was, I didn't even think he was gonna really show up on the.
And when he popped up on the Zoom, I was like, holy smokes. He really came . Oh, wow. So I, I interviewed him, talked about the countries he had sold into about the opportunities that, you know, that we have to think globally. He didn't know that the government had [00:10:00] resources to help you, so he did it all on his own.
Oh yeah, he did it all. Yeah. He had no idea. So we grew from that into me building a. because I've never intended to run this business by myself. So and then 2022, I'm telling you the things that we have done. So the Commerce Department had their very first minority business minority trade mission in the history of the United States government.
Wow. Never happened in history, Wendy. Right. So we applied right. And we helped our companies to. . There were 120 businesses that were interviewed and 12 were selected. Four of the 12 were black, and we were one of those 12. And what was so interesting for me was I just woke up with this epiphany and said, we're gonna go on this trade mission.
And I said, Melissa, you don't, you don't sell anything. You help people export. What do [00:11:00] you, you don't export anything. So I said, I'm going to go on this trade machine and. groups, trade associations and business associations that want to do business with black American businesses. That's what I said I was gonna do.
Yes. Now listen, if I was going to Africa or to the Caribbean, right? Mm-hmm. , then it would've been a li little easier, right? My mind is so gangster cuz I'm going, you know, you go through that battle in your mind like, can I do this? Can I not do this? So I've learned to lean into when I have fears, right?
That's one of the things I've. I talked this, this one to Italy, Portugal, and Spain. And I met with all three teams saying the exact same thing, saying This is who we want to meet with. Yeah. And they found there were over 200 groups that were interested in meeting with us, and we met with 55. . Wow.
Wendy: So that was a very successful trade mission.
Very. That elevated all the [00:12:00] people that you work with.
Melissa: We took companies, but it also elevated my mind Yes. And my confidence Yes. That I was like, holy smokes, I can, we can really do this. Yes. . So, so we grew from that to, we went to select USA in when was that? last summer, June, right. And then we went to, we had our second virtual summit in July, right?
Yeah. The day before we, we had our conference. I looked at the numbers registered for our conference now. Same. Same. Black CEO did our second conference, 3,247. I was like, this cannot be real. Listen, I did a screenshot and I sent it to the Department of Commerce. I was like, when you say you can't find black businesses, look at all of these businesses.
Wow. So we had a little over 1800 people to attend [00:13:00] and we had many countries, I don't even remember how many countries came to that event. And then we let me, just in October, we just took 15 companies to Miami to meet with 14 Caribbean posts. So we did, that was great. And that was in person and we had trained them, you know, for two months to be prepared for this trade mission.
And it was so validating. I mean, when I tell you, . I was like a mother, like watching them like go around and, and the, the trade officials were like, you all are so prepared, you're so organized. And, and they said, you know, typically we have to follow up with these businesses all the time, but you all have everything now.
Because we really wanted to make sure that they were ready to go. Right, right. So that fast forwarded into where we are now. So I was appointed. The advisory committee for XM Bank, right? Yes. We're 20 months old and I checked the numbers on Monday [00:14:00] before I came. We're at 4,269 members .
Wendy: Congratulations, Melissa.
Thank you. You, you filled a need that is desperate. So how are you helping the. Market, like I hear the trade missions and the introductions, which are really, really valuable around the world. Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . And then when they, I mean, are they doing websites? Are they, how are they handing the cultures and the languages?
Melissa: So the businesses they're at different levels right when they're working with us. So they all come in and we most of them have websites, right? Because you have to have a website. We don't do that level of service. We do educat. Global readiness and training, and then we have what we call a group solution, where we train you as a group and an incubator on how to go out and go to these seven agencies on your own.
And then we have a done for you solution. That's where my expertise come in, where we actually [00:15:00] represent the, the, the company and taking the company to the seven. So they learn to do that. We do cultural competencies, trainings, because you know, Wendy, when you go to these countries, if you need a translator, the embassy will get you a translator.
You don't have to speak the language in the country. Yes. . So, you know, it's, that's
Wendy: always my premise is if you know one language, well, you can speak 200 languages is what Rapport International provides because you can use an interpreter to help,
Melissa: you can use an interpreter, facilitator. Yeah, definitely. So, Uhhuh.
Wendy: Oh, that's fantastic. Now have you met Tracy Gray from the 22 Fund? No, she is also on the EXIM advisory board. Okay. And she invests in manufacturing companies that are Bipo or women owned. Okay. Yeah. Particularly in difficult area. You know, or disadvantaged areas that want to export. So I am [00:16:00] going to introduce the two of you today and she was a prior podcast episode.
So if you want to hear about what she's doing and certainly listen
Melissa: to all that, that's great. I'm gonna make sure to meet her today. I definitely have manufacturers that will be interested in talking with her.
Wendy: Yes, that's what I figured as I'm sitting here listening to each other. You two just have to marry each other up and share the resources.
Yeah. So Yeah, we're coming to the end. What recommendations do you have for any business or particularly black-owned businesses mm-hmm. that want to export or get better at
Melissa: it? Well, one, I would say your mindset, because I know that's what changed the game for me, especially as a non-entrepreneurial person.
If I can make the shift, anybody can make , can make the shift. so, so, And challenging your uncertainties, you know, even if it's not a fear, it just may be a lack of knowledge or uncertainty, and you think that it's extremely difficult. [00:17:00] Now, I'm not going to tell anybody that it's easy because business is not easy.
This you, you know, you probably want to keep the paycheck if you looking for the easier part of life. Not, not that this is not, I'm having the time of my life. Yes, I'm absolutely I no job. Ever fulfill me and look at all the places I've lived and the things that I've done, but nothing has ever fulfilled me to the degree of what I'm doing right now.
I really feel like I'm building a legacy that will live long beyond me. And so when you have that thought, lean into it and start to go and be around the people and take the classes and ask the questions. That's not gonna cost you a lot of. Just to start down the road. I had, I don't know how many business ideas and I know that, well, you, you, I got 50 minutes, no, five, 10 things I'm trying to do at the same time.
And people tell you just do one. Just do one. How do you do that? Nobody taught me that, [00:18:00] but I found my way is my point. Right? So trials, errors, mistakes. I made a lot of them. A lot of them, but I've won more than I've lost. So I would encourage anybody just to start working on your mindset and knowing that it is possible and just starting to ask the question.
Wendy: Good for you. You do have a lot of entrepreneur in you, ? I think
Wendy: yes. When you say it's, it's not easy, but it's the most fulfilling thing that I've ever done. Mm-hmm. and I have lots of ideas and people. Telling me to pick one. Mm-hmm. , that, that, those are, those are said by every entrepreneur. . Okay. Oh,
Melissa: I'll receive that.
Wendy: Okay. Where can people reach you if they'd like
Melissa: to learn more? Definitely. So www.black, B L a c k and a n d global G L O B A L Business Network. Do. [00:19:00] All spelled out, and you can go there and you can hit the contact us form and you can definitely follow up with me there. See, I've learned we have a team because if you email Melissa, you're not going to get an answer for a very, very long time.
Melissa's at the XM conference, but if you email the team, they will follow up with you right away. Oh, that's
Wendy: fantastic, Melissa. Yeah. And you, you know, this question's coming for our. What is your favorite foreign word? Ah, okay. So tell us why it's your favorite
Melissa: and what's it mean
So I speak Japanese. I lived in Tokyo for a few years and I actually worked for the Japanese government. I am the only non-Japanese person to ever work for their tax administration. Wow. Yeah, and I have to study. At the Diplomatic Language School in Virginia, in Arlington? Yes. For a [00:20:00] whole year before I went to live in Tokyo, but I went there under a program that's called the Mansfield Fellowship, and I worked for the Japanese government.
I thought these people were gonna put me in a corner somewhere. Right. And I wasn't gonna do anything real. Mm-hmm. . I did so much work because it was easier for me to translate from Japanese to English than for many of. , right. So a lot of the projects I ended up doing and the Japanese have an export strategy where they export their tax administration to many countries around the world.
Meaning? Yeah, so they will train country officials. So I work with, uh, officials from 40 emerging markets when I was there because their mindset is that they want the tax administrations in those. To understand the mindset of Japanese tax administration so that when their multinationals come into that market, they understand [00:21:00] how that multinational operates.
Wendy: brilliant. That is actually brilliant. Train the people so they know how to do it rather than struggling all the
Melissa: time. Yeah. Right. So they create a great landing for their companies. And so I help them with that in working with, opportunity, so Right. Yeah. So I, so I had to learn Japanese and be fluent in Japanese in order to do that.
Wendy: if it's any consolation or, so, you know, most people who are professional translators only translate into their native language. It's much easier to go that way. It's rare for somebody to go from their native language into their learning language. Oh, okay. That's a good way to screen for a translator too.
Melissa: Oh, okay. Cool. But you know what was interesting for me, my under. Minor was in Spanish, right? So when I learned Japanese, I couldn't go from English to Japanese. I had to go from English to Spanish to Japanese, and I had to bridge from [00:22:00] Spanish. And still to the, unfortunately my Japanese teacher was married to a Spanish man and she lived and worked in Spain.
Wendy: So she knew when you were jumping into Spanish
Melissa: rather than Japan. , I thought in Spanish. I couldn't think in English to Ja. Uh, everything in my head was from Spanish to Japanese . It was insane. And so I still do it to this day, so yeah, yeah,
Wendy: yeah. No, I get, I get it, I get it. I speak some Spanish, French, and Italian and when.
Learned Italian and messed up my Spanish and French, so I had to push the Italian aside to keep the languages I knew so well. Melissa, thank you so much. This has just been so inspiring to talk to you and hear about your, your journey over the last couple of years and what you've grown.
Melissa: Well, thank you, Wendy.
I appreciate it and this has been enjoyable talking with you all this afternoon. Thank you. .