“Relationships are king. Take seriously the opportunities Rutgers affords you not only to learn your discipline, but also to develop deep relationships with teachers and colleagues. The social capital you develop now will create the foundation for your future. Relationships are king.”
Lawrence Hibbert holds both a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and MBA degree from Rutgers. As an undergraduate, he co-founded MBS Educational Services and Training. Today he is a co-founder, president, and managing partner of BCT Partners, a national consulting firm focused on understanding diverse populations and applying technology expertise to solutions that create a more just society, which was named to the 2019 BE100s list of the nation’s top-earning African American companies. A 2008 inductee in the Rutgers African-American Alliance Hall of Fame, he has also been honored as a “Forty Under 40” award recipient by The Network Journal. He is an ordained deacon and Vice Chair of the Diaconate at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, NJ. He delivered the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture during SoE 2020 Engineers Week.
Where did you grow up?
Both my mother and father, George and Melida Hibbert, were immigrants from Panama. I was born in Brooklyn, but raised in Plainfield, NJ after the age of 5.
My father desired to be an engineer. While he was in the top 5% of his high school class, he didn’t have a way to go to university and study engineering in Panama. In large part, I am his hope and dream. He was mechanically inclined and worked as a tradesman for 35 years and was always fixing things. So, I was no stranger to fixing cars and appliances. This practical connection, his aspiration to be an engineer – and even comic books like Iron Man –fed my direction.
Ironically, Rutgers was lower on my list than other schools. I got into Georgia Tech, for example, but was too scared and immature to go so far from home. So, it was a might as well go to Rutgers decision.
But that all changed with the EOF summer program. That program and the relationships built there set the trajectory for my personal and professional life thereafter. It absolutely made Rutgers the number one place for me to be.
What relationships did you establish that summer?
Dallas Grundy, a co-founder of BCT Partners and current vice dean at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, was my EOF roommate. We grew to be brothers. I was best man at his wedding, and he at mine, and he is godfather to my kids.
What prompted you to found MBS as a student?
Dallas and I were members of the Rutgers chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, or NSBE. Our fellow BCT founders Randal Pinkett and Jeffrey Robinson – who were roommates – were a year ahead of us and were our informal mentors within the group. The four of us grew to be very much connected and in support of each other.
Through NSBE, we developed a working relationship that laid on top of our friendship. After leading NBSE workshops to encourage younger people to pursue engineering degrees, people started to ask us to come back. It was great to get paid to do something we loved. This was the start of Mind, Body and Soul or MBS Educational Service and Training. We started doing professional training on and off campus – it was training by young people for young people.
Why did you establish BCT Partners in 2001?
BCT Partners, or Building Community with Technology Partners, is the next substantiation of the ethos and spirit of MBS.
How has the company grown?
Now in our 20th year as BCT partners, we have about 75 employees, and well over 100 with consultative staff. In addition to Newark, we have staff in Atlanta, San Francisco, Kansas City, Missouri, Denver, Seattle and the DC area.
We’ve been providing services to the federal government since 2004. The core of our work is providing technical assistance, business systems support, and research and evaluation to federal government agencies and non-profits connected to social programs such as Head Start.
On behalf of the federal government, we run, manage, assess or evaluate programs. And we help large non-profits like the RWJ Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Casey Foundation with innovative, programmatic support as they look to bring new ideas to fruition that address social and economic challenges.
What challenges do you face today?
BCT doesn’t run in lockstep with political leadership – we’ve had success on both sides. Right now, though, we’re seeing that many of the government’s larger social programs are at risk.
We’ve been branching out into more e-learning and simulation-based training. We’ve partnered with another firm to build experiences where you can put on virtual reality goggles and walk in the shoes of another race, gender, or ethnic group. You can literally sit at the table and understand first-hand what it’s like to experience the kind of microaggressions these groups have long endured.
What are you most proud of?
Right now we’re doing interesting work in culture, diversity, and inclusion that harkens back to our MBS days. We’re looking at how equity affects communities, supply chains, and relationships and finding that people need training to see how they can work together in a workplace – and understand a diverse customer base. Unconscious bias, conscious inclusion, inclusive management – are all issues to consider in finding ways to help organizations be more effective within their workforces and with the people they serve.
Has your mission changed over the past 20 years?
While we’re primarily a government consulting firm, we’ve also shifted our mission to focus on providing insight about diverse people who need equity.
We understand diverse people and communities and have the kind of experiential knowledge that gives real insights. We also have the technical knowledge to use data to inform how decisions are made. For example, we are using predictive and prescriptive analytics on existing client data to uncover what’s working well for their stakeholders. We combine insight and data to help clients close the equity gap in their delivery of services to communities of color or diverse backgrounds.
We look to see how we might use data to help illuminate disparities occurring in the criminal justice system, or the differences in the way treatment is delivered in mental health institutions.
We want to understand these differences to make sure everyone gets fair and equitable treatment.
Were you mentored as a student?
Yes. I’d highlight all the work being done by the Office of Student Development and its ability to understand students and provide customized support.
Mechanical engineering professor Dr. Haym Benaroya gave me another shot when I was struggling in classes. He was so willing to sit and work with me. He showed me the importance of lending your confidence in others until they realize their own potential.
Africana studies at Rutgers had a great impact on each of us, reminding us we have responsibility not just to succeed on our own, but that we all must rise – to care for our communities, acknowledge the ancestors whose shoulders we stand on, and inspire the people in front of us.
Are you a mentor?
Absolutely. As an alumnus, if I have an opportunity to talk or work with students, I’ll take it. Through speaking and workshops, I try to encourage students to pursue their own entrepreneurial ventures. Informally, I have a handful of mentees, to whom I offer support and advice.
Does BCT recruit new employees from Rutgers?
We do. We look to SoE and to student run organizations, as places that are seeding the next generation of engineers
What advice would you give students today knowing what you know now?
First, take seriously the opportunities Rutgers affords you to not only to learn your discipline, but also to develop deep relationships with teachers and colleagues. The social capital you develop now will create the foundation for your future. Relationships are king.
Second, make sure you expand your mind. It’s not good enough to be technically sound, you need to grow an entrepreneurial mindset and learn to understand the world around you and how the work you do fits into it. Don’t be too narrowly focused – open your mind to get a full and rich experience.
Third, explore and try new things. Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone and meet new people and exchange new ideas to help discover where your path might lead.
What did you do for fun at Rutgers?
I love sports and spent lots of time playing basketball. I really enjoyed parties and dances. My saving grace was that I got connected with guys who kept me focused – but I had no problem going to a party.
What do you do for fun these days?
We’re a sports family and I’ve passed down sports to my teen-aged sons, Caleb and Joshua. I coach my sons in baseball and basketball. I still like to dance and go to the movies with my wife Patrell, and I’m involved in my church.
What is your favorite TV show?
I am a This is Us fan. I love that show.
If you were to go on vacation tomorrow, where would you go?
The next places on our list are Ghana or South Africa.