Alumni Answers: Salim Holder ’07S (MBA)

The following is a Q&A with Salim Holder, a 2007 graduate of Simon’s MBA program and co-founder and CEO of 4th Ave Market.

Salim Holder '07 (MBA)Tell us a little about what your pre-entrepreneurial career in marketing/branding was like after you left Simon. How did that lead you to your current role as CEO of 4th Ave Market?
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to run my own business. I wasn’t really sure in what, but I knew that was something that I wanted to do. More importantly, I wanted to run a business that had a positive impact on the community it served. I have always felt compelled to see the world and my contribution to it as something much bigger than me. Getting my MBA was the first step in this pursuit. I learned about business at Hampton University, mastered it at Simon, and set out to get some hands-on experience with real companies. For the next ten years post-MBA, I was able to manage some of the largest global brands in multiple categories and in multiple regions of the world. I learned to turn around declining brands, drive deeper engagement in stale and mature product categories, and deliver double-digit gains in revenue and significant improvements in profitability in nearly every category I worked in. As much as I loved what I was learning and what I was able to achieve, I never lost sight of my original mission of having a positive impact on the broader community. After ten years working in the corporate world, I decided to step out in faith to pursue my entrepreneurial endeavors. I figured if I can help these other businesses grow by millions of dollars a year, I could do the same for myself.  

So, in January of 2018, I decided to chart my own path. Part of doing so brought me to General Assembly, where I am a distinguished instructor for a digital marketing certification course and digital marketing workshops. In June of 2018, my current business partner and I purchased an E-Commerce company to become the largest Black-owned online beauty and hair retailer in the US…and 4th Ave Market was born.

What skills did you learn at Simon that best prepared you for your current role?
The quantitative, economics-based approach to business that Simon taught me has significantly boosted my career. Prior to Simon, my professional experience focused largely on the qualitative “soft” skills. Being able to use data to drive my decision making process and being able to take a structured approach to problem solving has proven invaluable for me.

What is your advice for prospective students? Or what was the best piece of advice you received?
Best advice I received during my MBA program was to focus on the learning and not on the test results. In other words, “Bs get degrees.” While I’ve always been a competitive person seeking to be at the top of everything I do, I realized the grades would have no impact on career trajectory, but what would be important was my ability to grasp and use the information. Since life is an open book test, we can always use our notes, books, etc. after graduating to get the right answer, but it requires a strong understanding of the topic and questions that need to be answered.

Tell me a little about where the idea for 4th Ave Market came from. What is the meaning behind the name?
For decades, people of color have been underserved by the retail industry. Major retailers and manufacturers have treated the needs of the Black community as an afterthought. Access to relevant products is limited or controlled by others who are not from and/or do not invest back into the Black community. Meanwhile, Black innovators and business owners are systematically blocked from gaining distribution and awareness of their innovative products. Furthermore, the most influential people in the hair care community, such as barbers and stylists, are undervalued and underrepresented in the field of brand partnership opportunities. What’s shocking is that this hasn’t always been this way.

Less than a hundred years ago, “Black-owned” pockets of a segregated America were economic powerhouses. Whether they were Black-owned banks, schools, courthouses, or salons and local stores, the Black dollar circulated seamlessly through the Black community ten times more than it does today. The 4th Avenue District in Birmingham, Alabama, was a mecca of economic vitality and one of the most successful examples of the entrepreneurial power of the Black community. It is the inspiration for 4th Ave Market.   

Over the past few months there has been additional momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement and broader issues of social justice, and your company is a leader in this space. Can you tell us a little more about the intersection of your professional ventures and your passion for social justice and equity?
In my experience, I have seen that the playing field is not even. While Black consumers spend $2.5B in hair and beauty products—which represents 85% of sales of ethnic hair care products—they only own 7% of the stores. We shouldn’t have to fight to get a seat at the table; instead, we can create our own table. We shouldn’t just participate in industries; we need to be owners of the industries we participate in. I believe a strong economic platform is essential to achieving social justice and equity. Luckily, we don’t have to recreate the wheel as we have great frameworks in the 4th Ave District from Birmingham, Alabama, and Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

If individuals are interested in supporting 4th Ave Market, what are some of the best ways to do so—either directly or indirectly?

  • Become a loyal shopper at 4thaveMarket.com
  • Share our story and site with a friend—help us get PR opportunities!
  • Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
  • Pass along our information to an entrepreneur making amazing hair, personal, care and beauty products.
  • Become an investor in 4th Ave Market. 

Watch Salim talk more about life as an open book test during a visit to campus for Scholarship Weekend in 2016.

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