Tyrone "Tye" Caldwell is a lifelong student of human relationships. His formal study began early, as his mom and dad started teaching him how to talk to adults and how to socialize. As he reached school age, and then as a teenager, his parents briefed him on how, as a Black man, he needed to be cautious and intentional in his interactions with police. That early attention to fraught communications has served him well in his efforts to build, sustain, and expand his two businesses: Salon 74 by Tye, based in Plano, Texas, and ShearShare, a technology platform, co-founded with his wife, Courtney, to match stylists with available space at salons. --As told to Kimberly Weisul
I grew up in a small town in Arkansas, the seventh of eight kids. They called my dad the mayor. He knew a lot about relationships. My dad had friends who were racist White people, but they generally liked him. I understood racism was here, but I also knew about building those relationships. My mom and dad started teaching us those things when we were 5 or 6 years old. As soon as we went to school, they were showing us how we should be able to talk, how we should socialize.
I was never the type of person to do things online. I am really about relationships. Most of the friends I have today in high positions are because of that. When I would pay my lease, I would pay it in person. Even the owner of the building would say that no one does this.
Once when I was paying my rent and looking to expand my business, the landlord happened to be in the office. I mentioned I would love to have a talk with him. My wife and I went in. I said I wanted to take over this particular space that was right beside my business. It had been an insurance company that couldn't stay in business. I showed the landlord what I was paying, and I told him what I wanted to pay for both spaces. He said let's meet with your accountant. We met again. I'm talking about not even a handful of hundreds of dollars more to get a large space and combine them. He says, OK, I can do that. But I had to build it out with my own money. I said if he would give me free rent for a year, I could build it out. He said yes.
You know why that was? It was because I had built that relationship and I was upgrading my space. I've upgraded my space four times since I've been in that location. I was a tenant, I was there for a long time, and I was never late in rent.
With my bank, it was tougher. The banks really don't trust the industry as a whole. If you are an employee and you want a loan, they have guidelines. But if you're an independent businessperson, there are no guidelines. I've seen a lot of racism when it comes to banks not wanting to allow African-Americans to get the loans they need.
I remember having a perfect credit score. I was saving money, and I wanted a line of credit to match what I had in the bank. I wanted to start somewhere. I had been at that bank for years. There was an older White lady who told me I would get the loan.
In 2006, I was turned down. I was really disappointed. This particular bank had cycled through a lot of managers. It was a training ground for managers to get to the next level in their career. I happened to have a racist manager at that particular time. I thought about just taking all my money out.
I ended up going to another bank just to deposit a few checks. The bank manager there was new, an African-American man. At the end of the day, he would go through the list of everyone who had come into the bank -- and I would always go to the bank in person. He called me. He said, "I saw you come in, and we're glad to have you here. Is there anything you need?" I said I wanted a line of credit. He said, "Let me look at everything," and then he asked me why I got turned down. I was like, "I don't know." He said, "I'm from Atlanta. People like you walk into banks and get loans all day long." This was in Plano, Texas. I said I thought it had more to do with my race.
A few months later, he ended up getting me the line of credit and everything that I wanted. And I had been going to the bank every week.
If I were doing this again, I would do it a little differently. I would go to the bank first and ask them what they would need to get me a line of credit, rather than waiting until I thought I was ready, and then asking for it. At the time, I was thinking as a businessman. Now I'm thinking seven steps ahead.
It's one thing to go out in the world as a human and another to go out in the world with a badge of color. I have a 19-year-old son, and I've had to be teaching him these things for years. To know we are feared, as drivers, as just a person walking down the street because of our skin color, is a very scary thing. It shows that people are not only insecure, but creating fear within themselves about the color of our skin.
I try to teach kids that you have to build relationships. There is something about looking someone in the eyes and realizing the authenticity of who they are. As you go through school, build a family business -- whatever you're trying to do, it's going to be through relationships.
I tell young people that education is great. You need to have the education. But you also need to realize that you have to be prepared as an adult. When you step out into this world, even if you're not ready for it, it's going to be ready for you.