Keeping it real in Compton Featured

7:44am EDT July 29, 2006
Compton. The name alone is enough to evoke negative images.

To the rest of the country, Compton is associated with street gangs, controversial gangster rap music and the 1992 riots.

Yet in a city that has been held up as a poster child for the issues of gang violence and urban decay, Belkin Corp. has found a home.

At first, Compton was a pragmatic choice for CEO Chet Pipkin. Located about halfway between the area’s Pacific ports and Los Angeles International Airport, Compton made sense as a way to stay connected to Belkin’s Asian production centers.

But over the past 15 years, Compton has become more than just a place to do business, he says. Pipkin now sees it as a community with potential, a place looking for involved leaders, a city that has been unfairly slandered as “the ’hood.”

Community involvement is part of Pipkin’s business philosophy. He believes a business must completely embrace the city it calls home. If it doesn’t, it won’t flourish, he says.

“There are a lot of folks around here that will use the Compton ZIP code, but for the city, they will say they are in Rancho Dominguez,” he says. “But the city we’re in is Compton. Recognize it and embrace it.”

Much as he does with his business, Pipkin stresses education and a fact-based approach when it comes to Compton.

When recruiting new employees, he gives them the facts about the area, including the crime rate in the area around Belkin’s facility (“which is very, very low,” he says), and the accessibility of law enforcement. He says if he can build credibility with prospective employees, they are more likely to look past Compton’s reputation and see the potential of the area.

Beyond that, Pipkin’s company has integrated itself into the community. Belkin is active in city government, community causes and development opportunities. Becoming an active community participant is essential for any inner-city company, he says. Once the local government and schools see the business community reaching out, those entities will be encouraged to build mutually beneficial relationships with businesses, he says.

One of ways Belkin makes itself visible to the Compton community is through a yearly summer camp for area youths run by former Lakers forward A.C. Green.

“As part of that camp, the kids come to Belkin and explore some areas of what we do,” Pipkin says, “He stresses to the kids that the odds of making a career in the NBA are very small, so they should look at other career opportunities.”

Pipkin has been involved with children and teens since his days working at various YMCAs in and around Los Angeles. It is something he values greatly, and believes other CEOs should as well.

“Reach out to the schools,” he says. “Education is such a critical component for all of us. Any kind of meaningful changes are going to happen over the years because of education.”