Lance Black loves establishing relationships that turn into growth. “I love meeting people and seeing what makes them tick. I love to make business relationships, not necessarily because I want to do business with people — that’s always nice — but I’m curious about what makes a business successful and what makes it fail,” he says.
As CEO and partner of EKR, Black’s business is marketing and branding, Web design, Web development, and digital marketing. “Marketing is a great, underutilized method to grow businesses, so I love coming up with successful marketing tactics,” he says.
Black established Eli Kirk after completing an M.B.A. at Brigham Young University. He also holds an undergraduate degree in computer science from BYU but says it was the graduate business classes that lit up his world. “It was the first time I’d ever had a finance class or an accounting class, let alone a marketing class. The knowledge I gained through coursework and case studies gave me courage to start Eli Kirk.” Apart from what you learn in classes, he says the networks you establish in school can set you up for success. He’s currently doing business with several people he met in college.
In 2015 Eli Kirk acquired Riser, an award-winning creative agency in Utah Valley whose high-profile clients included ABC, Disney, Fox, and Google. The two seasoned agencies became EKR. “The acquisition positions us to be one of the leading creative agencies in the region, so we’re really excited about it,” says Black. Most of the 75 EKR employees occupy light, colorful office space on the third floor of the historic Taylor Brothers building in downtown Provo. A few work on location with clients.
A quoter of adages, Black says that luck comes dressed in gloves, a hard hat, and bib overalls. There is something to be said for being in the right place at the right time, he points out, but when you see an opportunity, you need the courage to act on it. “You need to make your own luck through hard work. That's the way my dad did his business, it's the way I started this business, and it's the reason EKR continues to do business," he says.
In addition to hard work, Black credits his professional success to the support of his wife, Michelle, and to his education. After a moment’s thought, he adds growing up on a farm to that list. Having serious responsibilities by age 10, he learned not to fear hard work or failure. “Life is hard sometimes, and it’s okay if you get bucked off,” he says.
Failure is a normal part of life that we shouldn’t fear, says Black, who’s not a fan of the current practice of giving every child a participation trophy. It’s okay to come in last at a track meet or to make a spelling error in an email. Just learn from it — acknowledge the mistake, and do better the next time. Some of the best successes come from failure. “The fact that I trust my employees to succeed and back them when they fail is, I think, the best leadership quality that I can share with them,” he says.
Black has hired several Utah Valley University alumni over the years. He says, “When I hire UVU graduates, they hit the ground running. They’re well trained, passionate, and not afraid of work. If that’s any indication of what the future of UVU means to this Valley, I think it’s a big one.” He points to another adage: “A rising tide lifts all boats, and I think UVU is the tide that lifts us all — community members, businesses and students. UVU is producing the future leaders and parents who will make their homes in Utah Valley, will work here, and will pay taxes here.”
As a UVU Foundation Board member, Black is bringing his marketing and branding expertise to bear on the University. A member of the Foundation’s Engagement Committee, he is helping to define the Foundation’s messaging, branding, and identity. He says, “By keeping everyone on a clear and concise message that reaches our target audience, we can generate more revenue and offer more scholarships and opportunities for our young people. My kids will go to UVU, and that’s really what’s motivating me to contribute and to figure out if I can help in some small way to make UVU a better institution.” He believes UVU is more nimble and will be better able to adapt to Utah’s future educational needs than any other institution.
At Foundation Board meetings, Black looks forward to whom he’ll shake hands with and what stories they’ll exchange as much as to how they are going to improve UVU. “I am thrilled to rub shoulders with the great people on the board,” he says. “They are all brilliant business leaders who are passionate about doing the right thing.”
“I’m a math and science person, but you can’t forget that creativity drives economies,” says Black. That’s why he’s delighted with UVU’s plans to add an arts building. “There’s a lot of math and science behind your iPhone, but why do you love it? Because it’s made by a creative company. Somebody went to an art school in order to design it.”
Black admires President Matthew S. Holland’s fundraising success toward the arts building. “Watching him build passion around this building and get community support behind it was inspiring. He’s the type of guy you’d want as your leader in battle,” he says. He also admires President Holland’s low-key leadership style. Mentioning a favorite quote (by Pauline Phillips, a.k.a. Abigail Van Buren), he says, “There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who walk into a room and say, ‘Here I am,’ and those who walk into a room and say, ‘There you are.’ President Holland is the second. Sometimes I’ll find myself more like the first person. But I want to be more like the second person. You get a lot further in life if you stop caring about numero uno and start caring about others.”
Asked if he’s received any awards lately, Black tosses out “Daddy of the Year.” He and Michelle have six children and he confides that he wishes he had 15. “I just love babies, and I can’t wait for grandkids,” he says. The youngest of eight children himself, he has 54 nieces and nephews.
In order to squeeze in family time, Black turns down some of the invitations he gets to serve on community boards, but he has served on the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce Board for several years and was instrumental in the change from Provo-Orem Chamber of Commerce and the messaging associated with it. He currently serves on the chamber’s Board of Governors.