When Jerome Horton, chair of the California State Board of Equalization (BOE), was an undergraduate at California State University, Dominguez Hills, he and other enterprising students were involved in the “Associated Bachelors,” an entrepreneurial group that promoted concerts in small venues, and used the proceeds to partially fund their education. The performers who were booked were usually the lesser-known opening act of a big-name musician appearing in the Los Angeles area. Many of these up-and-coming artists went on to make even bigger names for themselves, including George Benson and Smokey Robinson.
“We got to a point where we were generating $70,000 to $80,000 a year,” says Horton (Class of ’79, B.S., business administration/accounting), who established the enterprise while still a student at El Camino College (ECC). “A well-known artist would be at the Forum… and we would promote their opening act at a different venue. They were in town anyway, so we didn’t have to pay for them to fly here, and could get them less expensively to perform at a smaller venue.
“All of the business strategies we were learning in school applied to those ventures, which is what I encourage now.”
Horton, a former California Assemblyman, actively supports the aspirations of the next generation of entrepreneurs and policy makers with the current incarnation of the BOE’s internship program, which gives student interns valuable business and financial experience. Having served as an intern himself with BOE while attending ECC, he says that the experience inspired and encouraged him in his studies and goals.
“The BOE interfaces with every business in the state and is the largest tax administration agency in the nation,” says Horton. “[Our internship program] introduces the student to major accounting and law firms and businesses throughout the state of California.
“An internship with the BOE certainly serves [students] well on their resume. At the same time, it is a huge benefit to the state of California to train and prepare college students at the internship level so that by the time they graduate, they can hit the ground running.”
Horton launched a new program this year that ran from April to June, with a pilot cohort of 24 interns from CSU Dominguez Hills, who were recruited with the assistance of the university’s Career Center. Interns reported to one of BOE’s four field offices within the Fourth District of the Los Angeles region, which includes Norwalk, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Culver City. The interns gained experience in registering businesses with BOE, monitoring compliance activity, and assisting in the collection of business taxes. As a result of the internship, 16 CSU Dominguez Hills students have been hired as full-time employees by BOE, four of whom have been hired on a permanent basis. Horton will expand the program this fall to include students from other California universities.
“Dominguez Hills is my alma mater and the curriculum there is perfect for individuals going into finance and accounting,” Horton says of why he chose CSU Dominguez Hills as the pilot campus for the internship. “The talent pool was exceptionally high and I wanted the best and brightest to ensure that the program was successful.”
Horton, who has 22 years of prior experience on the BOE, is the first African American to serve on the board and the third African American constitutional officer of the state of California. He was a member of the Inglewood City Council, and served as a state assemblyman from 1996 to 2006. Following that, he established Strategic Advocates, a political public policy advocacy firm, which he operated until his appointment by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the Board of Equalization in 2009.
Horton actively encourages the growth of partnerships between the state and its universities as part of the efforts to rebuild California’s economy.
“What I envision are partnerships [between] universities and major corporations—including state government—to develop the workforce for California based on the needs of the business community, so that the students have a greater opportunity for employment while in college and after college,” he says. “The BOE is responsible for generating $48 billion for the state of California, so anything we can do to improve our efficiency improves revenue for the state. Partnership with our local universities is an efficient way to identify future executives.”
As a former member of the California Workforce Investment Board, Horton worked collaboratively to develop workforce training and career advancement for Californians. He also played a key role in establishing initiatives to serve at-risk youth and to reduce gang participation and juvenile crime. Among his projects were the California Gang Reduction, Intervention, & Prevention (CalGRIP), which provides education and professional training to at-risk and high-risk youth through the Governor’s Office of Gang and Youth Violence Policy, and year-round youth programs through the Workforce Investment Act, which provides education and job training for low-income youth.
Horton says that empowering the underserved has been a major focus of his career, largely inspired by the example of his late mother, Percy L. Horton, who was a champion of civil rights. Her efforts included opposing the seizing of private homes through eminent domain for the development of the Centinela Hospital Medical Center. She was also active in the NAACP.
“My mother had the greatest influence over me,” Horton says. “She was a civil rights activist and a mother who loved and cared for her children. She encouraged us to be good people and do the right thing. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be here today.
“It’s important that you care about other people… to be driven by your concern and compassion for others. If you can figure out a way to help someone else, you will help yourself in the process.”