Two CEOs, one couple: husband-wife duo seek solutions for Black employees, students in tech industry

Aaron Boehmer, Life & Arts Reporter

Working at a residence hall front desk in 2012, Deseré checks Michael, a junior transfer, into student housing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Now, the married couple celebrates their first year of business for TwoWards Solutions, an Austin-based consulting firm they co-founded in September 2021. Within their firm, the couple creates problem-solving strategies to help brands and clients — predominantly BIPOC and women.

Deseré Cross Ward leads TwoWards as CEO while Michael Ward Jr. heads the Austin Urban Technology Movement as CEO and president, working to bridge the gap between Black and Hispanic communities and the technology industry. 

Across the couple’s individual and collective work, they maintain a focus on meeting the needs of Black companies, employees and students, from leading Black employee resource groups to producing brand strategies. Michael said this work fulfills what he wished he saw growing up. 

“Growing up, I didn’t see a Black techie,” Michael said. “It’s about having those conversations for the Black students (and) parents because usually, we’re not having those conversations in our household (or) education system. We need organizations that are very proactive and direct to expose, train and develop you (into) an expert.” 

In 2016, the couple moved to Austin together, where Michael worked at tech company Oracle and Deseré began working at UT, eventually managing social media for former University president Gregory Fenves. Deseré also served on the executive team of the Black Faculty and Staff Association and graduated with a master’s degree in higher education leadership and policy in 2021. 

“I was able to leverage the position I had in the president’s office to make sure the University was taking care of its Black faculty, staff and students,” Deseré said. “I was the only Black person in the office of communications (and) the president’s office, so I offered that perspective — not speaking for all Black students, but (providing that) unique perspective.”  

Deseré also helped create State of Black UT 2021, a virtual event highlighting the historical and current state of affairs for UT’s Black community. By August 2021, Deseré left the University to start TwoWards. 

Meanwhile, Michael continued working within Austin’s tech industry, maintaining a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. In 2019, Michael became president and CEO of the Austin Urban Technology Movement, where he works to close the racial wealth gap. Black and Hispanic or Latino households earn about half as much as white households, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve.

“Once we accomplish our mission, not only will we see more Black and Hispanic people inside the tech space, but we’ll also see Black and Hispanic people improve their quality of life, have more income (and) be able to stay where they are,” Michael said.   

Additionally, Michael sits on the external advisory committee for the Texas Engineering Executive Education at the Cockrell School of Engineering. Konavis Smith, the director of strategic partnerships and programs at TxEEE, said he believes both of the Wards’ work addresses inequity within Austin.  

“Michael and Deseré bring a lot of perspectives that are very interesting to sectors that are lacking diversity,” Smith said. “They are … trying their best to bridge that gap between what is needed (and) lacking in the community and making those changes happen.” 

While the CEO pair look to provide opportunities and access to communities throughout Austin and on campus, Michael and Deseré said they feel driven at a personal level in planning to build a legacy for their children. 

“(Michael and I) plan on having several more kids, God-willing,” Deseré said. “My hope for the future is (that) our kids take interest in (our) businesses.”