I had the pleasure of speaking with a young woman from one of the Eastern European countries earlier this month. She told me of her start in business. She came to the U.S. as an adult, having no knowledge of English. The only job she could find was at the 7-Eleven. But this was not her American Dream. She worked hard to learn the language but still could not find a job that satisfied that dream.
So, she decided to start her own business. According to her, "Since I was the only one who wanted to hire me, then I decided to hire me."
What does it take to be an entrepreneur-to strike out on your own and hire yourself?
Well, you need courage to face the uncertainty of the future-courage to overcome the internal voice that tells you that failure is likely, courage to step out from under the security umbrella that comes with having a steady job. It takes a person who is brave enough to take the first step toward an endeavor and be the final say-to know that their success (and often the success and security of others) relies on them entirely, to know that the buck stops with you.
That's the kind of courage that Hiten Patel (Going All In) had when he acquired the company that is today known as Collabera. He took the chance, left the corporate world, and braved the unknown. But, courage alone is not enough. It also takes vision-the kind that Hernan Etcheto (An Incredible Edible) had when he looked at an egg and saw more than meets the eye. He saw the potential for improvement. And so he went out on his own to make that improvement. His new product represents a major step forward for the food sciences with benefits for our service men and women and many others living in places where fresh food isn't a luxury that they can afford.
It takes tenacity-the kind Lisa Michelle Chretien (Making Moves) showed when she burst into an industry dominated by men with little experience running a business. Chretien, who today has contracts with some of the most impressive trade show regulars, didn't throw her hands in the air and give up in the face of S-corps and C-corps, neither did she when she looked around the room and saw few female cohorts. She was going to start her own business in the trade show industry, and that was final. If tried and failed-fine. But she was going to try.
Most of all, I believe it takes a strong belief in one's self and the willingness to work hard. That's what these entrepreneurs had and that's what they did. That young lady is very successful now and I hope one day soon to be able to tell her story in our pages. Until then, we will continue to celebrate your successes through courage, vision, and tenacity, by telling your stories. But, remember, we won't know them unless you share them with us. Go ahead and connect with us via social media or just drop us a line when you have something to say.
Do diversity suppliers make an effort to do business with each other?
That's the question a member of the Alliance of Supplier Diversity Professionals LinkedIn group asked about three months ago. The question intrigued me, so I posed it to MBE's LinkedIn group members as well as our local Minority Business Enterprise Input Committee (MBEIC) LinkedIn group. A consensus emerged in the responses-while many diverse suppliers make an attempt to do business with one another; there is a tremendous amount of room for improvement.
Much of the focus within the supplier diversity community is on doing business with major corporations-selling products and services to them, becoming a meaningful part of their supply chain. If we ever hope to walk the walk with one another, we have to start to talk the talk with one another. One of the easiest ways to start to develop new minority- and woman-owned (M/WBE) business-to-business connections is by bringing those business relationships to the same level of conversational prominence as business with corporations.
Supplier diversity is not an end in and of itself-it is only good in so far as it accomplishes the building of wealth in underserved and underutilized communities, only good if it brings the people in the margins out of them. Integration into the corporate supply chain is an excellent way to accomplish that goal, but it shouldn't stop there. If, as a community, we expect others to utilize our services, we ought to be the first to utilize them for our own businesses.
As part of this effort, we need to develop the tools to make sure certified M/WBE suppliers are just as accessible to other certified M/WBEs as they are to major corporations. With technology as an ally, no one should be left to wonder if they could have hired a diverse supplier but didn't because of a lack of information. The local and national councils are perfectly positioned to accomplish this.
The Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) has always made access to its certified WBEs available through its WBENCLink website. There, corporate members and WBEs alike are able to search and find WBE partners and suppliers. Is it any wonder there are more WBE-to-WBE connections being made every day? Now, the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) is poised to do the same for its corporate members and certified minority businesses.
Perhaps then these new relationships can develop into business partnerships whereby M/WBEs can start to bid on contracts that would be too large for many smaller, individual firms. Using these newly formed partnerships, M/WBEs can take on major projects not as buyer-supplier-but as peers working together toward a single goal.
There is a real opportunity for the sum to become something greater than its parts. So, to paraphrase a slogan, BUY DIVERSE!
As I write this, it is my birthday. And, it occurs to me that I am about the same age as Ginger Conrad when she launched this publication 29 years ago. Reflecting on this, I'm just a little nervous. The world has changed a lot since 1984 and we are embarking on a new era for MBE magazine.
Social media is all the rage now; not e-mails. The speed at which news travels is lightning fast and the filter is small, and getting smaller. The attention span of the average reader is, well, short. There are multiple forms of communication-from text messaging to video. As a communication medium, we must keep up or be left behind…for good. Still, there are some things that we are not willing to do.
For nearly 30 years now, MBE magazine has resisted the popular ploy of producing lists as a way to increase support from corporations. This is not to say that some of those programs and individuals don't deserve recognition-but these lists are created based mostly on information that is voluntarily given. It raises the question: if some participate voluntary and others opt out, how do we know that the rankings are truly representative? As one veteran supplier diversity leader put it-when you do something noteworthy, then we will award you that recognition.
We have been asked many times over to create lists. Although this is what corporations seem to want, we want more. More opportunity, more contracts, more engagement. We prefer to hold a spotlight on industries, corporations, and minority and women business enterprises. Drill down to the root of these companies, get to the heart of these programs and initiatives and have our readers-you-decide if they are worthy of praise.
We created the Corporate Strategies, Different Drummers, and Ripple Effects series as a way to do that. Now we have added two new ways to highlight the industry and those who support supplier diversity. On the Scene with MBE magazine is our new online gallery, http://mbemag.com/index.php/gallery. Here we present pictorials of events as we see them throughout the year. Our YouTube Channel recently debuted a series of videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/mbemag/videos, giving our visitors insight into MBE magazine and allowing them to hear from some of our advertisers, supporters, and past cover features.
We will be adding more to our roster of offerings as we lead up to our 30th Anniversary
Celebration next October in Orlando, Florida. If you would like to participate by sponsoring, send an e-mail to 30thAnniversary@mbemag.com for more information.
On a more personal note, my thanks to all who sent me birthday wishes via e-mail and social media. It was great hearing from so many of the friends and colleagues I've met over the years. As caretaker of this legacy that is Ginger's, and now mine, I and my team look forward to continuing this journey with you.
For businesses (and governments, for that matter) it is important not to lose sight of the important communication undertaking that must go hand in hand with changes being made on an organizational level.
The National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) announced a new 5-year strategic plan in 2012 which included the reorganization of their regional councils by the end of 2013. Since that time, little has been shared. Maybe that was because our local council was not forthcoming or maybe it was because there were restrictions on how/when updates on the progress were to be shared. As a result, rumors flew and speculation ran rampant until the NMSDC Annual Conference this past October, when an update was shared with those in attendance.
I missed the conference this year for the first time in over 25 years. I did not get to hear the briefing and we were not made aware prior to attending that there was to be a briefing that would explain the plans surrounding the reorganization of the regional councils. Nor was it formally communicated to us as a certified minority business that our own council affiliation was going to change. Instead, we found out both of these things completely by chance.
Based on the information that was shared, the transition will yield many benefits, some of which will take longer than others to materialize. However, it might be easy to lose sight of the short- and long-term gain that business owners stand to make if those efforts aren't properly communicated. Transparency and communication about the reorganization is as key to the success of the process as any other component.
The community of minority-owned businesses and major corporations that are represented and brought together by the NMSDC stands to reap many benefits from the new operating structure being put into place. The new streamlined process promises a reduction from 36 to 24 regional councils, access to more uniform pricing and procedures, a bigger and better business database, better resourced councils, and a stronger organization on the national level.
Business owners usually have more than 24 hours spoken for during their busy days. Proactive, clear, and effective communication needs to be a priority. Anything less is providing a disservice to the constituency and the organization. After all, if we don't understand what's happening, we can't assist in communicating the potential value to our peers thus strengthening the value proposition of the whole organization.
MBE magazine has been and continues to be the vehicle which informs, educates and inspire minority and women businesses. We stand ready to communicate all that will allow our fellow MBEs and WBEs to succeed in an ever-changing business environment.
For more information about the progress of the implementation of the strategic plan visit http://strategicplan2012.nmsdc.org and if you have questions, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In June, our community lost one of its most passionate advocates—Henry T. Wilfong, Jr., or Hank, to those who knew him.
Hank was a fighter. He was a bright light that, for right or wrong, never wavered in his commitment to the rights of every minority and woman business enterprise—the rights that would allow greater access and inclusion to participate in the building, rebuilding, prosperity, and sustainability of this country that he loved dearly.
What’s more, Hank knew how to fight. He was a veteran, an entrepreneur, a legislator, a policymaker, an agitator. He sometimes remarked that he wanted to be a man who “tried to help somebody.” To do that, he started the National Association of Small Disadvantaged Businesses some 20 years ago and proceeded to work on any and all subjects that would serve the interests of his members—the business people who were often overlooked and excluded. People responded to his style. At the time of his passing, he had a strong following and a reputation for fearlessness.
The recent Supreme Court rulings would have had Hank working overtime, producing his daily “issuances”—he produced 5,031 before he passed—and strategizing on his weekly phone meetings he called The Wilfong Hour. Many believe that the Fisher decision is only a temporary reprieve, and the Holder decision is only the beginning of the battle. (See Eye on Washington, page 28.) The opportunity exists now, in a way that it has not for fifty years, for opponents of civil rights to push back much needed protections in areas that have a demonstrable history of discrimination against and exclusion of women and minorities. This is no time to get complacent, it is time to fight. Our ability to advocate is directly tied to our ability to agitate, as Hank would say.
Also on the chopping block is Hank’s most recent project, the XpressWest high-speed rail project linkingLas VegastoSouthern California. Recently, the Department of Transportation announced that it was tabling the review of the loan application submitted in 2010. Hank viewed this project as a portal to increased minority construction capacity, one that would allow firms from across the country to cut their teeth on what would have been, and still might be, one of the nation’s first high speed rail infrastructure projects. In this project, supporters saw not only the future of transportation in the United States, but a major opportunity for minority- and women-owned firms to lay their own tracks to future success in major infrastructure projects.
It is safe to say that Hank will be remembered, as he would have liked it, as the man who tried, and succeeding, in helping many. For him, for the vision which was his life’s work, and for the full inclusion of small, disadvantaged businesses everywhere the struggle continues, until we succeed—and we shall.
MBE's Business Opportunities resource covers business-related financing, consulting, and programs available for the Supplier Diversity community and M/WBEs. Updated monthly.
MBE's M/WBE Resource Directory is a comprehensive list of resource organizations (including links) that support the Supplier Diversity community and M/WBEs.
Refer to MBE's Acronyms & Terminology list for frequently used acronyms and terminology and an overview of the major organizations supporting the Supplier Diversity community.
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