For minority and women supplier diversity business entrepreneurs

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Breaching the Inner Circle

Bringing supplier diversity in the industry to the next level.

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By Max Rutherford

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Before the business case for supplier diversity was recognized (and in fairness, before it became compelling), the U.S. government implemented programs dating back to the early 1960's that contributed to the establishment, preservation and strengthening of minority business enterprises so that they could become fully competitive and viable business concerns. 

Corporations have since then introduced supplier diversity programs for other reasons that include recognition of the importance of implementing business practices that reflect the markets they serve and a real or threatened consumer boycott or political or economic pressure. More to the point, supplier diversity programs enhance their public image and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts and to pursue government contracts more successfully. 

SourceEcreative's 2011 and 2012 special features on Diversity in Production noted that in the advertising industry's approach to supplier diversity, many diverse suppliers question whether advertisers, corporations, agencies and/or clients are doing enough to seek out diverse business concerns. Diverse business owners hear many corporations and advertisers talk about mandates or requirements to include minority- and woman-owned business enterprises (MWBEs), but often find it a challenge to see evidence of these obligations enforced or fulfilled. 

I contend that this is mainly due to the lack of decision-maker accountability to establish rapport with qualified diversity-owned firms. 

Diverse business owners want to be a part of the global supply chain and bring value to agencies. But, the global supply chain now has them competing with other business enterprises which do not have to meet a rigorous and extensive third-party certification set of guidelines to qualify for projects. Added to this difficulty are challenges with access to capital along with capacity building needed to meet global imperatives. To add to that, there's the relationship challenge of getting to the ultimate decision-maker or team of decision makers needed to build business relationships. 

A prevalent challenge in the ad industry is how we move from a point of complacency, contentment and comfort to one that engages inclusion and utilization of bona fide diverse suppliers. Many are faced with barriers-core decision-makers that have loyalty to vendors they have used in the past; fearing risk of working with someone new, decision-makers' dismissive attitudes toward diverse vendors because unfamiliarity presents the assumption that there is a lack of caliber and experience needed for client work, along with fear that changing of the guard causes a loss of continuity, cost efficiencies, and steep learning curves required for on-boarding new vendors. 

Further, minority- and women-owned businesses face a lack of inclusion and opportunity to establish relationships with key decision-makers. Consequently, they spend a lot of time strategizing, implementing, and creating content for their threshold efforts to make it into the inner circle, but many don't see optimal returns. 

GSD&M understands the vendor partner selection process is decentralized, subjective, and based on relationships, experience and reputation. Since 2010, we have sought to be a change-agent to institutionalize engagement and inclusion of diverse vendor partners for all work done on behalf of our clients. Some of our efforts consist of:

1. CEO mandated Diverse Supplier Utilization Policy that requires every Request for Proposal to have at least one qualified and certified diverse vendor partner included in the bidding process. If a diverse vendor is not identified, an explanation stating why is required in the decision-maker's vendor selection summary. 

2. Host regular capabilities presentations for diverse vendor partners to share their work to internal stakeholders, creatives, producers and decision makers for consideration on upcoming projects.

3. The GSD&M Vendor Partner Diversity team regularly attends business opportunity fairs and trade shows to identify potential vendor partners.

4. Host an annual GSD&M Small Business Summit which provides a forum to identify, promote and significantly increase business relationships between small and diverse business concerns and the agency's buying community.

Agencies must be more proactive and diligent in developing relationships with their vendor partners and not chase dollar and percent goals. Proper relationships will lead to inclusion of diverse suppliers.

For example, at GSD&M, one of our agency's core values is "Community"-the idea that we're all in this together. We see ourselves as part of the economic community and believe that having a diverse vendor base in the communities we serve has tremendous value for us and our clients. We remain determined to drive change and build more balance in our initiative by voluntarily developing annual spend and percentage goals agency-wide for all of our clients-whether or not the client has an established supplier diversity program. This decision has led to the creation of a climate that demonstrates and values diverse vendor partner perspectives, competencies and relationships.

The chart on the previous page suggests that one of the most promising opportunities for advertisers and corporations to explore new markets is through supplier diversity. With increasing multicultural population and business growth rates, it is imperative that corporations learn how to infuse minority employees, customers, and suppliers into their business processes in order to gain and maintain a long-term competitive edge.

During the 2012 Billion Dollar Roundtable Summit, GSD&M CEO Duff Stewart stated: "We have an obligation to move the conversation forward. Not against but with each other to move the economy forward. Find unexpected partnerships and discover shared value to drive business success."

It takes bold actions to move advertisers, agencies, corporations and organizations to adopt behaviors that are important-actions that speak louder than words. If leadership within the business community believes minority- and women-owned businesses are cornerstones of our economy and our communities, then a major push and commitment to diversity ought to follow. It's no longer about entitlement or affirmative action-it's about action that is affirmative.

While progressive companies have been building a diverse supply base for many years, others, like those in the ad industry, may need to play catch up-starting today. Getting diverse suppliers in the "inner circle" could potentially pay huge dividends for them down the road. In essence, having a supplier diversity program is imperative to the success of the agency and client's business. Our clients trust us to be proactive and seek out the best and qualified vendor partners so we generate the big, visionary and award-winning ideas to move their business forward.

Max Rutherford is the vendor partner diversity director and small business liaison officer at GSD&M, an advertising agency which has helped grow some of the world's most successful brands. While at GSD&M, Rutherford successfully developed and implemented the agency's Vendor Partner initiative, which emphasizes the continuation and advancement of vendor diversity efforts across multiple accounts. More information about GSD&M and the agency's Vendor Partner Diversity Program may be found at gsdm.com.

 


Urban Lending Solutions Team

Urban Lending Solutions ("ULS") is the nation's largest minority-owned mortgage solutions business, as designated by the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC). The company was founded by Charles and Elisa Sanders in 2002, and is now an industry leading provider of customized mortgage solutions. ULS and its subsidiaries provide a wide variety of outsourced services to its clients; including mortgage fulfillment services, home retention solutions, appraisals and valuation services, title and settlement services, and call center services.

Charles "Chuck" Sanders is CEO of Urban Lending Solutions (ULS).

Chuck Sanders is the founder and CEO of Urban Lending Solutions (ULS). Chuck built ULS into a highly respected provider of outsourced fulfillment and settlement services to the mortgage origination and servicing industry. Chuck is the winner for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2012 Award in the Western Pennsylvania, and Chuck was also named one of the Top 10 black entrepreneurs in the nation by Inc 500.

 

Thomas, "TJ", Lewis Jr. , Strategy and Business Development Executive

Thomas, "TJ", Lewis Jr. is the Strategy and Business Development Executive. TJ leads corporate strategy and development for Urban Lending Solutions and related companies. He has been one of the executives responsible for guiding the growth of the company from a handful of employees to more than 1,100 employees during the past few years.

 

Darlene Burnham, SVP Business Development and Sales

Darlene Burnham is responsible for the development and growth of strategic accounts and has over 28 years of experience in the mortgage industry. Darlene has served as the vice president of sales and relationship management and held various operational positions throughout her career, including vice president of customer service, and earning the Leadership and Service Excellence Awards.

 

Jodee Hurtado-Bennett, VP of Marketing and Diversity

Jodee is responsible for creating unique Supplier Diversity initiatives that are designed to make a powerful impact and significant contributions in the communities in which Urban Lending Solutions (ULS) conducts business. Jodee also develops and executes a clearly defined marketing and communications strategy in a manner that supports consistent business growth and enhances brand equity and awareness.

 


 


About Mortgage Staffing Solutions

Mortgage Staffing Solutions (MSS), founded by Lisa Wilbon, Ashley Jendrasik, and Latoia Sykes in 2012, is a leading recruiting firm dedicated to understanding the needs of their clients and candidates. MSS was launched to provide customized professional recruiting and consultative services through industry-leading expertise in the mortgage solutions industry. Their ability to provide customized recruiting services is demonstrated through their performance working with banking industry service providers including large and super-regional banks, midsized banks and credit unions.

The company is located in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and plans to open offices Georgia and Florida. MSS is a certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Women Business Enterprise (WBE). MSS embraces diversity in all aspects of their organization, from talented associates to supplier partners and is elevating their own supplier diversity program.

MSS is proud of their outstanding workforce! Their comprehensive staffing approach, from hiring talented team members, extensive screening, and thorough testing process ensures a quick and qualified ramp up. MSS' capabilities allow their clients to focus their time and attention on their core duties and improve their organizational performance; this has resulted in success for their clients, their candidates, as well as MSS.

MSS has a reputation of a company that is not only successful in the mortgage and lending industry, maintaining a 95 percent retention rate for their clients, but they also make an impact on their communities. MSS supports the Boys and Girls club in both Georgia and Colorado and was featured in Whirl Magazine's Women in Business Class of 2013, was a 2014 candidate for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Woman of the Year, and strives to be an example for young adults with dreams of having their own businesses. As owners of MSS, they are heavily involved in local charities, communicating to future generations that anything is possible if they work hard and do not give up on their goals! MSS' passion is to inspire young women to assert themselves and know that through hard work and dedication, women can be anything they want!


 

Guiding Light

Community organizations increase their support of minority business constituents.

By Ryan Hamilton

Many organizations and groups that have primarily focused on building and strengthening communities and promoting civil rights through employment have found themselves challenged to give more thought to their economic development activities. Faced with shrinking job opportunities in Corporate America, many of their constituents have turned to entrepreneurship, and, in response, these Organizations have redefine what services they provide for their membership.

Elias Aseged, the business Diversity chairman at the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), explains the evolution, "Oftentimes, when someone says 'work', it's interpreted as working for a large, Fortune 500 organization." While that is still true for many of NSBE's members, there is a noticeable shift toward entrepreneurship. "We have seen a significant portion of our NSBE Professional Members transition from the corporate world to their own endeavors. The economic crisis has made this transition more appealing," he says.

The executive director at the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), Noel Poyo, has noticed a similar change, and also suggests that the shift in the Hispanic population toward Business ownership may have been hastened by the recession. "The data has borne out that if recession equals unemployment, unemployment oftentimes equals starting a business."

Partly in response to the scarcity of entrepreneurial and business support resources in minority communities ("Business centers have been on college campuses, not in Latino communities," Poyo asserts.), NALCAB was created to focus on asset development: real estate, business ownership, family balance sheets-building family wealth.

"We work with a lot of groups that began as immigrant rights groups. The issues used to be ESL and immigrant legal services. Now it is business ownership-financial education, small business development services. Immigrants want to figure out the regulatory environment."

As a result, there is a trend toward consolidation of groups offering economic resources to the Latino community. "The field out there has developed to get more comprehensive. In the past, there have been [separate] groups for tax prep, financial planning, business ownership. Now things are consolidating."

There is an anecdote offered by Poyo to illustrate the need for entrepreneurial support programs: "On the first day a Hispanic immigrant arrives in the United States, they find a place to stay. On the second, they hang out a shingle and start their own business."

Jino Ahn, CEO and founder of Asian MBA International, has seen a similar drive toward business ownership in the Asian community. "Asians are, historically and culturally speaking, highly entrepreneurial. If you look at statistics in this country, Asians are in the entrepreneurial field and not the corporate field," he says.

"As the immigration field matures, the third and fourth generations are also getting into entrepreneurial fields, including MBAs. In the old days, Asians with MBAs used to consider doing investment banking, consulting, and working in the financial industries,"states Ahn. "That is changing quite rapidly. Many of them are pursuing the entrepreneurial path and a lot of schools are changing their curriculum to educate them, to prepare them better."

He continues, "Our own conference [this] September in New York City will have a heavy emphasis on entrepreneurship because that is where the interest is shifting." The conference tracks will feature successful business owners as speakers and include workshops so that individuals have the opportunity to learn the practical details of starting and growing a business.

For Poyo's organization, it's about satisfying the increasing demand for business ownership resources and bridging the information gap that exists in the Hispanic community. "There are not a lot of federal resources focused on the Latino community. It has the highest level of entrepreneurship and the lowest level of service," he said. "Latinos are one of the driving forces of regional economies and the national economy. A lot of nonprofits that have focused on Latinos as a group have 'grown up'-they have begun to scale their work."

Aseged reports that NSBE is currently structuring itself to resemble an 'app' of sorts-a portal for easy, timely access to practical, useful information for its members in response to growing demand for entrepreneurial programs.

They call the new program "NSBEpreneur." It is a way of offeringa number of different programs offering a number of different support services to business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. "When you consider the community that we serve, there is no shortage of ideas. But the resources and knowledge required to bridge the gap between those ideas and a successful product or service is often just out of reach," says Aseged. "This is the void that NSBE will attempt to [fill]. NSBEPreneur will be a conduit of information and resources for our members, as well as others in our community, who are entrepreneurs or who have entrepreneurial aspirations," he elaborates. "NSBEPreneur's goal is to help educate our members in entrepreneurship, so they can, in turn, form STEM-focused ventures."

The National Urban League (NUL) has a similar program. "The encouragement of increased business ownership is a priority for the National Urban League," says Terry Clark, vice president of entrepreneurship and business services.

To support NUL's membership business aspirations, the organization operates entrepreneurship centers in the offices of 10 of its local affiliates across the country. NUL's clients were able to receive more than $20 million dollars in financing and approximately $566 million in new contracts through the centers. "[NUL] has seen a very steady uptick in interest and demand for entrepreneurship assistance services through our program," states Clark.

Dedrick Muhammad, senior director of the economic department and executive director of the Financial Freedom Center at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is overseeing the creation of more support mechanisms for minority businesses. "We've known since the beginning that this is an area where we need to develop strong programming, "Muhammad said. "For the past several years, the NAACP programs have been rebuilding themselves. Immediately after the recession, we focused on fair lending, mortgages, avoiding foreclosures, and basic financial education."

As for the future, the NUL is planning to expand their services directed at entrepreneurs and business owners. "The future of our program will include providing management development skills to [minority businesses] that are currently Tier 2 suppliers to large corporations with the goal of moving them toward Tier 1 status. We also have developed a Small Business Loan Fund called the Urban Empowerment Fund, which is a subsidiary of the National Urban League and will provide line of credit, asset-based and working capital financing in amounts between $50,000 and $250,000," he said. "This fund will look to become a certified community development financial institution (CDFI) and begin to bridge the credit gap for [minority entrepreneurs]." CDFIs are specialized financial institutions that work in market niches that are underserved by traditional financial institutions.

In the coming months, the NAACP is hoping to expand on its local and national efforts by adding more programs to support entrepreneurs. "African Americans are more likely to be entrepreneurs, but a serious challenge is the lack of capital. As a result, we're more likely to have unsuccessful ventures."

To help alleviate that and other problems, the NAACP is partnering with other organizations to expand opportunities for its membership as they relate to business ownership. "We've been looking for some partners to work with us, looking at different types of partnerships. One of the items we hope to be able to expand on in the coming months is franchising, and expanding diversity initiatives in that industry." "There is a real fire to do this," says Poyo, "because in the end these nonprofits are just listening to the communities they serve."


 

Building History

Ronnie McGhee uses his craft to shape buildings and communities of significance

By Tanya Isley

Nestled within the tapestry of Washington, D.C.'s rich history and stately architecture are communities ripe with buildings that hold the stories of generations of minorities who helped knit the fabric of the city. No one is more committed to preserving those buildings and influencing the community than D.C. architect, educator and native son, Ronnie McGhee.

"My interest is in doing something that, long term, affects many people's lives and neighborhoods. Architecture [is] probably one of the more long-term activities that would affect people and the way they live," McGhee says.

Recently named Architect of the Year by the National Organization of Minority Architects' D.C. chapter, McGhee has worked on projects from the multiple award-winning Castle Center for the Performing Arts to the Strand Theater and Bolling Air Force Base. An avid science fiction reader and cyclist who annually participates in 100-mile rides, McGhee graduated from Howard University with a degree in architecture after leaving D.C. for a brief dalliance in anthropology at Northwestern University.

"I wanted to go out and see the world. I'd never really spent much time away from home so I went out there," he says.

While at Northwestern, several late night conversations with his roommate about his interest in architecture convinced him to apply to architecture school. Today, his 10-person firm, R. McGhee & Associates, is 8(a)-certified and provides a full range of architectural services, with a focus on executing projects with sustainable design as a key element.

McGhee's 30-year career resume has produced some impressive projects, many of which resonates throughout the city. But, one of his favorites is the Whitelaw Hotel, an early 20th century gathering spot for the community and celebrity guests like Cab Calloway. Located in D.C.'s historic Shaw neighborhood, the Whitelaw opened its doors in 1919 as the city's first luxury hotel for African Americans during segregation. When McGhee stumbled upon the building while house hunting in the area in the early 1990s, it had lost is former glamour. But, the hotel's rich history, despite its poor condition, is what attracted McGhee.

"It's in an African American community; it had a history that resonated throughout the community-the history of Washington. It was built in 1919 by a black architect, a black developer, by black artisans. And it had fallen into such disrepair. It was a crack house, it was a whorehouse. It was an eyesore and the neighbors were saying, 'Let's tear it down.' It had fallen so far [but] I thought this could be was a great story. And I said this is really the kind of work that I want to do," he says.

Working with the Manna Community Development Corporation, McGhee restored the Whitelaw from a vacant, decrepit building to a moderate-income housing complex that was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.

McGhee's name may be synonymous with some of the city's most prominent community landmarks, but he's also an assistant professor at Howard's School of Architecture and Design. As one of the few African-American architects in the country, the importance of nurturing and mentoring a new generation of minority architects is not lost on McGhee.

"I look at it as my role, sort of my debt, to people who helped me that I would try to increase the outreach and open that window to what's going on in the field to students," he says.

In order to improve the quality of undergraduate STEM education at Howard, the university created the Howard University Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Program (HUSEM). HUSEM is a multidisciplinary program involving the College of Engineering, Architecture, and Computer Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences. Although McGhee is not formally involved in the HUSEM program, he shares the program's goals and devotes a significant amount of his time to mentoring and developing his students.

Working with colleagues in the architecture school, McGhee created an intern development program that addressed the outreach that minority students must do to firms, and helped prepare aspiring architects for the Architecture Registration Exam, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, certification and other post-graduation requirements.

Much of what drives McGhee's success with his firm and in the classroom is his passion and devotion to his craft and his community. And it's this passion and commitment that shapes his next career goal.

At Howard and at his firm, McGhee is trying to leverage his work into something that has a more lasting and meaningful impact for the people that live in and around his designs. "Sometimes you get to do several buildings in a community and sometimes you get to do a building that's large enough to affect the community," he says. "I'm trying to focus more on the reach of an architect and doing a project that affects a community as opposed to just a single building."


Making a Difference

Supplier diversity veteran Joe Alderete leaves his mark on SoCal Edison's program.

By Ryan Hamilton

With talk of projects, contracts, and best practices, it can be easy to lose sight of the central mission of supplier diversity: to make a difference. Supplier diversity is the idea that a company's supplier base should reflect the various types of people it serves-and that individuals from communities that might not have the same business connections as individuals from other communities should get the same chance to generate and create wealth for themselves and those around them.

Joe Alderete is one individual who has not lost sight of the endgame. As director of Supplier Diversity and Development at Southern California Edison, he spends his time empowering individuals through business opportunity. "If you look back at supplier diversity's early stages, it was considered more of a social program-trying to get minorities and women and service-disabled veterans in the supply chain mix. Today, it is a part of business," he explains. "I look at it from a perspective of it being a good business practice. It supports folks in our community; it supports the customers we serve.

"Providing diverse opportunities for diverse business across the board has had a major impact in our communities,"

Alderete adds. The business model he works with is unique-a highly regulated utility that has a monopoly in specified geographic areas. "We hire diverse businesses in our territory and it, in turn, drives up the opportunity to keep dollars in our communities and helps provide good jobs."

Under Alderete's leadership at SoCal Edison, diverse spend has risen to 41 percent. "That is a significant number," he says. "We do business with about 800 suppliers. Not all of them are in our service area, but we try to provide as many opportunities as possible to get women, minority, and service-disabled veterans in our supply chain process."

Alderete says that the process isn't just about getting diverse businesses into the supply chain-work has to be done to maintain, grow, and improve diverse businesses to maximize the impact that supplier diversity can make on a community. "It isn't just about the spend," he says bluntly. "It is also about developing and mentoring suppliers. Many of the folks we mentor or provide educational assistance to along the way make a better company. They might not do business with us at all times, but [there] is one better company in our service territory."

This makes sense from SoCal Edison's perspective, as well, Alderete says. "You have to look at the development side of the equation. Sustainability is important. If we're going to continue to have this high level of spend-41 percent-we need suppliers in the pipe that are going to grow with SoCal Edison," he says.

What makes Alderete unique among his peers is his perspective of supplier diversity's effects on the marketplace. Many decision-makers justify supplier diversity as adding to sustainability, supporting the community, or retaining top-level talent. Alderete gets down to brass tacks about the real case for supplier diversity: "It drives competition," he says, "and that has driven down the cost of goods and services.

"I think folks [on the corporate side] have found that these companies that have come on board [through supplier diversity programs] are smaller, but they have less overhead and they are more nimble," Alderete explains. "They can provide a more competitive product or service because they can react more quickly [in most business situations]. Putting them in the mix has [created competition with] the larger, majority-owned, 'institutional' companies. That's why it is good business to bring new folks to our supply chain."

Alderete can speak with authority-he is a seasoned supplier-diversity professional with more than two decades of experience to his credit. He's approaching retirement now, and SoCal Edison is working hard to secure his legacy as a mover in the supplier diversity world. "As a team, in my opinion, we are a best-of-class organization," he says. "The integrity that has been demonstrated by our supplier diversity team is unmatched anywhere. That has been a major driver of what we do here. I also have a staff that is second to none from a passion standpoint. This isn't an 8 to 5 job."

His team feels the same way about him-giving him credit for his leadership ability and foresight. "Joe maintains a positive attitude, even when things get tense," says longtime colleague Dennis Thurston, program manager for Outreach and Partnerships at SoCal Edison. "He gives us the space to stand up for our beliefs and follow through on what we say we will do. He values the commitment and passion we put into our work.

"He was the first diversity manager within any California corporation to support the Native American chambers [of commerce], creating the grassroots efforts that have allowed tremendous growth for many Native American businesses," Thurston adds. Together, they also helped champion the 2003 formation of the California Disabled Veteran Business Alliance Corporate Diversity Board, which launched with just 13 utilities and has since grown to 37 major corporations including utilities.

Vincent Craney, also an Outreach and Partners manager at SoCal Edison, notes that Alderete is a natural when it comes to the qualities that make a leader. "Joe is a confident leader-he's able to focus on issues and maintain a direct path toward achieving the end goal. He's always ready to listen to opinions and outside thoughts without feeling compromised," he says. "Honesty and integrity are at the forefront of who Alderete is."

The people, Alderete says, are the part of his job that he will miss the most. "[Supplier diversity professionals] are a pretty tight-knit community. We all have the same passion," he says. "You end up developing a network of supplier diversity professionals, and the common thread is the passion for the work. Ask a question, and you'll get an answer-the concern with competition isn't there. We share this information readily.

"I will miss the connection of this community as a whole. It is quite a special group."


Freedom of Choice

This staffing maven doesn't take diversity lying down.

By Carolyn Muse Grant

Denise Peoples, founder and owner of Peoples Choice Staffing and Choice Workforce Solutions, believes she is blessed. She and her company have endured tough times and slogged through the recession like many others, doing more than just surviving - they have flourished. She credits her passion, her drive, creative brain, and her knowledge of the industry she serves for pulling her through and putting her at top of her game.

Peoples had several years of experience in the staffing business before starting Peoples Choice Staffing in 1993. "I started at the entry level with a national staffing company and was promoted five times in five years," she says. "I loved the business and was responsible for overall management and sales. When they closed, I had no idea where to go."

She decided to talk to her major clients, thinking she could get an idea of where to work next. Surprisingly, everyone encouraged her to open her own business. Peoples had never considered this option, but after discussing it with her family and "a lot of prayer and reflection," she decided that she would make that path her own - and in less than 30 days, she was in business. Because of the ease with which she was able to navigate the hurdles of business startup, she was sure she'd made the right choice. And in her first year of business, she produced more than $1 million in sales. "It was meant to be," she enthuses.

By 2007, Peoples Choice was a $5 million company. Then, almost overnight, the economy crashed, and her business was hit hard. "In the blink of an eye, my business went from $5 million to $1.6 million," she recalls. "It was one of the most challenging moments for me. But I told my staff [that] there may be a recession, but we refuse to participate. Do not bring up work shortages, layoffs or downsizing."

Peoples has a keepsake rock that she has had for many years with a quotation from Winston Churchill etched on it. It reads, "Never, never quit." On an especially dark day during the crash, she focused on those words, gathered her confidence, and realized that her strong will and her gift for relationship-building would pull her through. The last few years have rewarded that confidence, and since forming Choice Workforce Solutions - a managed service provider that specializes in hiring, contract management, statements of work, and payroll services - in 2010, she manages two growing, award-winning businesses.

Peoples Choice Staffing was a 2010 Stevie Awards finalist for the Fastest-Growing Company of the Year in Business Services, received the Black Business Association 2010 Outstanding Business of The Year Award, and took the 2012 Best of Business Award from the Small Business Community Association. Choice Workforce Solutions, LLC is currently producing an additional $90+ million in revenue and was awarded an Advancing Diversity Recognition Award by Southern California Edison in February 2011.

Peoples believes that most people really don't know what it takes to start and run a business - the liabilities, the money, and the time involved. She urges everyone to perform due diligence and learn the industry or industries they plan to serve. "Prepare, and stick with, a business plan, and don't try to reinvent the wheel," she says. "Use the resources and services available to you."

Peoples says that staffing is something of a "hustler's game" that takes a lot of hard work. A marketing major at California State University at Fullerton, she says that her college experience was instrumental in preparing her for the leadership role and the responsibility of running a business. Peoples also once worked as a cheerleader for the former Los Angeles Rams.

Peoples loves what she does, and her passion is evident when she talks about the potential to transform people's lives by finding them work or building her business. "My mind never stops thinking about what can I do next to expand or make my business better," she says.

Peoples Choice has expanded into temporary, temporary-to-hire, and executive search functions. "I didn't actually open my doors with the idea of an executive search agency, but today, executive search is a core part of our business," she says. She plans to pursue government contracts and expand her services to help veterans find meaningful work after they leave military service. At any given time, Peoples has approximately 300 temporary employees working with clients; her companies currently do business in six states and are positioned to go nationwide.

Peoples is married and has two children, one in college and one at home. And while she loves her work, after more than 20 years of creating and growing her businesses, she hopes to spend some quality time traveling with her family in the not-too-distant future.


All the Marbles

Trading legal briefs for luxury retail.

by Carolyn Muse Grant

Travertine is "a mineral consisting of a massive, usually layered calcium carbonate (as aragonite or calcite) formed by deposition from spring waters, or especially from hot springs," according to Merriam-Webster. Terry Carter defines travertine as that, plus sexy and luxurious-and he knew it was the name he had to have for his business, the Travertine Spa.

Carter says he is a meditative person, and sought spiritual guidance in naming his business. He didn't want it to be too feminine, but spiritual and sophisticated. He kept seeing the word travertine used in nontraditional ways and decided that it would be perfect. "The Roman baths were travertine," he says. "It's a high-end product. It just fits in all areas."

Carter's education and business path were not necessarily traditional. He was born and raised in California by entrepreneurial parents, the youngest of three children and the first in the family to get a college degree. He studied foreign languages including Japanese, and went to work for the Japanese government in international development after graduation. While working with diplomats and businesspeople overseas, Carter decided he wanted to make a change. "I wanted to get something done, and made the decision to go to law school."

Back in the United States, he attended law school at American University in Washington, D.C., specializing in international intellectual property. Upon graduation, he moved back to California-and that's where he changed things up even more.

"I'm the kind of person who will work crazy-hard for about four months and then I'll take a vacation," Carter says. "And oftentimes, I would go to a spa to eliminate stress, all the while looking for something beneficial for me. In California, I would go once a month to a spa, and then about once a year, I would go somewhere out of the country and relax. During these visits, I paid particular attention to the products, and realized they were more than just a product for someone else."

Carter kept working in the legal field for a couple of years until he had paid down his debt, then volunteered to help a friend at a spa trade show. "I realized that I knew an awful lot about the spa products there," he says. "I gave myself a goal and within one year, I had my own business, my own product line, and my first client."

Since Carter had already reduced his debt substantially, he was able to fund the startup himself. "In the beginning, I spent $273 at a company that sold raw ingredients," he says. "The lady there spent a lot of time on the phone with me telling me how to make products in my own kitchen. From there, of course, I learned a lot more, but that was the beginning."

Building a Brand

Today, Travertine Spa hosts an online store (travertinespa.com), and sells products in several high-end hotels, including the Aria Resort and Casino and the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Carter's business and legal acumen led him to get contracts with these hotels to have his products sold in their shops, not given away for free in the guest rooms. This gets Travertine repeat customers.

In addition to traditional spa products, the Travertine Spa line includes clothing, gift packs, and candles. Carter says his choice of products is a combination of the things he loves and business strategy. "I am an avid spa consumer, and I know what people want to use to relax and feel good in a spa," he says. "I'm very careful about adding product. I don't want to overwhelm clients. Once you establish your name and company, if your clients think it's great, when you add new things, we want them to think [that the] new products are great, also."

Carter's goal is to please clients, make them want more, and ultimately create a lifestyle brand. He strives to give excellent customer service, and offer products that touch the soul and take the stress out of life. His plans for growth include a book that promotes his concept of relaxation, and there's a strong possibility he will open a brick-and-mortar location soon to build a more personal connection with customers.

"People will order online, but [direct] contact is where you gain knowledge of what they really think," he says. "Retail will be fun and informative, but the wholesale is the driver and pays the bills. I want that communication with the customer you get in retail."

Some of the first retail customers will likely be the celebrities with whom Carter has formed relationships by providing products they like and not being in awe of their fame. The Travertine website features pictures of him with celebrity clients such as Joey Fatone, Ziggy Marley, and Jessica Paré.

His advice to others seeking a new business venture? Don't let fear get in your way. "Most people know what they want to do, but are afraid to do it," Carter says. "Don't focus on the negative; dream about positives that can happen. When you're at your lowest, good things do happen. At my lowest point, I got a call for a large order and pulled all kind of strings to make it happen. That gave me the push I needed to continue forward. You can do it once you take the first step. You don't want to say what could have been. I had a dream and now I'm living it, all because I didn't let fear control me."

Carter writes a blog (www.howichangedcareers.com) about his experiences as an entrepreneur to help inspire others to make their ideas into realities. "It's not always a picnic," he says. "I have days when I miss my former paycheck, but I'm happy with what I'm doing I'm going to go for it with this business. I don't want to get to a point in my life and have regrets."

 

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