U.S. Department of Labor
Alexis Herman, who served as secretary of Labor in the administration of President Bill Clinton — the first African American in that Cabinet position — offers a high-level resume in government service and private enterprise.
Her top positions mirror a career of accomplishment. As secretary of Labor, Herman was responsible for regulating areas like labor and employment, pensions and workplace safety. But ask Herman about her some of her accomplishments and what truly stands out in her career, and she will tell you about her work as a 20-something advocate for women as head the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau in the administration of President Jimmy Carter.
In that role, Herman, inducted into the Minority Business Hall of Fame for 2007, challenged corporations to makes diversity in hiring a priority. During her tenure, Herman launched and advocated training programs to give women skill sets as many of them entered the labor market for the first time, and she pushed for opportunities for women business owners.
Such advocacy for women in the late 1970s was tricky, Herman said in an interview with MBN USA , because at the same time support was fervent to create business opportunities for minority-owned enterprises.
“We still struggle with that today,” Herman said, who runs Alexis Herman & Associates, a consultancy from Washington. “We said this is a big pie that we all have to share in and we can’t substitute one for the other.”
Herman, a graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans, said she is proud to have been in a position as director of the Women’s Bureau to co-chair the first women’s business owners initiative for the federal government. Legislation followed in 1979 to afford women with more opportunities.
“We had no policies at all in place for doing business with women entrepreneurs. There were no government programs that either encouraged or required the participation of women business owners,” Herman said.
Following her stint of service in the Carter Administration, Herman worked actively with
Fortune 500 corporations to assist them in setting up some of the first supplier diversity programs – helping companies to “roll up their sleeves” and get about the business of diversifying their supply bases.
Part of that was changing a corporate mindset that would use the excuse, “We would hire them if only we could find them,” Herman said.
“In supplier diversity, we said we’ve got them and we can find them. You’ve got to have the commitment to use them,” Herman said.
Supplier diversity is no less important today than in the 1970s and 1980s, Herman said. In fact, the stakes are exponentially higher today, she added.
“It’s very important that we recognize that the future growth and strength of our country is in direct relationship now to the growth of people of color and women in our country. We need to make sure that we relate to the customer base that is going to be part of the future growth of our country,” she said.
Herman, a native of Mobile, Ala, noted the vitality of the small business segment of the U.S. economy, where typically minority- and women-owned businesses are competing.
“When you look within that segment and who are those small business owners, largely they are women entrepreneurs. Small businesses are the biggest the contributors today to job creation in our country. So, minorities and women are key to any kind of economic growth for our country in the future,” Herman said.
Herman said access to capital remains a vexing issue today for entrepreneurs, particularly minorities and women.
“We can do a better job particularly in the private sector to strengthen access to capital by looking at more long-term commitments and being clear in terms of contractual relationships and business investments and how you create partnerships that aren’t a year or two years. Corporations can really help a business grow by forming real, lasting partnerships,” Herman said.
J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, program
sponsored by NMSDC
Entrepreneurs know that succeeding in business is analogous to combat. Lose the competitive fight, and you lose the business.
The Advanced Management Education Program, a joint executive education program of the National Minority Supplier Development Council and the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, is in the business of preparing minority business owners for the management and leadership battle that confronts them.
The program, held each June at the university’s Evanston, Ill/ campus, provides chief executives and owners of established and expansion-oriented minority- and women-owned enterprises tools and skill sets to achieve and sustain accelerated growth. Up to 45 participants are invited to attend the four-day program each year. The NMSDC’s intrinsic knowledge of minority supplier development and the Kellogg School’s cutting-edge delivery of executive education drive the execution of the program — acknowledged as a 2007 inductee into the Minority Business Hall of Fame.
“We are preparing them for economic combat,” said Steven Sims, NMSDC vice president, who helped design and launch the program 11 years ago. “We focus specifically on them accelerating their growth and their ability to compete in the modern marketplace.”
Dipak C. Jain, Kellogg School dean and a professor of entrepreneurial studies and marketing, said the Kellogg School’s mission is to produce responsible, global business leaders. “A very important part of that leadership development is to make sure we look at diversity at all levels,” Jain said.
The campus setting allows entrepreneurs a fresh perspective for focused classroom study – most importantly away from their workplaces.
“They are exposed to some of the ‘beautiful minds’ in the Kellogg School. They get to network with others who enter the program. They are exposed to new thoughts and new ways of thinking. When you take time off from your day-to-day work and you come to a new setting, it makes you think differently,” Jain said.
Sims said the program aims to provide an intense learning environment.
“It’s not for the faint or the weary — and yet it is not overwhelming. The reality is some of our participants haven’t been in school for a while. Some come in a little anxious about what that means, but we allay their concerns quickly and assure them that the focus is on their development.,” Sims said.
The curriculum uses interactive, team-based study and is custom tailored to the needs of that class by surveying the class and structuring the course content accordingly. Specific program objectives include assisting MBEs to develop growth-oriented strategies that identify profitable new business opportunities; understand the links between business strategy and successful marketing; improve leadership and management skills and implement a company and self-assessment process; and understand the latest socio-economic, corporate and public policy trends.
Participating businesses are at least three years old, with annual sales of more than $3 million for manufacturing and distribution firms and $1 million for service firms. Firms must also be endorsed by an NMSDC National Corporate Member to be considered for admission.
Jain, whose areas of research include high-tech product marketing, market segmentation and competitive market structure analysis, cross-cultural issues in global product diffusion, and forecasting models, said the joint program fits the school’s philosophy to be proactive quest to produce leaders from all diverse backgrounds.
“We have always believed in alliances and partnerships. We believe it is very difficult for anyone alone to do things. If you have the right partners to help you, then the effect of the joint partnership can produce bigger and greater results,” Jain said of the program.
Sims said his interaction with program participants reinforces that “it’s an exciting time to be a minority business owner.”
“We now are in an age where we have an obligation to make sure our minority businesses are prepared to compete both domestically and internationally.They are better positioned today more than they have ever been to be a complement and a driving force in the new global economy,” Sims said.
Former President and CEO
Council of La Raza
Raul Yzaguirre, the former head of the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, has worked tirelessly during a distinguished career to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans.
Yzaguirre served as president and CEO from 1974 to 2004, when he moved to Arizona State University in Tempe to be Presidential Professor of Practice in Community Development and Civil Rights, focused on establishing a center for community development, education and academic scholarship.
Through a network of 300 affiliated community-based organizations, La Raza under Yzaguirre’s leadership reached millions of Hispanics each year throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. La Raza focused on five primary areas of Hispanic life — assets/investments, civil rights/immigration, education, employment and economic status, and health — conducting applied research, policy analysis and advocacy.
In the area of Hispanic business, Yzaguirre and La Raza joined with other leading Hispanics to create economic opportunities Hispanic business people. Noteworthy was the New America Alliance, which he co-founded with Henry Cisneros, a former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The NAA was launched in 1999 to help Latinos penetrate the highest levels of leadership in corporate America, government and finance.
Yzaguirre has received many honors for his work. In 1979, he was the first Hispanic to receive a Rockefeller Public Service Award for Outstanding Public Service from the Trustees of Princeton University. From 1989 to 1990, he served as one of the first Hispanic Fellows of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 1993, Yzaguirre received the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor given by the government of Mexico to non-citizens. He has served on the board of directors of numerous organizations, including Sears, Educate Inc., United Way of America and AARP Services.
Former Mayor, City of Atlanta
The late Maynard H. Jackson served as mayor of the city of Atlanta from 1974 to 1982 and from 1990 to 1994. Jackson earned a reputation as a major figure in the economic vitality of the southern city.
Among his mayoral accomplishments, Jackson positioned Atlanta as an international center for business and travel, pursued major construction initiatives for mass transit, managed innovative arts projects, created record-setting numbers of new jobs, improved the city’s bond ratings and pushed successful non-quota affirmative action and equal opportunity programs. Jackson’s leadership in the $450 million expansion of Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport became a key economic driver in the Southeast.
In 1974, at the onset of the airport expansion, Jackson boldly announced that 25 percent of all contracts for the project be set aside for minority-owned firms. That prompted an outcry. Opponents tried stop the project from continuing, but Jackson prevailed and moved forward with a modified plan along with a commitment from corporations to enter partnerships with minority-owned firms. Jackson’s leadership positioned Atlanta as a leading U.S. hub for minority business. He also played a major leadership role in Atlanta winning the bid for 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. Jackson was credited with establishing a national model for creating access to contracts for black businesses.
Following his public service, Jackson founded Jackmont Hospitality Inc., a full service foodservice company, with his daughter Brooke Jackson Edmond and another partner. In addition to serving as Jackmont’s chairman, Jackson headed Jackson Securities LLC.
Jackson was a 23-year trustee of Morehouse College and former board member of several key organizations, including the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, The Atlanta Regional Commission and the National Council of the United Nations Association-USA. He was national board member of the NAACP and corporate board member of Fannie Mae, ICF Kaiser International, govWorks.com, Bingwa Software, and Real Estate.com Inc.
Jackson died unexpectedly on June 23, 2003.
Former President and CEO
James O’Neal, the retired former president and chief executive officer of Frito-Lay International, has seen the growth of the supplier movement from the ground up.
Since the 1960s, O’Neal was a standard-bearer at Frito-Lay who believed not in supplier diversity for its own sake, but that diversity and inclusion could provide his company a competitive advantage to help drive business results. Simply, collaborating with minority-owned and women-owned suppliers served to help Frito-Lay build a world-class supplier base to keep it competitive.
As much as he has been personally responsible for driving U.S. supplier diversity efforts, O’Neal, a 2007 inductee into the Minority Business Hall of Fame, will reiterate time and again that inclusion is not based on benevolence but competitiveness.
“You have to learn to compete whoever it is. You have to provide some service to some company in such a way that you differentiate that from others. You do it faster, quicker, cheaper. You don’t want to get handouts because they’ll just put you in a corner and it will be a form of corporate welfare,” O’Neal said in an interview.
Frito-Lay formally launched its supplier diversity program in 1983 with O’Neal taking the lead in his role as a senior vice president at the company, leading him to embark on an odyssey in which he would become one of the nation’s leading advocates for supplier diversity.
In 1983, O’Neal’s involvement was sought to help advance the fledgling Dallas Regional Minority Purchasing Council, a precursor to the vaulted Dallas Fort Worth Minority Business Council. The endeavor was akin to a “field of dreams,” O’Neal said of the effort to get the council off the ground.
The council was a lone wolf with an office housed in a dusty warehouse with little support and momentum or membership in the National Minority Supplier Development Council. “There was a desk, one coffee maker and a copier that was broken,” O’Neal recalled.
To get the council moving, O’Neal was asked to do a strategic plan. He flew board members to Frito-Lay in Austin where they spent a couple of days forging the council’s future. The approach, O’Neal said, was to attract support by feigning success. “We said we can’t do this one step at a time. We have to act like we are successful. We said build it and they will come. We hired a full-time executive director, clerical people and got fully equipped office in high rise,” according to O’Neal.
The plan worked. Four years later, the council’s membership quadrupled the membership and having joined the NMSDC was named council of the year. Along the way, O’Neal and others were invited to London for presentation to Prince Charles and activities at the U.S. embassy. It created a novel construction assistance center and hosted the national NMSDC convention in 1988. “We went from a folded up chair and a broken copier to become the finest council in the United States,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal also had a hand in the growth of the NMSDC, serving on the board of directors as chairman of the executive committee. During that time, the organization, over reliant on government funding and having failing credibility with local councils, was struggling. O’Neal said led the formation of a search committee to select a new leaders – who turned out to be Harriet R. Michel, still the organization’s president.
“Harriet took the organization to what it is now and they’ve done an extremely good job,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal recalls fondly his work in supplier diversity. He traveled the country advocating for inclusion. One long but invigorating day in 1988 was spent in Charlotte, NC, with then presidential candidate Jesse Jackson. O’Neal toured a poultry processing plant with Jackson and his entourage to discuss supplier diversity, followed by a large contingent of national media. Jackson even promised O’Neal he would tap him as his secretary of Commerce if he won the presidential bid.
“He’s a remarkable guy. It was a long day, but it was an exciting day,” O’Neal recalled.
Part of O’Neal’s legacy is a Frito-Lay supplier diversity program, now part of the PepsiCo. family. Over 20 years, Frito-Lay’s efforts remain vibrant, accounting for more than $2.1 billion in spend with minority and women-owned entrepreneurs.
Mississippi Band of Choctaw Nation
Chief Philip Martin has a more than 45-year record of service and leadership in the Choctaw Nation tribal government, including serving from 1979 to 2007 as Tribal Chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a federally-recognized American Indian tribe of 9,100 enrolled members living on or near 35,000 acres of reservation land in east central Mississippi. Miko Beasley Denson was sworn in July 10 as the third Chief of the Tribe since adoption of its modern Constitution to succeed Martin.
During his 28-year tenure as Chief, Martin made economic development a Choctaw Nation priority, leading a once impoverished constituency with an unemployment rate as high as 75 percent unemployment into a base for prosperous business activity that included auto-parts manufacturing, a casino and printing plant. Before Martin, the majority of Choctaw housing was designated as substandard, children largely stopped going to school at the 6th grade and life expectancy barely topped 50 years old.
The reservation became a key source of employment for Choctaws. More than 9,000 full-time jobs were created on the reservation under Martin – placing the Tribe in the unique position as the largest employer in east central Mississippi and among the three largest employers in the State. Martin advocated the reservation as an enterprise zone, drawing in financial resources and business incentives.
Under his watch, Martin created enterprises that produced goods for industry titans as diverse as General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and McDonnell-Douglas and AT&T, Xerox, Westinghouse and Navistar. One of the reservation’s major auto plants opened in 1979 and assembled automotive wire harnesses for General Motors.
Martin also saw to it that the reservation would focus on self-sufficiency. It manages its own reservation government and operates elementary, middle and high school, as well as a hospital and community clinics and water, sewer and waste-disposal systems.