And Finally... March 23, 2015

Over the years I have tried to use this And Finally column to give the stakeholders an insight into how I think about business, society and life in general.    But more than this, I have tried to provide support for both our MBEs and the representatives of our corporate membership.   Business is hard.  It is not for the faint of heart.  This is true whether you are an MBE or a corporate supplier diversity professional.  We all need to make decisions with imperfect information, that even if they are the right decision., are rarely perfect in their outcomes.  So lately, I have been thinking  a lot about what MBEs and our corporate members want.

 I have learned over the years, MBEs want access to opportunities.  MBEs want corporate members to give them the chance to make the case that they can compete and over-deliver.   On the other side, corporate members want MBEs that fit into the strategy of their corporate employer.  Corporations want MBEs that are efficient, competitive, and low-maintenance.  This has not changed since I started in this network as an MBE in 1984.  But minority supplier development has changed dramatically over the past thirty years, and is likely to change over the next decade.

I will use these last few columns to give my views on what the future holds for our work in minority supplier development, but this much is clear to me; as an organization, we must expand the number of corporate members to include more corporations that are closer in size and scope as our certified MBEs.  Increasingly it will be smaller local corporate members who will have the interest and ability to buy from smaller MBEs.  While every MBE wants to sell to the largest national corporate members, the reality is it will become increasingly difficult for Category 1 MBEs to enter global supply chains - and be profitable.  While Category 1 MBEs do not represent a majority of MBEs, they are a plurality.  The strategy I would recommend for smaller MBEs is to focus their efforts on smaller local corporate members and smaller corporations who are not yet local members.  With the help of our smaller MBEs, we can bring these smaller non-minority businesses into the network.   And it will be today's Category 1 MBEs who will be tomorrow's Category 4 powerhouses.

There is no shortage of smaller local corporate members who could have a significant impact on. The development of smaller MBEs.  In fact, many potential local corporate members have statutory or strategic requirements to buy local.  Organizations like school districts, water authorities, housing authorities, transportation districts, hospitals, universities and colleges, and the corporate leaders of most chamber of commerce organizations make ideal local corporate members for smaller MBEs to target and for regional councils to recruit.   Access to the decision makers is simply much easier in these organizations than it is with large national corporate members where strategic sourcing and decision by committee has become the norm.

The dilemma with this approach is that it is the large national members that understandably dominate the network.  And for these large global companies, we (the network) must continue to develop high-growth, high-capacity, well-financed, well-managed MBEs.  We can no longer afford to have a simple strategy of one size fits all. We as a network must meet our MBEs where they are and help them achieve their dreams.  This means that MBEs must also be ready to adjust their strategies to be successful in our network as local Councils build the local corporate membership. 

These are not mutually exclusive goals, in fact I would argue that they are mutually inclusive goals.  We must satisfy the needs of large global corporate members while building the local corporate membership for the benefit of smaller - growth oriented MBEs.  But our ability to accomplish this is what will determine whether we will continue to relevant and successful.  I am confident we can and will make the necessary changes.