Supplier Diversity Explained through the eyes of the LGBT business owner - Jenn T. Grace—Book Publisher, Speaker, and Author Skip to the content

Supplier Diversity Explained through the eyes of the LGBT business owner

Supplier Diversity Explained Through the eyes of the LGBT Business OwnerToday’s blog post is going to be something a little different – it is a TV interview on “The Hour with Jim Pellegrino.” I am joined by my friends and colleagues Sam McClure, Vice President of Affiliate Relations and External Affairs for the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and Rick Callahan, Founder & CEO of Krative.

This 22 minute transcript is packed with information about the supplier diversity process as it relates to LGBT and other minority groups. This is essentially a crash course in supplier diversity – you’ll learn why it is important for all corporations to understand and why it is a catalyst for small business growth!

 

AUDIO TITLE:  The Hour with Jim Pellegrino

Jim Pellegrino:

Hello this is Jim Pellegrino, your host for the hour. We have a very special panel and I’d like to introduce you to my guests. To my left is Jenn Grace who’s the vice president of the Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Jenn is also an author, blogger, podcaster and speaker. Every time I see Jenn, we come up with a new book. Can you see that? Can you see those books? One is entitled, ‘But You Don’t Look Gay,’ and the other is entitled, ‘No Wait, You Do Look Gay.’ So here’s Jenn’s- you’ve only got two books out, or do you got more?

Jenn T Grace:

I’m working on a third.

Jim Pellegrino:

She’s working on a third. So this is like being on Oprah, you know Jenn. When you hold a book up on Oprah you get like millions of requests. Maybe not quite that many in the hour, but we’re working at it.

Jenn T Grace:

I’ll take anything.

Jim Pellegrino:

Jenn is a second time guest for us. Next, Sam McClure. Sam is the LGBT Chambers of Commerce Worldwide VP affiliate and external relations; very impressive, Sam.

Sam McClure:

Thank you.

Jim Pellegrino:

Very impressive.

Sam McClure:

Thanks for having me today.

Jim Pellegrino:

You’re welcome.

Sam McClure:

It’s an honor to be here.

Jim Pellegrino:

You’re quite- and you came in from Washington DC.

Sam McClure:

Yes.

Jim Pellegrino:

Everything happens in Washington D.C.

Sam McClure:

That’s what they say.

Jim Pellegrino:

That’s what they say. And Rick Callahan who is the founder and CEO of Krative Brand Strategies, a full service marketing and branding agency. Rick, welcome to the show. Welcome to the three of you to the show. So first of all, definition. Because I use the acronym LGBT, for the audience’s benefit for those who do not know the acronym, it stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. So our topic today is going to be on supplier diversity which is Corporate America specifically looking to procure business from the LGB-owned business area. So let’s start with some conversation on a personal experience that I had. Because when we’re talking about diversity and corporate buying from the LGBT community, part of my background is as a former vice president of procurement and operations for the Textron Corporation where I had 3,000 active suppliers. So I’m very familiar with corporate diversity and all the programs that go along with it. So there was an article written way back at the beginning of this year, and the article said, ‘LGBT-owned businesses to get boost,’ and it indicated that federal agencies, organizations such as the NFL, and more than one third of Fortune 500 companies are now trying to expand their vendor pools by explicitly encouraging bids from gay, lesbian and transgender contractors. Of course before, many corporations have had outreach in supplier diversity programs for racial minorities, women and disabled veterans. So from my point of view, for the three of you, I wanted to get how you felt about that. From my point of view and my background, as a vice president of procurement in a very major corporation, and as I said with 3,000 active suppliers. Whenever I travelled my 200,000 miles a year and met with anyone who was doing business with my corporation, here’s what I thought. I went out there with the intention of finding suppliers and vendors that could give me the price that we negotiated, that could get the thing delivered on time, and would be good quality. If they happened to be a woman, if they happened to be a minority, if they happened to be gay or lesbian, or they happened to be a disabled service veteran, fine. But my principle focus was on performance. You say, Sam?

Sam McClure:

I say wow, sounds like you were amazing at your job. Of course that should be your principle focus. You know, in that procurement space, it’s always going to be the best bid that takes the business. And that is absolutely how it should be, and there’s nothing that we want to do that wants to change that. That great article that you found, which I’m very proud of that article, it ran in hundreds of thousands of markets because it was picked up by the AP. What we’re referring to is the creation of the certification that identifies LGBT-owned businesses just as we have for minority and women and others. And the idea is to get them to the table to make that bid. I want procurement professionals like yourself to actually have the widest and most diverse pool of candidates to choose from. I think competition is really good in those situations. Sometimes the most innovative solution is going to come from a new player who’s coming to the table. And at the heart of supplier diversity, where the trends are now, that’s what it’s about. It’s about getting the most diverse pool of contractors to bid. And they may bring the most innovative solution, and if they don’t they’re not going to win the business. But we know if we can get them to the table for opportunities, they’re going to compete and they’re going to win business, and they’re going to serve companies like the one you worked for very well.

Jim Pellegrino:

So how- the next logical question would be what is the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce? And how does it serve your community and how is it going to help be- I guess, a conduit to the Corporate America?

Sam McClure:

Well actually I love that short description, I might steal that and use it sometime, that’s really good. The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is a global organization whose sole mission is the economic advancement of the LGBT business owner. We created LGBT supplier diversity with the intent of making sure that those LGBT businesses could get access to those amazing opportunities in corporate supply chains, municipal procurement opportunities, government contracting opportunities. What we created was a business certification, so that folks like yourself in procurement could identify, yes indeed this is a certified business. We know that this is a business that may or may not have had opportunities before. And if you do choose to do business with one of them, because they gave you the winning bid, the companies that are actively working in supplier diversity will record that spend so that they can have a meaningful record of what kind of investment they are giving back to all diverse communities.

Jim Pellegrino:

Okay, so do we have like two different people here? Because I know Jenn is a successful entrepreneur, right? However you have just started your business, right? You’re an entrepreneur but you are also a small business.

Rick Callahan:

I’m a small business owner.

Jim Pellegrino:

Okay so Jenn first, and then yourself, Rick. Explain to me how- what it was that Sam said, how you interface with this organization. Because you’re vice president of the Connecticut?

Jenn T Grace:

Yes. So Sam- if you take nothing from what she said other than this one word, is access. That is entirely it. So because of my relationship with the NGLCC and my ability to say that I’m a certified business, I have access to hundreds and hundreds of LGBT-owned businesses across the country, additionally here in Connecticut, and then to those corporate partners. So they have 140 corporate partners I believe is the current number, and just going back to what you had said in the beginning of you’re looking for the person who’s going to give you the best result, right? That’s all you cared about as a procurement person.

Jim Pellegrino:

Quality, delivery, cost.

Jenn T Grace:

Result.

Jim Pellegrino:

Right.

Jenn T Grace:

So I get this access to you, but it’s still my job to make sure that I’m going to deliver exactly what you need, or else-

Jim Pellegrino:

Okay I want to make sure that I understand Jenn, how do you get- what’s the relationship between the corporate vice  president, right? And the LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and you the individual? How- do they provide access for you? Explain to me how that works.

Jenn T Grace:

In a lot of different ways. So the NGLCC has their corporate partners, and then as you mentioned there’s the Greater Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in which I’ve been involved in for many, many years. So there’s also corporate partners in that local organization. And it’s Sam’s job essentially to be the connector, to be the conduit, to say, ‘Hey Jenn, I know this corporation is looking for your service. Let me help you do that.’

Jim Pellegrino:

Okay.

Jenn T Grace:

So they do that formally, and they do that very informally.

Jim Pellegrino:

Okay and how about for you?

Rick Callahan:

So as far as my experience, I don’t know as much on your end how it all works, but I actually found the local chamber, the CTGLC and noticed if there was this certification I could go through, and it gives me access- actually I brought one today to show you.

Jim Pellegrino:

Hold that up, hold that up right quick for the camera right there. So that’s your certification?

Rick Callahan:

This is my certification.

Jim Pellegrino:

And that was awarded to you by whom, Rick?

Rick Callahan:

This comes from the NGLCC but I do work with the local- the state chamber to actually go through the process.

Jim Pellegrino:

Okay. So you were saying that- what did you have to do to earn that?

Rick Callahan:

Well that was actually a big concern of mine going into this. I wasn’t sure, how do I prove that I’m a gay business owner. But it’s a lot like an RFP process; going out to bid and basically filling out forms and really just making sure I follow steps one through ten, providing some documentation and then there’s an interview process as well with the local chamber. Someone came out to my office to make sure I’m in business and legit, and you know, I got some good news afterwards that I was certified and I was ready to jump in.

Jim Pellegrino:

And how has it worked out for you?

Rick Callahan:

Well you know, I’m on the diving board, and I’m ready to dive-

Jim Pellegrino:

You’re ready to dive.

Rick Callahan:

But I haven’t gone yet. So I’ve very new to the certification.

Jim Pellegrino:

And you’re normally from Connecticut, right?

Rick Callahan:

I am, yeah.

Jim Pellegrino:

Okay so you’re principal business is the marketing and the branding, right? Communicative?

Rick Callahan:

Correct.

Sam McClure:

You know what we see with business owners that gain the certification, you know ultimately if you’re looking at the growth of a business as a journey, grabbing this process and getting a certification is a first step. And it helps you gain access to many of these opportunities, particularly through supplier diversity as you mentioned from the article, over a third of the Fortune 500 recognizes this certification and is actively seeking these suppliers. So you know, now Krative, this business has taken a step. Now they’re in our database, they can be found by supplier diversity and procurement professionals that are looking for their services. And they may also find- and actually these two businesses are great examples of companies that are going to find a lot of opportunity doing business with other diverse suppliers. Perhaps as prime contractors to corporations, but more likely as subcontractors. So diverse businesses working with each other. I know Jenn’s story very well because we go back quite a long ways, and she has many clients that are other certified LGBT business enterprises, and we see this is in all diverse communities. These small business work with each other to create opportunities for each other, and elevate entire communities.

Jim Pellegrino:

You were going to say something before I think, and I went back to Rick. Do you remember what you-?

Jenn T Grace:

I was but I don’t know if it’s relevant, but all I was going to say is you were talking about what does it actually take to become a certified business, and it’s being owned, managed, operated and controlled by 51% of a majority of whatever that group is. So in this case we’re talking about LGBT. So you have to own the company, operate it, manage it and control it. And that is what is the big thing to be able to prove in order to be certified.

Jim Pellegrino:

So why is the connection that has been made between the LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Corporate America and the individual business person; why is that important to the growth opportunities to the small and medium sized businesses?

Rick Callahan:

I think, if I can-

Jim Pellegrino:

Go ahead, go right ahead.

Rick Callahan:

From my perspective you know I am a smaller business, I have a few employees, right? And when I realized that I can gain access to these large corporate partners, that was amazing to me. I thought that was a great opportunity. And then realizing not too long after that I can actually partner with people like Jenn and other LGBT BE enterprises; there’s a huge pool of opportunity of growth and collaboration, and I think that that’s great for the economy.

Jim Pellegrino:

But you know what, even though the process is in place, Rick you have to be comfortable with networking.

Rick Callahan:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jim Pellegrino:

You have to be comfortable with networking. People who are comfortable with networking, and are skilled at networking, can be very, very productive and advance themself exponentially, than if you try to go out on your own.

Rick Callahan:

Absolutely.

Jim Pellegrino:

Really, it’s really something.

Sam McClure:

That’s some good advice. I mean for businesses broadly, and that’s a major pillar to what we do as a national chamber. You know we do an international business and leadership conference every year, it’s coming up this year in beautiful Fort Lauderdale in August. And one of the things we do for our certified LGBT BE’s is we create a full day of matchmaker meetings for them, customized to fit exactly what their business growth strategy is, to matchmake them with folks like yourself in your previous role; buyers, procurement professionals, supplier diversity professionals. So you know this guy could get twenty minutes of face time within IBM. Or in Aetna, right around the corner.

Jim Pellegrino:

Yeah, it’s interesting you say that Sam, because there’s another part of my life that helps people be comfortable with and become an expert at networking. And what happens to a lot of people is they can go to a chamber meeting, they can go to- you can go anyplace where there’s a group of people where you’re supposed to network, and walking through that door is one thing, but knowing what you’re doing once you’re in that room is something different. And having the skills to be able to network effectively, because quite frankly I’m not going to give Jenn a half hour. I may have five to ten minutes and that’s all it’s going to be, and during that period of time she’s going to have to optimize her time with me and people need to be taught that. Go ahead.

Jenn T Grace:

One thing I would add is that there are a lot of people who aren’t comfortable with networking, it’s not a natural skill for many people. But I feel like when it comes to- and this is probably true for all certifications, I just happen to be very fond of the LGBT one, is that because I’m an LGBT certified business I can reach out to any other LGBT certified business and just say, “Hey, you’re in Seattle. I’m in Connecticut. I see some synergy here, do you want to have a conversation?” And they’re going to answer their phone and they’re going to respond because we share that certification and we share that wanting to grow.

Jim Pellegrino:

You know what, Jenn? That is so true. And the analogy to that would be any organization that you belong to, or school that you belong to, or venture that you’ve done; you know anybody who went to, let’s say Yale, can pick up that phone and say, “Yale,” and you don’t have to say anything more. Anybody who went to, or who was in the United States Army can do the same thing. Anybody who was in the theatre and had- that was common with people. So there’s no reason why your organization can’t provide the same kind of link that as soon as they pick up that phone and hear, ‘LGBT Chamber of Commerce,’ I’ll say to myself, ‘You know what-‘ and I’ve got one of those certifications, it’s going to open doors for me. So tell me personally- because I think we’re already more than halfway through. What have been your personal, individual experiences both good and bad- don’t make it too long now, with being an LGBT business person?

Rick Callahan:

You know, for me personally I don’t think I’ve experienced much negative at this point, and that’s great to say. You know this is all new to me for the certification, so I’m ready to jump in and I’m willing to see what happens. I’m ready for the opportunity.

Jenn T Grace:

I actually can echo Rick a little bit and say that I’ve faced very little negative in terms of what I do and I’ve been in the LGBT business space since 2006-2007. So in all of that time, it’s very rare that I come up against any type of discrimination or anything like that.

Jim Pellegrino:

You made- if I remember correctly Jennifer, in the first time we got together, you made a conscious decision, you were working in a business environment.

Jenn T Grace:

Yes. And that was riddled with discrimination which is different. So I actually started my business to get out of an environment that was not comfortable for me.

Sam McClure:

As many LGBT entrepreneurs do.

Jim Pellegrino:

Okay. And the reason I was saying that is I remember at the time I interviewed you, one of the things we talked about was I said, “Hey you know, you’re being pretty successful,” and you said, “I’m leaving this life. I’m going to this life.”

Jenn T Grace:

Oh yeah.

Jim Pellegrino:

And struck out on your own and you’ve been very successful doing it. You’re on the tip of the diving board right now, right? And Sam is a prominent national figure in terms of everything that she’s done. So listen, we’ve got about five minutes left. I knew this was going to fly by.

Sam McClure:

Can I add just one thing to that last point?

Jim Pellegrino:

Yeah, go right ahead.

Sam McClure:

I have to tell you what music to my ears to hear two business owners say that they’ve not experienced much in the way of discrimination. And that’s a great source of pride to the NGLCC. You know just a reminder to everyone out there, there are no federal workplace protections for LGBT people. So what Jenn experienced in the workplace, not uncommon at all and it’s been a great motivator for many LGBT people to get out of the workforce and to create their own businesses because many workplaces are hostile and there’s no protection. Now we look at what’s been achieved in the thirteen years that our organization has been here-

Jim Pellegrino:

See let me ask you a personal question about that.

Sam McClure:

Sure.

Jim Pellegrino:

When you say many businesses are I think you used the word openly hostile-

Sam McClure:

Work environments.

Jim Pellegrino:

Work environments.

Sam McClure:

Yeah, absolutely.

Jim Pellegrino:

As a gay or lesbian person?

Sam McClure:

Mm hmm.

Jim Pellegrino:

I mean is it overt, covert?

Jenn T Grace:

Both.

Sam McClure:

Yes.

Jim Pellegrino:

Both? It’s both? Okay. I was just curious.

Sam McClure:

And the problem is- now in a state like Connecticut there’s good protections but there’s no federal protection, so in many cases there’s no recourse in a situation like that. And right now we’re in a political climate where you know, all kinds of bills are being introduced to sort of reinforce this religious freedom concept, which is being used to marginalize people in the workforce. And I’m just really proud that we’ve got two entrepreneurs that are working in this space that we’ve created with our advocacy where it is a level playing field for the LGBT entrepreneur, and they can move forward with their businesses and grow even in that still strained environment.

Jim Pellegrino:

We’ve got about three minutes left. How old is the organization? The national organization Chamber of Commerce of LGBT?

Sam McClure:

We’re in our thirteenth year this year.

Jim Pellegrino:

Thirteenth year.

Sam McClure:

And the certification was founded, or was created, in 2002. So yeah, it’s still a relatively young organization, it’s still quite a revolutionary concept.

Jim Pellegrino:

I read somewhere, Sam, that there were 36 chambers in the United States of America, and I think the number- I remember it was something like fourteen or fifteen or sixteen overseas.

Sam McClure:

Yeah, we’re up to 39 local US affiliates now, and we have our overseas affiliates as well. We’re doing international advocacy work for the economic advancement with a particular focus in South America. We’ve taken two fully sanctioned US trade missions just for certified LGBT entrepreneurs, and we’ve helped found other national chambers of commerce in Mexico, Columbia, and now we’re working in Peru.

Jim Pellegrino:

So you can pick up the phone internationally if you have to.

Sam McClure:

Absolutely.

Jim Pellegrino:

Which is really great.

Sam McClure:

Trade. They’ve got to do it, right? 95% of the customers are in the US.

Jenn T Grace:

I have a call with Argentina next week, actually. Because of this.

Jim Pellegrino:

Oh, that’s great. Listen we’ve got about two minutes left. So my final question to the three of you would be individually. If it were a year- and I’ll use you first, because you’re the guy that’s standing on the tip of the board, right? So I’ll use you. If it were a year from now, what would- and you were back on the show, which I hope you guys will be. If it were a year from now- actually we’ve got two minutes left. What would you be saying to me in terms of progress, Rick?

Rick Callahan:

I think I’d be saying this opportunity has been amazing that I’ve been able to connect to so many people, especially people like Jenn. Like we actually talked right before going on here, about possibly working together on a few projects. And just having these doors opened has been amazing.

Jim Pellegrino:

So your prognosis is good?

Rick Callahan:

Absolutely, yeah.

My friend, Jenn, what’s your prognosis?

Jenn T Grace:

It will be fantastic. It always is. I feel like I’m always able to kind of shift and adapt my business model based on the great people that I’m meeting on a regular basis. So the sky is the limit.

Jim Pellegrino:

Do you find other people from other states and other countries that you guys work with feel the same way? Very positive about the future, et cetera?

Jenn T Grace:

That’s my general experience. Sometimes I think I live in a bubble though, but I think generally it’s a positive thing.

Jim Pellegrino:

Okay, you’ve got about thirty seconds left, Sam.

Sam McClure:

You know I’d say in a year from now the greatest compliment to me would be to hear this same kind of positive outlook from other LGBT entrepreneurs. At the end of the day, that’s what we came here to do. Level the playing field and let these entrepreneurs do what they know how to do, grow their businesses and create jobs and build strong economies across the country.

Jim Pellegrino:

I think that’s excellent and I would add my editorial remark would be to any group- any specific group that the corporation is trying to work diversity with, that as long as- whatever group it is, has its optimization focus on schedule, cost and quality, everything is going to be okay. And I wound up with the last word.

Sam McClure:

Well said.

Jim Pellegrino:

Rick, good to meet you.

Rick Callahan:

Thank you very much. Very nice to meet you.

Jim Pellegrino:

Sam, good to meet you.

Sam McClure:

Thank you, sir.

Jim Pellegrino:

My friend Jenn, good to have you back.

Jenn T Grace:

It’s nice to see you.

Jim Pellegrino:

We’ll be back with our next guest.

[End of Video 00:22:08]

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