Q&A with Kenneth Jones, President, Northwest Minority Business Council
For more than 30 years, the Northwest Minority Business Council (NMBC) has been linking major corporations and public agencies to minority-owned businesses, a multi-billion dollar sector representing and impacting today's global economy. The NMBC currently serves the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Alaska.
Last year, the Council welcomed a new President, following an exhaustive nationwide search. “There were several qualities we were looking for in selecting the leader for the Northwest Minority Business Council," said Chairman of the Board, Fernando Martinez, who is also a Vice President with Washington Mutual.
As the board progressed through a very rigorous selection process, Kenneth’s name continually rose to the top, says Martinez.
"We needed an individual that was a passionate, experienced leader, and visionary. We wanted an individual that would create a positive force within our region for our Member Corporations and MBEs. Kenneth Jones has the ability to move the NMBC forward to new levels of performance that would deliver value to our members."
In an interview, Jones talks to Colors of Influence about the Council's role in ensuring access to opportunities to minority-owned businesses in the region.
In leading the Northwest Minority Business Council, what is your primary charge? My primary charge is to ensure value to our members and opportunities to our minority business enterprises (MBEs). Another tactical charge is to implement a strategy for growth and sustainability.
We are eager to develop a greater presence in other states of our service area. We have scheduled meetings in Portland, Anchorage and Boise, and still working on developing contacts in Montana.
Before taking on the leadership role at the Council, I worked for many years as an organizational psychologist; served on the faculty of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; was a corporate vice president and Director of organization development and training for a $12 billion-asset organization in Michigan; and was the organization development specialist for the Washington Education Association, with conceptual responsibility for 3,000 worksites and 72,000 public school employees. One highlight of my nonprofit experience is serving as a senior program officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
I also have experience as an entrepreneur. For a number of years, I ran an organizational development consulting firm, specializing in strategy development, organizational alignment and transformational leadership processes.
What is your mission and vision for the council? We’re all about jobs, opportunities and value. Our vision for the council is “to be the primary catalyst for economic development and wealth creation for our stakeholders.” Our mission is “to identify and develop educational and business opportunities for minority business enterprises, corporations and public agencies that will result in stakeholder revenue growth.”
What are your priorities? One of my priorities is to build a highly efficient and competent staff. Our priorities align with our strategies as an organization: financial stability, which includes growth and expansion; learning and communication; marketing; and operational efficiency. Our number one priority is customer satisfaction for our stakeholders: corporations, minority business enterprises and government agencies. Our overall goal is to ensure that we have a strong value proposition for all our stakeholders.
What council programs are you most proud of? We continue to develop new council programs. In the past, the Pillars of Success included a number of business development modules, for example, creating strategic alliances.
Along with the University of Washington, we are launching our first minority business executive leadership program, to be held in June. It’s an intensive weeklong residential learning program on business and management for minority business owners. We’re very proud to have internationally known business researcher and Professor Dr. William Bradford of the University of Washington Foster School of Business as the faculty director.
University of Washington faculty will teach the sessions, which will have a heavy emphasis on leadership, financial stability, marketing and building your business, and creating alliances. For those who are interested, there’s also a global component to the program. We’ll have guest speakers who will address topics of interest to MBEs.
The program is tailored specifically for minority business owners – the CEO. MBEs that qualify must have minimum annual revenue of $300,000. We want to be able to offer the program to businesses that want to move to the next level. We hope to have at least 45 participants in the class for this first group.
We have five founding sponsors, who have a significant investment in starting the program: The Boeing Company, Microsoft, Nordstrom, Washington Mutual, and Zones. Each of the sponsors will be sponsoring two MBEs to attend. Pfizer has also agreed to sponsor one MBE to the program. It costs $3,850 for one participant, and we are asking each MBE to cover their own room and board. We believe that if you put something into it, then you’ll work harder to get something out of it.
For our members, we will also be implementing new programs like one-on-one matchmaking between our corporate buyers and MBEs. We’re developing programs that promote access to capital and relationship-building among MBEs to increase MBE-to-MBE spend.
Along with the Minority Business Enterprise Input Committee, we are putting together a mentoring program for new MBEs as they join our council. It’s still in the planning stages, but at the very minimum, as we certify new MBEs, the MBEIC will try to match each MBE with another minority business owner in the same industry. The goal is to coach newly certified MBEs regarding how to successfully work with the council. If appropriate, tips on contracting would be helpful. If there isn’t a conflict of interest, introducing new MBEs to buyers.
What were some of the early challenges when you first took on the role? There is always a learning curve when you’re starting something new. Knowing exactly where the council is in terms of its development, and in achieving its goals. It was also important to map out the council’s relationship with all of its stakeholders: the MBEs, corporations and government agencies, and other organizations that have similar missions to ours. I had to build my staff, and create and implement a strategy for growth and sustainability, and financial responsibility.
Who are some of your most important allies? Members of our board and our staff. Ty Rogers with AT&T Wireless was our former board chair, and he was a huge supporter and important mentor. Current board chair Fernando Martinez, from Washington Mutual, is also a key supporter.
What are the benefits of certification for minority businesses? I can sum it up in one word: opportunities. The benefits of certification are learning about and getting opportunities. We have a learning series that focuses on access to capital, and talks about how to build alliances with other MBEs; to work for them or work with them on larger contracts.
How do corporations and government agencies benefit from membership in the NMBC? Our corporate and government agency members get a list of certified MBEs, Most corporations, particularly those with government contracts, have supplier diversity goals that they have to meet. The list of certified MBEs is a guarantee that companies and government agencies are indeed working with minority-owned businesses.
Not every business that claims that it is a minority-owned business is an MBE. One of the distinctions we bring to the certification process is that we do site visits to make sure that the people applying for certification match the paperwork. That way, our corporations have the assurance that when they use one of our certified MBEs, it truly is minority-owned.
Our minority businesses do quality work, regardless of the price. Our corporations find that working with MBEs can positively impact their bottom line because they can often get the same quality of work, for a lesser price. When a minority business owner is trying to get work and break into the market, they sometimes come in at a lower bid than a larger company.
When corporations work with MBEs, it benefits the community. People often talk about the country becoming greener, and in fact, it’s also getting browner. By hiring minority businesses, corporations and government agencies contribute to improving the economy and the sustainability of our minority communities.
Particularly in retail, there’s also the issue of customer loyalty among minority communities. When people know that you’re doing work with minority businesses from that community, they are more likely to do business with you. From that standpoint, it’s clear how hiring MBEs is not only a good civil thing to do; it’s a good economic strategy for companies.
It’s important that corporations and government agencies represent and reflect the entire consumer base. That contributes to the health and well-being of our communities, particularly our communities of color.
How does the council collaborate with government agencies in providing opportunities? We organize regular “Meet the Buyer” meetings, so procurement officers get to meet MBEs that provide certain services. Some agencies are very proactive about educating MBEs about their contracting process and offer guidance on how to work with them. We help facilitate those discussions.
What trends are you seeing among minority business enterprises? There are more MBEs now more than ever. Many are very small. Therefore, there is a greater need for creating alliances in order to secure contracts with a larger organization.
Our economy is becoming more and more complex. Use of technology in today’s business environment is so important, but so are the basics. For the community of MBEs to continue to be successful, education is important. Learn about financing, understand contracting, and learn to build strategic alliances. Not only is it necessary to understanding how to grow your business, but also how to manage growth. Seek out continuous professional development opportunities. Learning helps business owners anticipate what’s going to happen in the future in their field or industry, so that they can be prepared.
Spring 2008 Colors of Influence