Obtaining Black Contracts in a Corporate World

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November 11, 2016 By Millions Two One Staff

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"It's not how fast you get to the top, it's how long you stay there." - Patty Berg.

The National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) Conference and Business Opportunity Exchange was held in Chicago, IL on October 23rd-26th, 2016 and drew more than 6,000 corporate CEOs, procurement executives and supplier diversity professionals from the top multinational companies, as well as leading Black, Asian, Hispanic and Native American business owners and international organizations. 

The National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), advances business opportunities for certified minority business enterprises and connects them to corporate members.  The NMSDC works with their 12,000 member Black, Asian, Native and Hispanic certified minority-owned business network to support and facilitate Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) integration into their 1,750 corporate member network and public-sector supply chains to aid in the process of the purchase of MBE's products, services and solutions.  

It is the goal of the NMSDC to help minority businesses to not only get to the top, but to sustain their success in business.  One business in particular that is a member of NMSDC that has risen to the top and has been able to sustain its success for nearly five decades is the Black-owned advertising agency, Burrell Communications.

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Burrell Communications took home the Supplier of the Year Award for Class IV, which included minority-owned businesses that have revenues greater than $50 Million per year.  Burrell Communications is one of the most highly regarded multi-cultural advertising agencies in the country with annual billings exceeding $200 million and a roster of corporate clients – including Procter & Gamble, McDonald’s, American Airlines, General Mills, Toyota and the SuperValu chain of grocery stores.  Burrell Communications was founded by Tom Burrell at a time when Burrell recognized that the portrayal of African Americans were scarce, stereotypical, and offensive.  He coined the mantra, "Black people are not dark-skinned White people” and worked to change the portrayal of Black people on television. 

Founded in the early 1970s as Burrell McBain, the company quickly established itself as a leading shop for niche African American-focused communications. Burrell McBain gained great recognition with their Black Marlboro Man for Philip Morris.  They later procured accounts with McDonald's and Coca-Cola that helped to secure their footing in the industry.  In the early 1980s, the McDonald's “Double Dutch” Commercial gained national attention and Burrell Communications received a Gold Award at the U.S. Television Commercials Festival.  Burrell Communications is now a majority Black female-owned company.  In 2004, Tom Burrell announced his retirement and sold his 51% ownership stake to Fay Ferguson and McGhee Osse, becoming Co-CEOs.

Along with Burrell Communications, the NMSDC 2016 Awards Banquet featured 14 other minority businesses across four categories with annual sales ranging from less than $1 Million to greater than $50 Million in which 7 of those businesses were Black-owned companies.  Duly noted, three out of the four winners were Black-owned as well.  Sowell Law Partners, LLC, a full service law firm providing corporate transactional legal services based in Detroit, MI won the Class I category.  Pro Cutters Lawnscapes, LLC, a commercial lawn care services to medical facilities, businesses, schools, subdivisions throughout the Atlanta area took home the Class II category with annual sales between $1 Million and $10 Million.  Class III with annual sales between $10 Million and $50 Million did not have a winner with a Black-owned business, however Team Henry Enterprises, a multi-discipline contracting firm, specializing in environmental, civil, marine, and emergency response services headquartered in Newport News, VA with satellite offices in Raleigh, NC, Richmond, VA, and Miami, FL was among the top four finalists.

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The NMSDC Conference and Business Opportunity Exchange also held many workshops and seminars to re-energize attendees’ collective efforts, to develop and to connect with other minority firms in the global corporate supply chain.  The workshops and seminars provided a sobering reality for Black and other minority businesses.  Black businesses still face many challenges securing contracts.  Frank Lemos, the President of National Minority Business Advisory Council (NMBAC), located outside of Seattle sat on the “Equity and Enforcement on Government Contracting via Title VI" panel and highlighted the issue that “all 50 states have a broken MBE program. . . and mandatory goals [issued for MBEs] are NOT automatic”.  

NMBAC’s focuses their time on assuring that all MBEs have a voice to influence policy, process, oversight and accountability to our government so that it can better serve all communities.  Lemos discussed how minority businesses were consistently frozen out of contracting opportunities nationwide.  According to Lemos, currently if a corporation discriminates against a Black or minority business, the only recourse is to sue the corporation which could cost a small businesses already short on resources, millions of dollars.  This potential loss of resources is coupled with the threat of being retaliated against and possibly black-balled from doing business in a particular industry. 

Lemos said that he would like to see corporations receive financial penalties from the government if they are found to not be in compliance.  Lemos plans to host a panel at next year’s NMSDC Conference and Business Opportunity Exchange where he hopes to garner more support to hold corporations and governments accountable.  “We’re talking about unlocking billions of dollars, wealth for future generations, businesses and influence,” said Lemos. 

There were two other panels that provided great insight into growth for MBEs.  Mauricio Vera of the Small Business Disadvantaged Business Utilization Office sat on the "Federal Contracting Growth Strategies" panel and bluntly expressed that there is still a high degree of discrimination with minority businesses obtaining contracts and that the process can be grueling.  He made the attendees aware that he personally pulls contract awardees into his office and advises them to “Perform, Perform, Perform,” understanding that if they do not perform well, it will make it more difficult for future minority businesses that are working to obtain contracts. 

Antwaun Griffin, who was appointed by President Obama to serve as Deputy of Assistant Secretary for U.S. Operations at the International Trade Administration in May of 2012 and Founder of Penn and Broad Partners admonished MBEs to “build capacity through partnerships, mergers and acquisitions” on the "How to Gain Competitive Advantage in Global Markets" panel.  Griffin gave interesting insight when he articulated that the person that you are looking for as your competition could be your partner.  “Build capacity, put your money back into your business, hire more employees and buy more technology,” expressed Griffin.

The 2017 NMSDC Conference and Business Opportunity Exchange will be held at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan, October 22-25.  To attend next year’s conference, log on to to www.nmsdcconference.com for the most up-to-date information.  This is the premier conference for Minority Business Enterprises, aspiring MBEs and individuals that are seeking contracts.

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Millions Two One Staff