The ‘colored entrance’ to White-owned businesses

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We had an issue with the Chrysler Corporation. They were building a new plant in Kokomo, Ind. The state legislature gave them $8 million in cash to acquire the needed land. They had the nerve to refuse any appointments by Black construction managers. One of our members even had their FEDEX package containing the Statement of Qualifications refused for acceptance. They wouldn’t even accept it. He complained to us and we went to war. After a scathing op-ed in many NNPA newspapers and the threat of defaulting on the $8 million given to the company by the state, they began to panic. Chrysler sent four vice presidents to my office. The minority business guy wasn’t even in the loop. They made peace by awarding the plant to one of our members. One of the vice presidents ran their foundation. As an apologetic gesture, they sent a handsome grant to us. I felt like Rev. Jesse Jackson.

A lot of these corporations will demand that you, a Black person, should go through that colored door and never approach the main door. One of our members formed an engineering consulting company made up of two homegrown Blacks, an African and a Caribbean. The four of them developed a great staff and started winning a lot of contracts at this one particular Fortune 10 corporation. Eventually, members of the corporation suggested that they get certified as a minority business. They said they would rather not as they were winning contracts in a straight up competitive way. Then the corporation demanded it. So they did and by doing so they now had to go through that colored door. Predictably, their business started drying up and within a year they were out of business.

There is a big stigma placed on certified minorities within the majority of major corporations. I remember talking with the minority business guy for Enron (before their demise). He broke into tears as he said his career is at a “dead end sitting in this damn office.” He said he was an outcast and when he walks down a hall everyone frowns at him. “If I come up to them to discuss minority firms they say they don’t have time and then I catch all this hell from people like you.”

There are a few corporations that are exceptions to the above. They don’t move by one office and one person with little staff. They move by a committee of some of their best “up and coming” executives. Management expertise is applied and sincerity is evident. Johnson & Johnson, Verizon, Comcast and Penn Gaming quickly come to my mind as great examples of commitment in diversifying their procurement choices. There are a few others but that’s about it. And, by the way, a corporation having a Black CEO has so far made no difference in the attitude of minority procurement.

(Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: http://www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.)

 

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