By M.V. Greene
At 50 years old this year, the National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. — widely known by its acronym NMSDC — has its share of graying hair. That surely is what happens when an organization has been so viable to the cause of supplier diversity for so long. But looking closely at the history and impact of the greatest advocacy organization to accelerate the development of minority-owned businesses, those gray hairs actually are golden.
When talk of NMSDC’s legacy enters the conversation, it describes what many call the “gold standard” of supplier-diversity advocacy and certification organizations.
Chartered in 1972 in Chicago, Illinois, as the National Minority Purchasing Council, the organization has been singularly focused on fostering supply-chain business relationships between top U.S. corporations and minority suppliers from African American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American backgrounds. Rebranded as NMSDC in 1981, the organization today is headquartered in New York with a national network of some 1,450 corporate members.
Accolades from some of those who worked in the trenches alongside or within NMSDC for a considerable number of those 50 years — those who know the organization best — tell the story.
“Let me be clear. I really do think NMSDC has achieved its mission. Major corporations and CEOs began to look at the whole concept of minority business differently, the value of it and the contribution [minority business enterprises] MBEs could make to their corporations and communities,” said James H. Lowry, senior advisor, The Boston Consulting Group Inc.
He is a nationally recognized workforce and supplier-diversity expert who has been engaged with the organization since its founding. Lowry has also been a leader in supplier diversity, having designed many successful minority business development programs for numerous major corporations.
Richard A. “Dick” Huebner — who served for more than 30 years as head of the organization’s affiliate Houston Minority Supplier Development Council — called NMSDC the world’s “preeminent organization for growing minority businesses into a posture of doing business with private sector corporations. No other organization does what NMSDC does.”
Leonard Greenhalgh — working over the years with NMSDC-certified companies as director of programs for minority- and women-owned businesses and director, Native American business programs at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College — described NMSDC’s impact as “50 years of essential service” to the U.S economy.
“NMSDC has been the major mechanism that links minorities and immigrants of color with the major companies that need to include historically underrepresented groups in their supply chains,” he said. “NMSDC is the organization that enriches U.S.-based supply chains and is the voice of minority business.”
Another longtime NMSDC patron, Ralph G. Moore, president of Ralph G. Moore & Associates Inc. DBA RGMA, is unequivocal about the guiding light of NMSDC’s glorious history.
“It is impossible to separate NMSDC’s success from Harriet’s tenure,” he said, noting the profound significance of retired NMSDC President and CEO Harriet R. Michel. “In her 22 years, she transformed what it meant to be a minority business in America.”
Moore — whose acclaimed “Five Levels of Supplier Diversity Program Development” remain a model for outlining maturation levels of supplier-diversity programs — added.
“There was no other single advocate who had more first-name relationships with corporate CEOs than Harriet Michel. She transformed the image of minority business in the corporate C-suite, and that is really the foundation of all the progress that we have made in this area.”
Lowry, president and CEO of James H. Lowry & Associates, outlined in very straightforward terms the impact of her NMSDC tenure, which began in 1988 with her appointment to lead the organization. By the time of her retirement in 2010, U.S. corporations were spending some $100 billion annually with NMSDC-certified minority suppliers.
Under Michel’s advocacy and leadership, “We got people thinking about being successful entrepreneurs instead of being doctors and dentists and social workers and teachers. That was huge! It was a change of mindset that we could be successful entrepreneurs. We didn’t think about forming billion-dollar companies, even million-dollar companies. That was a concept that was almost alien to Blacks and browns in America,” he said.
Michel delighted in the talk of NMSDC’s impact under her watch, and she didn’t shy away from calling her tenure “the best 20-plus years of my life.” But she also laid credit at the feet of many partners standing with her over the years — including U.S. corporations, minority suppliers, NMSDC staff and advocates — calling it a period “of growth, recognition and achievement” that saw the organization emerge from a small entity to a behemoth in the supplier diversity arena.
“A lot of people have been complimentary and talk about those being the golden years of NMSDC,” Michel said, then the second woman to lead the organization. “I was always striving for excellence in terms of the organization and how it functioned, as well as the services it provided both to corporations and MBEs, and the results it produced.”
Much to her credit, she “took the ball and ran with it,” Lowry said. “Harriet was able to really articulate and advocate the mission in a way that was diplomatic and effective with CEOs.”
Moore said Michel’s work at NMSDC places her historically among the “giants” of minority business enterprise development and advocacy, notably alongside the likes of late U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, D-Md., and late Wall Street financier Reginald F. Lewis. “Those are giants. They remain my heroes, and Harriet is up there with them,” he said.
Asked about the many NMSDC achievements over 50 years, she was happy to rattle off a lengthy list. She first gave credit to the way the organization was structured before her tenure into regional affiliates to work with minority businesses directly from the field. Currently, there are 23 NMSDC regional affiliates across the country, certifying and matching more than 12,000 minority-owned businesses with the supply chains of NMSDC member corporations.
Huebner — who led HMSDC to be recognized seven times as NMSDC Council of the Year — echoed Michel’s sentiments of the importance of NMSDC’s affiliate councils.
“The network of local councils gives NMSDC a front-line presence where local needs and interests can be identified and met. Connections with local decision-makers is key to the growth of minority businesses, until they reach the expanded capability of national or global participation,” he said.
Maye Foster-Thompson — who worked for the organization in Chicago in the early 1970s under the NMSDC’s old National Minority Purchasing Council name — said that in those early days, entrepreneurs were extremely excited to know they could receive procurement assistance as they formulated and grew their businesses.
“We were hands-on with the firms. We were on the spot in terms of contact with minority vendors. The work is done at the local levels because that is where the rubber meets the road,” she said.
Under Michel’s 22-year tenure, the organization further grew during the 1990s, with initiatives such as the launch of the NMSDC Leadership Awards Dinner that celebrated the achievements of its corporate members and MBEs and the establishment of the NMSDC Program Managers’ Seminar that served as a training medium for corporate supplier-diversity professionals. Later during the 1990s, NMSDC partnered with the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to facilitate executive business education for minority-business owners and established the acclaimed Corporate Plus® program, a resource for its corporate members to identify minority suppliers with national capabilities.
Since its inception in 1996, the program is still highly successful, Lowry said.
Another achievement dear to Michel was NMSDC’s international expansion, launching affiliates in Brazil, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, South Africa and China that greatly extended the reach of its advocacy. She explained that enlightened corporate members were interested in the global expansion because they sourced goods and services internationally, which fit squarely within the organization’s vision.
“The multiplier effect was fantastic,” Michel said. “Suddenly, we were not just an American-based organization. What it did was bring attention to indigenous people who, like minorities in the United States, weren’t getting the opportunity for economic empowerment and growth.”
Her fond memories of NMSDC’s legacy and its many achievements include the working relationships with extraordinarily successful multibillion-dollar minority companies. She pointed out that minority entrepreneurs like David L. Steward — co-founder and chairman of World Wide Technology Inc., a global technology solutions provider with an annual revenue that now exceeds $13.4 billion — and Janice Bryant Howroyd, founder and CEO of The Act 1 Group Inc., the nation’s largest privately held, woman- and minority-owned workforce management company that operates in 19 countries with 2,600 employees worldwide, have been recipients of NMSDC certification.
Michel says the impact of NMSDC has been powerful and enduring.
“The legacy of NMSDC is 50 years of continuous access to corporations by MBEs. That is what NMSDC provides — access,” she said. “We gave thousands of MBEs access. We helped to create wealth and jobs in minority communities by all these MBEs having access to contracting opportunities. We were able to influence behavior of a lot of corporations. We were able to put minority business owners in the room.”
To learn more about NMSDC’s 50th anniversary, visit nmsdc.org. Also view this video at mbnusa.biz/detail/nmsdc-marks-50th-anniversary.
National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc Chicago Illinois National Minority Purchasing Council African American Asian Hispanic Native American New York James H. Lowry The Boston Consulting Group Inc Leonard Greenhalgh women-owned businesses Native American business programs U.S economy. Harriet Michel entrepreneurs Reginald F. Lewis Maye Foster-Thompson David L. Steward World Wide Technology Inc Janice Bryant Howroyd The Act 1 Group Inc NMSDC’s 50th anniversary MBN USA. Ralph G. Moore RGMA Parren J. Mitchell HMSDC Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston MBEs Richard A. Dick Huebner