By Genny Hom-Franzen
When J. Vincent Williams stepped into his role as president and CEO of the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council in June, the global COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing.
Much like business executives, teachers, parents and others, he had to quickly adjust to the new normal. In fact, the road to earning his new post was paved with virtual meetings; he interviewed and accepted the job via Zoom, as well as met staff and board members through the virtual platform.
Almost a year later, Williams is still successfully engaging small businesses and corporations — virtually, of course — with the goal of continuing ChicagoMSDC’s legacy as one of the premier 23 affiliate councils of National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc.
“I continue to pivot each day, and these lessons learned are ways for me to share best practices for the next generation of leaders that will have this experience to read about,” he said.
Williams brings more than 25 years of experience in business and nonprofit work to ChicagoMSDC. Before joining the council, he was vice president of economic empowerment for the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. He has also worked for The Executives’ Club of Chicago and Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.
Influenced by family of business owners
He said growing up in a family of successful Black entrepreneurs provided him with his strong work ethic. His family owned a roller rink on the South Side of Chicago for 10 years in the 70s and 80s, and his grandfather owned a gas station.
“It prepped me to be an advocate for minority business enterprises,” Williams said. “Taking on this leadership role in a remote environment has been awesome and incredible. It forced me to tap into all my change management experience and knowledge.
“The organization and work that we do is so relevant, especially now when so many businesses have been forced to pivot and change their business plans and identity,” he said. “We are the gold standard for certifying MBEs and developing, advocating and, ultimately, connecting them with opportunities for growth and sustainability.”
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Williams is inspired by the many minority business enterprises he works with.
“Knowing that the connections, development and advocacy work is helping to move the needle of entrepreneurship in a positive direction is what makes me smile as I lay my head down at the end of the day,” he said. “The outreach to each of our strategic partners to collaborate and create new ways for them to incorporate business diversity into their workflow is another inspiration that keeps me going … I believe that ChicagoMSDC has the team in place — along with our affiliate network of supporters — to provide the best thought leadership on business diversity.”
While the pandemic has paused all in-person events, Williams and his staff are working harder than ever to provide meaningful connections and value-adds for MBEs and corporations. To that end, the council has increased the use of technology, including enhanced options for booth engagement, visits, networking and MBE-2-MBE connections for a dynamic virtual experience.
The council has also added more asynchronous online opportunities i.e., so that members can log on to their personal devices and participate in recorded webinars and/
or live technical assistance workshops. And, ChicagoMSDC launched #BuyDiverse Podcast, which is a part of the WGN Radio podcast network. It focuses on the state of minority business, ChicagoMSDC events, MBEs and corporation member shares. Check out the first two episodes at.wgnradio.com/buydiverse.
“The pandemic has allowed us to cast a wider net of outreach to our members,” Williams said. “No longer do we have to invite them for a cold chicken salad or [to pay] $40 parking to attend an event. From the comfort of their environments, we can share content and engage on various levels. We, here at ChicagoMSDC, will continue to utilize technology for years to come, as this allows us to keep current and be in the NOW.”
Connecting the dots
In fact, this year’s ChicagoMSDC’s flagship event, the annual Chicago Business Opportunity Fair, will likely include a virtual element. The annual CBOF is one of the country’s largest procurement events. This year, the 54th Opportunity Fair will be held June 23-24. The theme is “Connecting the Dots — Business S.O.S. — Synergies! Opportunities! Solutions!” and the robust agenda is in the works. Providing the country gets the pandemic under control, he is hoping for at least a hybrid event, with some activities held virtually and others in person.
Looking ahead, Williams said his ideas and plans are “endless.”
“I hope to continue down this road of connecting and developing minority-owned businesses to identify more opportunities for growth and sustainability. This is a great field and a necessary field,” he said. “I am confident that my experience and thought leadership will lend greatly to the various industries, and I will continue to grow strategic partnerships all will benefit from. Creating a business ecosystem is about being intentional.”
ChicagoMSDC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, and Williams and his staff are excited to build on the successes and keep the momentum going.
“The case for business diversity is crystal clear. After 50-plus years, there is still so much work that needs to be done. Some organizations do not even have an existing supplier diversity program. We can help with that,” he said. “We have partners that will share best practices. We have mentor-protégé opportunities for organizations to be a part of, and we have qualified assessment tools that allow us to determine where we can help you spend with minority vendors. We do this, and we do it well!”
To learn more about
Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council, visit chicagomsdc.org.