Debra Jennings-Johnson - 2022 Global Supply Chain Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Hall of Fame

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

A:  I am a supplier-diversity professional who has dedicated over 30 years with two Fortune 50 companies to promote and secure business diversity. I am a lifetime Chicagoan who has traveled across the U.S. and many other countries. I’ve lived to work and worked to live since I’ve enjoyed most of my career and saw each day as working for a cause bigger than a paycheck. I’m a nurturer to family and friends, and I’ve raised a wonderful daughter who’s an entrepreneur.

I’m now interim president and CEO of the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council. I feel this role takes me full circle to where my passion for supplier diversity began. I pledge to continue my legacy of making a positive difference that is sustainable.

Q: When and why did you become a supplier-diversity and minority-business-development champion?

A: My supplier-diversity career started with AT&T [Inc.]. Its CEO helped design the first Minority Business Opportunity Fair. I was responsible for supplier management and developed a passion for the work to remove barriers and open doors. This experience led me to the decision to dedicate my career to being a minority-business-development champion. During this time, I began to embrace the responsibility the work carried and empowered myself to include diverse companies in procurement opportunities. I always got great satisfaction and beamed with pride when contracts were awarded. 

As I continued to learn and flourish, my work led me to the Chicago Regional Purchasing Council — now Chicago MSDC — and Maye Foster-Thompson, who was then executive director. She was a pioneering trailblazer when it came to minority business development and schooling supplier-diversity professionals by sharing information/history and convening “diverse minds” to generate ideas that progressed minority-business-enterprise inclusion. 

Q: What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for MBEs?

A: The greatest challenges continue to be systemic racism, economic disruptions in the marketplace and limited opportunities to build sustainable relationships with decision makers. The 2008 recession and the most recent pandemic disproportionately affected minority businesses, given their limited ability to move beyond transactional relationships and into more strategic partnerships and access to capital.

Q: What would you like your legacy to be as a champion of supplier diversity?

A: A fitting legacy would be that after more than 30 years in the industry, my contributions served to advance minority business development, removed barriers and created a landscape where opportunities for contracts increased. I’ve never been the loudest person in the room, but my leadership has been consistently dedicated to progressive strategies that produce a win for MBEs. My corporate teams have moved mountains to help build the capacity of MBEs. I’ve seen the sustainability in the MBEs I’ve worked with over the years in Chicago, Northwest Indiana, the Detroit area and the Gulf Coast. 

To learn more about the Chicago MSDC, visit


Debra Jennings-Johnson MBNUSA supplier-diversity Fortune 50 companies Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council Minority Business Opportunity Fair Chicago Regional Purchasing Council Chicago MSDC Maye Foster-Thompson BP America

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