Leaderboard: Carlton L. Oneal, President, LightSpeedEdu Inc.; chairman, NMSDC MBEIC

Carlton L. Oneal
President, LightSpeedEdu Inc.
Chairman, National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc.’s Minority Business Enterprise Input Committee


Tell us a little about your background. 

I am a proud graduate of one of the HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities] — North Carolina Central University — where I graduated magna cum laude with a degree in biology and minor in chemistry. In the early ‘90s, my wife and I dreamed of starting a company and establishing a culture where every employee or team member had an owner’s mentality and an unquenchable quest for excellence. That dream became a reality when my wife started our company not long after she left a career at IBM [Corp.].

I joined our company full-time in 2002 after working for 18 years in the corporate environment where I obtained a breadth and depth of management experiences in sales, marketing, communications and training and development with Merck & Co. Inc. In 1997, I was recruited to Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals Inc. to serve as director of U.S. marketing for cardiovascular and metabolic products, where I led a $130 million product portfolio that achieved or exceeded growth targets each year while under my direction.

I am a past member of the board of directors of the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council, serving for 10 years, and a past chairman of the GNEMSDC Minority Business Enterprise Input Committee. I recently completed two terms as secretary to NMSDC’s MBEIC and was elected as chairman for the 2021-2024 term.

My wife and I reside in the town of Hamden, Connecticut, where I served as chairman of the Civil Service Commission for many years. For fun and relaxation, I enjoy training in the martial art of Tae Kwon Do.

Tell us a bit about the NMSDC NMBEIC and your leadership role as chairman?

The purpose and mission of the National MBE Input Committee or NMBEIC is to work in conjunction with the NMSDC president, chair and board of directors to provide advice, input and assistance regarding programs, services and activities to further the council’s goals and enhance minority business economic inclusion. The NMBEIC shares and represents the voice of its constituents — NMSDC-certified MBEs.

My leadership role is focused on extending the legacy of our past, strong NMBEIC chairs who laid a foundation of excellence and trust with the MBE community so that all know we — the NMBEIC — are dedicated to the success of all certified MBEs.

As the NMSDC National MBEIC chairman for 2021-2024 what will be a few of your key agenda Items?

My key agenda items are:
Increase contract opportunities for MBEs.
Improve access to capital and help MBEs know the right time to seek capital for growth and expansion, in addition to understanding their options.
Ensure capacity-building initiatives are focused on helping MBEs progress from one NMSDC class to the next.
Gain universal access to data that will allow MBEs to easily find each other to team or partner on initiatives.

As a seasoned minority supplier, what advice would you give to minority business owners trying to survive COVID-19 and the current unrest and uncertainty in the country?

The advice I would give is to first make sure your “house” is in order. I have heard [that] the MBEs who were successful at securing PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loans and forgiveness and/or qualifying for the EIDL [Economic Injury Disaster Loan] program were the ones who had a strong relationship with a bank and had their financials readily available.
In our case, our primary bank with whom we have been doing business for 20 years was inundated with very large PPP requests. Although we applied early, we were told we were around No. 10,000 in the queue. Following the advice of a local [U.S. Small Business Administration] SBDC [Small Business Development Center] contact, we opened an account with a regional bank in our community. Since we were able to submit our financial data the same day we established our accounts, our request was approved within 48 hours.

Another piece of advice is, stay in contact with other minority business owners. Having close contact with others who are larger and smaller than your firm during times of unrest and uncertainty helps you understand you are not alone, and your challenges are not unique. The sharing of challenges and successes may also serve as hints, tips and fuel to survive — and even thrive — during these times.

As one of the top minority business leaders in the U.S. and abroad, what changes would you like to see that will help minority business sustainability and inclusion in America’s economy?

The major change I would like to see that will help minority business sustainability and inclusion in the U.S. economy is for as many corporate members as possible to think outside the box, and go beyond allocating 5%, 10% or even 20% to MBE spend. Some allocations are for diverse spend and not total available dollars. When I see or hear the targets — which some take as goals to meet and not exceed — what I hear is the corporation is saying 95%, 90% and 80%, respectively, is being held for nonminority firms. It will also help if more corporations take a sincere interest in engaging and growing their MBE suppliers and refrain from asking MBEs to accept less than non-MBEs when it comes to prices for their goods and services. When MBEs are actively sought for the innovation and high-quality many MBEs bring to the table, the day may come when more than one MBE gets automatically included in an RFP [request for proposal] or RFQ [request for quotation].

If you could have a two-hour lunch meeting with any businessperson or leader in the United States who would that person be and why?

Based on current events, I would like to have a two-hour lunch meeting with our newly elected President, Joseph Biden. I have watched him place a team of highly qualified, talented and diverse people in leadership positions, and it reminded me of a time in my corporate days when I had to hire a new team. I went to [human resources] and asked to see the resumes of everyone who came in second place during the previous mass hiring event of managers.

I was given the files of 20 people and — as I suspected — 18 of them were minorities. Our team ended up being one of the highest-performing teams in our division. Thus, I would like to hear the President’s ideas relative to how to get more MBEs out of second place in the federal RFP response and selection process and into first place. I would also like to discuss how to get more people to understand that systemic racism is alive and well, and it is having a devastating impact on our business community which, in turn, impacts our local economy.

Is there a mantra that drives you to be the best that you can be?

I have a couple of thoughts or mantras that kept me going during my years in corporate America, and I reflect on them especially during challenging times like we are currently facing. One is “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to it!” The other is a speech — “The Man in The Arena” — by [former U.S. President] Teddy Roosevelt which reminds us that glory and honor come to those who dedicate themselves to a worthy cause.

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