Red jacket, timing, supporters mark first decade

By M.V. Greene


[Editor’s Note: At the 35th year of the founding Minority Business News USA (MBN USA), publisher Don McKneely reflects in this article on how it all began and the formative years of the first decade of the magazine. Future installments will delve into how McKneely has grown MBN USA and how the magazine continues its relevancy in supplier diversity.]


As the budding publisher of Minority Business News USA (MBN USA) at its founding in 1988, Don McKneely had his hands in a lot of pots. McKneely had to juggle multiple roles for his promising new venture to survive and thrive.

As a publication whose mission was to report on the news of the burgeoning field of supplier diversity, McKneely at one moment would be covering events and conferences, taking pictures and writing stories, and the next he would be selling advertising, developing business and sending out invoices.

Such was the life 35 years ago of a start-up publisher with limited funding, staff and resources.

“I became known as the man with the camera in the red jacket,” McKneely recalled.

Oh, that red jacket. The bright red sport coat that McKneely audaciously wore to supplier diversity events was central to his marketing and business development strategy during that first decade of launching MBN USA.

“Even today, it still stands out,” McKneely said. “People ask me, ‘Where is that red jacket?’ Everybody knows about it in the industry. They would say to be sure to look for the guy with the red jacket because he is going to be in the middle of the action.” 

Many blessings

Like many minority business enterprises, launching MBN USA was not easy, given the lack of a ready supply of start-up capital.

“Until you are in a position to hire more people and do more things, that means you do it yourself,” he said of the early days.

But McKneely said he enjoyed many blessings – great timing as diversity initiatives were accelerating in 1988, confidence in his experience and abilities as he had previously worked in and managed media properties, and the support of liked-minded constituents who wanted him to succeed. 

On timing for the magazine’s launch, McKneely said supplier diversity, which got its roots in the 1970s, began to gain traction as a key function in corporations seeking to create equity in their supply chains.

Many in the Black press covered diversity issues, so to one-up the marketplace, McKneely crafted a publication that would focus on the business aspect of diversity by exclusively promoting minority business and corporate America’s role in the practice.

“The timing worked out at the right time with the right name, the right constituency, the right market and the right climate,” he said. “The founding objective was to bring a high-quality, monthly print publication to market that would fill an existing gap in the diversity communications arena. All of that was right for MBN USA.”

“We Tell Your Story”

Coincidentally, 1988 also was the year that Harriet R. Michel assumed the leadership of the National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc., which emerged as the pre-eminent organization in the United States and globally for certifying and advocating for minority suppliers. Michel’s tenure as NMSDC president was marked by the organization challenging corporations and other buying organizations to be more aggressive in engaging with minority suppliers.

With a tagline of “We Tell Your Story,” McKneely said NMSDC became a “natural” constituency. “At that point, I followed Harriet and NMSDC for the next 20 years, day in and day out. Wherever Harriet and NMSDC would go, I would go,” he said.

He said that during the first 10 years of the magazine’s existence, he had little doubt it would succeed as a viable business.

The serial entrepreneur

McKneely had worked in newspapers, magazines and radio earlier in his career in Oklahoma and Texas and had started up other businesses and nonprofit enterprises.

“That is the serial entrepreneur in me,” McKneely said, estimating he has founded or co-founded some 35 enterprises during his career.

For instance, he has had a hand in establishing organizations that include the Billion Dollar Roundtable Inc. and Minority Business Hall of Fame & Museum.

“I started at a very early age just doing entrepreneurial things. I see that as my calling. That’s my passion – creating new things and bringing them to market,” he said.

As instrumental as Michel and NMSDC were to MBN USA in the first decade, McKneely said there were many, many others who supported him and the magazine either through direct business, mentorship or advocacy. 

He is effusive in his praise of the likes of Jim O’Neil (Frito-Lay), Ray Jensen (Ford Motor Co.), Cheryl Stevens (Texas Utilities Inc.), Lillie Knox (Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.), Nancy Jones (Honda of America Mfg Inc.), Jerry Junkins (Texas Instruments Inc.), Debra Jennings-Johnson (Ameritech Corp.), Jim Lowry (consultant), IBM Corp.’s Michael Robinson and Tom Trotter, Dorothy Brothers (Bank of America Corp.), Maye Foster-Thompson (Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council), Margo Posey (Dallas Fort Worth Minority Supplier Development Council), Jim Adams (Southwestern Bell) and Gene Tabor (Toyota Motor North America Inc.).

Spend some time with McKneely and, surely, he will recite the names of many others.

“I was fortunate enough and blessed enough to be able to meet some great people – people who were leaders in their respective industries and organizations,” he said. “We gravitated to one another. They liked what I was doing and how I did it. They liked my approach.” 


Minority Business News USA MBN USA Don McKneely supplier diversity minority business “We Tell Your Story” NMSDC National Minority Supplier Development Council Billion Dollar Roundtable Inc. Minority Business Hall of Fame & Museum

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