Southwest MSDC marks silver jubilee with focus on future

By Monica Stavish Skaggs


Artificial intelligence (AI), semiconductors and manufacturing. These are pivotal, lucrative arenas the Southwest Minority Supplier Development Council (SMSDC) advises minority-owned enterprises to pursue now and in the future.


SMSDC, a regional council affiliate of the National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. (NMSDC), works to certify, develop, connect and advocate for minority business enterprises (MBEs). The Council is celebrating 25 years of service to minority MBEs. SMSDC serves southwest Texas — including the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas/Mexico border — Austin, San Antonio and Midland/Odessa, along with the states of New Mexico and Oklahoma.


“We develop and execute strategies that are pivotal to the growth of MBEs. It is our desire to offer significant programs including development for our stakeholders. Our services must be relevant and add value for sustainability, whether for our stakeholders or the Council,” said Karen Box, SMSDC president and CEO. “We cannot provide excellent services or operate proficiently without our corporate sponsors and our MBEs alike. They are the wind beneath our wings and that is why we continue to soar and aspire to greater heights.


“It is our passion and mission to advocate for our MBEs to connect and form relations with corporations,” she continued. “As we are the direct link, we also assist our corporate members in diversifying their supply chain. Our mantra is corporations doing business with minority businesses is just good business!”


The Council will hold its 25th Anniversary Celebration Gala and Premier Face Time Expo at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk May 29-30. The event will feature roundtable discussions, networking opportunities, speakers from Fortune 500 companies, workshops, a reception and business matchmaker pavilion. A tradeshow will connect MBEs, corporate members, state agencies and community partners who want to take their businesses to the next level. For more information, please visit SMSDC Celebration Gala.


As one of 23 regional councils of NMSDC, SMSDC is a direct link between MBEs and its corporate members, which represent 18 industries including automotive manufacturing, steel production and technology. Last year, SMSDC’s corporate members spent more than $26 billion with minority businesses. Corporate members include Dell, ConocoPhillips, Toyota, Johnson Controls, Chevron and Oklahoma Gas and Electric.


“When minority businesses are awarded contracts, it provides an economic impact to the minority communities in which they work and live,” Box said. “Jobs are created, and from those jobs, the employees are able to purchase homes and have health care. They may not have been able to have those assets without a job.”


Recipe for success

To be successful, the Council encourages MBEs to key in on changing industry needs and adapt. For example, when Toyota Motor North America Inc. was building a plant in San Antonio — Toyota Manufacturing Texas Inc. — SMSDC served as a conduit between the car manufacturer and Avanzar Interior Technologies Ltd.


“The Council is a great organization to be a part of,” said Berto Guerra Jr., chairman and CEO of Avanzar, now the largest parts supplier to the Toyota Manufacturing Texas plant. “It has been a partnership that has never failed us. The Council qualified us as minority suppliers and helped us understand minority business the way it should be.”


Guerra’s company started “out of the kitchen,” he said. “We would discuss plans at a round table, and I would cook breakfast, lunch and dinner — since I’m from the restaurant industry. When Toyota came in, we had to recreate the world. We didn’t have automotive manufacturing, and there were no suppliers who could support Toyota. Along with the Council, we were creative. As a team, we decided, ‘Why don’t we just bring suppliers on-site?’ That way, we could supply Toyota with everything they need. Today, there are 23 suppliers on-site.”


The company’s success helped it change the lives of its employees.


“We had people who were working at Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, people who were plumbers working in service industries,” Guerra said. “We told them, ‘We are going to teach you how to build a Tundra.’”


He added, “We have taught them how to establish credit and open bank accounts, so they can buy our cars and how to save money with a 401(k). This has been a mission to teach a new culture for our people.”


Building positive business relationships is key, Guerra said.


“One of the things SMSDC taught us was to not be afraid. We came into this business knowing nothing about automobile retail,” he said. “They taught us not be afraid to partner with a big company. Because of that, we have learned to be fearless when it comes to approaching new business opportunities. They want us to build chips, we will build chips.”


Guerra found a way to pay it forward. Carlos Dones — who leads business unit supply chain resiliency with Applied Materials Inc. and is SMSDC’s newly elected chairman —said Guerra serves as a role model. Guerra was the keynote speaker at an Applied Materials’ employee diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) event, “showing us ways to integrate heart and head into business while eliminating waste, Dones said.


Dones also sees the merit in adapting to meet changing needs and applauds the Council’s efforts.


“The supplier diversity industry needs to shift toward the semiconductor and high-tech industry and help build an ecosystem of suppliers as chip manufacturing comes back and grows under technology like AI, big data, etcetera,” he said.


“This is a very unique place and time in history. It’s a turning point in history and you have a Council that is willing to embrace and encourage MBEs. SMSDC is steering its focus toward this next global shift,” Dones continued. “I feel this [global shift] is the next transition point for supplier diversity. We have to look at other industries and see what suppliers are there. We should tap into places with highly capable suppliers that deliver holistically, products, services and a better life for the whole community. If handled appropriately, this is an awesome opportunity for all parties involved, as well as for our country and the globe.”


When preparation meets opportunity

Preparation is key, Box said.


“Things will change, and we will change in our local regions,” she said. “Being prepared for the change — how do we shore up MBEs who can be vendors and suppliers in the advanced chip manufacturing industry — is critical.”


Solid corporate participation in the Council is essential. Dave Feldman, manager, local content/supplier diversity with Chevron U.S.A. Inc., is responsible for the company’s diversity and inclusion program. It ensures that diverse and minority-owned businesses have the opportunity to become Chevron suppliers.


“It’s through that role that I became engaged with the Council,” said Feldman, who has been with Chevron 40 years and served on SMSDC’s board for the past decade.


“The formation of SMSDC came with the realization that there were important business centers outside the urban centers in smaller cities,” he said. “Our business operations are not only in Houston. They are also in west Texas in the Permian basin [highest producing oil field in the U.S.], centered in Midland/Odessa. I quickly realized for us to fulfill our mission of being inclusive — particularly with minority businesses — needed to join SMSDC. The Council filled an important gap in terms of business inclusion in the state of Texas.”


SMSDC’s network continues to evolve as the world evolves.


“As SMSDC grew, it incorporated the needs of areas outside Texas. At first, it was a challenging transition to incorporate the needs of our business owners in Oklahoma and New Mexico,” Feldman said. “As with any merger, there are challenges in terms of roles and responsibilities. It’s under Karen’s leadership that we were able to navigate those challenges. We’ve done a great job to accommodate those needs outside the state of Texas. It was a daunting time in the history of the Council, but one we were able to navigate quite well.”


The Council will continue to address the modern needs of the business community, incorporating AI, he added. “We are shifting our focus. In Texas, oil and gas was the primary focus, but we recognize that other industries are growing, including technology.”


Bringing New Mexico and Oklahoma into the fold was accomplished without any additional funding, Box noted.


“But we focused on how to assist minority businesses,” she said. “We created a development program for MBEs with [former SMSDC Chairman] Reginald Layton’s help. We wanted the program to show MBEs how to scale their businesses. We also have a program for corporate members that shows them how to take their businesses to the next level.”


Layton served as SMSDC chairman twice, from 2009 to 2012 and again from 2017 to 2022. He led the supplier diversity program at Johnson Controls International in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, before retiring in 2022. Layton cited the Council’s efforts to serve its corporate members while still focusing on MBEs.


During his first term, he said Council President Dinah Lovett “came up to us at a trade show and said, ‘We can help you with your program.’ I thought that was refreshing. She was trying to position the Council as an extension of what corporations needed to find diverse suppliers in a hurry. That resonated with me. There were monthly meetings and social events held by the Council’s regional task forces so diverse suppliers could get to know companies in different cities throughout Texas. And it didn’t take long for these regional task forces to pick up steam.”


When Box assumed her leadership role with the Council, Layton said business opportunity fairs were promoted, followed by smaller events in different cities to reach more MBEs.


SMSDC’s vision is to create opportunities and an environment for MBEs to grow while adding value for corporate members through positive business relationships. As it celebrates 25 years of excellence, the Council wants to send a clear message to MBEs, corporate partners and bold leaders that SMSDC is a place for future connections, Box said. 

To view or download full article in 2024 MBN Texas volume 2, please click here.


SMSDC Karen Box 25 years MBE Southwest Texas Austin San Antonio Midland Odessa New Mexico Rio Grande Valley 25th Anniversary Celebration Gala and Premier Face Time Expo Carlos Dones Applied Materials Berto Guerra Jr. Avanzar Interior Technologies Ltd. David Feldman Reginald Layton Chevron Southwest Minority Supplier Development Council

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