By J.D. Booth
October 1, 2009
Ask just about any American for a success story as it relates to diversity and you’re likely to hear two words: Barack Obama.
Indeed, when Corp! magazine contacted this year’s Diversity Awards winners, the election of the nation’s 44th president (and the first citizen of African-American heritage to hold the post) was typically among the highlights given for progress made to date.
Congratulations to this year’s winners in the following categories: Diversity-focused Company, Diversity Business Leader and Diversity Champion. They represent a broad spectrum of diversity practices impacting our communities in positive ways.
AAA Michigan (The Auto Club Group)
Putting the face as well as the arms and legs of diversity at AAA Michigan, “The Auto Club Group,” is the role of Helen Ford, the organization’s director of supplier diversity as well as director of staffing and the Auto Club’s human resources information system. And while Ford has seen progress in the field of diversity, she also sees great opportunity for future growth. “The driving factors contributing to the rapid growth are the changing demographics of our country, the inclusive perspective of our youth and the fully emerged multicultural economy,” she says. “It would be great to have large diversity owned businesses who are powerhouses in emerging battery technology, wind turbines, medical equipment manufacture, visual computing and the next new Web-based innovation.” At AAA Michigan, Ford and her team continue to work hard to change the landscape. “It makes good business sense that we partner within our communities, which includes a diverse supplier and workforce base.” At the same time, Ford recognizes there are economic challenges yet to face. “Our young people do not see this state as a growing, vital entity. Businesses need to become stronger regional advocates to retain and attract capable, qualified and skilled personnel as well as new business.” Still, “things will improve,” says Ford. “We just have to have greater innovation coupled with realistic capabilities. The old economic paradigm does not exist anymore, so it is counter productive to keep focusing on what was. My advice is simple and something we have all heard before: don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” The result, she says, will be support of a strong revenue stream and the ability to continue to hire capable and qualified diversity candidates.
The Arab American News
Published by Osama Siblani, who was born in Beirut, Lebanon, The Arab American News first appeared in 1984, the result of Siblani’s response to what he felt was the way the major American media covered the 1982 conflict in his homeland (Israeli troops had entered Lebanon). Having settled in the nation’s largest Arab American community (in Metropolitan Detroit), Siblani saw the need for a community newspaper that would reach that audience. The newspaper quickly became one of the local and national media's most popular resources for American-based Arab and Arab American opinion and analyses. The publication has earned a reputation for publishing honest yet engaging interviews with an eye and ear for both the culture and political milieu.
While Lizabeth Ardisana, CEO of ASG Renaissance, recognizes the significant progress made in creating a diverse culture, she admits much is left to achieve. “Businesses are hiring a more diverse workforce to gain the different insights and customer connections it brings. New immigrant populations are valued for the economic strength they bring. And for the first time in our history we have an African American president. I would hope in the next 10 to 15 years we would reach the point where we truly seek out and value diversity in people around us.” That would have a continuing economic impact, says Ardisana. “There is real data that tells us that diverse groups are more innovative and more effective. We also know that cities and regions that have diverse immigrant populations are more economically successful.” Getting there, she acknowledges, will include challenges, including education. “It’s the key to success in the new industries developing in our region. We need to ensure that education is strongly valued and supported in all of our communities.” Another key factor in advancing diversity is inclusion. “People need to be encouraged and to feel really valued in the new emerging workplaces.” But while challenges remain, Ardisana says the strength to meet those is greater. “Each of us is capable of meeting all of the challenges we face—all it takes is confidence that you can succeed and the ability to concentrate on the next small step that is required. We can each make one more small step. Any challenge is just a series of those small steps.”
If someone is looking for proof that there’s an economic benefit to diversity, they’re likely on the wrong track, says Cascade Engineering CEO Fred Keller. “The desire for diversity needs to spring from a sense of ‘it’s the right thing to do’ and then figuring out how to make it good business,” says Keller. “That will result in creative and profitable solutions.” While Keller says that progress has been made in diversity awareness, he points to “structural racism” as remaining. “This shows up in subtle actions, feelings of exclusion by people of color, and while formal processes are often appropriate, the informal is still too present.” Keller attended an Institute for Healing Racism session about 15 years ago and says the experience has made him feel “more attuned to the ravages of racism.” He has also vowed to treat all people with the respect they deserve. “The simple act of looking someone in the eye, giving them a smile, making them less ‘invisible’ is my personal mission. At the organizational level, we have determined to provide clear guidelines of non-tolerance of intolerance.” Keller has worked hard to making Cascade Engineering a truly diverse organization and offers a number of straightforward rules for making any company more diverse. “Don't consider the hiring process complete unless there is a diverse group of candidates. Make it safe within the organization to talk about diversity. Each person needs to know they are valued as a human being in the organization. Have the will to not tolerate intolerance. Help those that need help, but if they cannot modify their behaviors, they need to leave the organization or it will diminish the entire organization's determination to continue its efforts.”
|Educating its workforce as to the needs of multicultural and religious patient groups is a practice at In-House Hospice, says Dr. Jennifer
Winegarden, associate medical director (pictured second from right).
There’s living and there’s dying. But how does diversity become a factor? Ask Laura Wagner, CEO of In-House Hospice and the picture becomes clearer. “National statistics show an increase in utilization by minority groups, but there is still a significant gap between whites and all other groups,” says Wagner, whose organization has been addressing diversity by training and continuously educating its workforce as to the needs of multicultural and religious patient groups. “Within the next five to 10 years, we plan to continue to ethnically diversify our workforce which includes doctors, nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains, therapists and volunteers,” adds Wagner. With a patient’s impression of the quality of health care received dependent on how they were treated by individual caregivers, In-House Hospice is emphasizing the importance of mutual respect. “Once team members are comfortable with and respect each other, as a group they bring a much higher level of harmony and care to their patients. When this happens, all of their knowledge, skills in palliative care and positive energy flows almost as if they are one, which benefits our patients and their families.” Again, the importance of diversity plays a role. “Team members come from diverse backgrounds,” notes Wagner. “We continuously work on constructive conflict resolution skills to give them confidence when working with each other, with their patients, families and other health care professionals.” Not always an easy task, but Wagner says it’s critical. “It all starts at the top. Leadership must be committed to diversifying and educating their workforce. Leadership must also respect the complexity of their employees. To do that they must consciously and consistently promote that everyone is welcome and valued at the table.”
Ira Kaufman Funeral Home
While predominantly serving the Jewish community, Ira Kaufman Funeral Home (based in Southfield, Mich.) has come to recognize that there’s a high level of diversity involved in meeting the current needs of its clientele. As David Techner, who is a third generation member of the founding family, explains, focusing on client needs is key. “We’re able to sit own with all different types of families, including those with different religious beliefs, and help them to arrange a funeral that’s meaningful to everybody,” he notes. “At one time, our clientele were all ‘just Jewish;’ now you add humanism and intermarriage and sometimes it becomes a real challenge. Our strength as a funeral home and a small business is taking those challenges and meeting the needs of family who have different feelings and religious beliefs.”
Founded in 2007, Lotus Bank is a Novi, Mich.-based community bank with an eye on the growing South Asian demographic in southeast Oakland and western Wayne counties. Nearly three years later, the bank has accumulated $50 million in assets, not only providing credit to its targeted constituencies, but assembling a diverse team of banking professionals whose ethnicity and experience mirror its customers. CEO Satish Jasti says he sees Lotus as having a place in the increasingly diverse world of business. “I believe that our world is a very small place, and whether we are speaking about finance, manufacturing or services, the globalization of economic activity is only going to increase, and is in fact already highly represented in Michigan. My fondest wish is that over the next five to 10 years, Lotus Bank continues to provide support, through whatever means, to culturally diverse organizations and constituencies committed to making southeast Michigan a better place to work, live and do business.” Jasti expects Lotus to demonstrate its commitment to diversity as it grows. “We will hire the best people available regardless of their gender, race or ethnicity.” His one piece of advice to like-minded individuals: “Never give up on your dream. There is no place better than here with the kind of opportunities that help make dreams become a reality.”
Positioning itself as a market leading minority business provider of automotive interior and under-hood solutions, NYX says it is dedicated to exceeding its customers’ increasing expectations. “Our efforts to achieve excellence are demonstrated by our proven experience in helping our customers succeed in the marketplace,” according to the company’s Web site. The firm is led by CEO Chain S. Sandhu and President Jatinder-Bir Sandhu, both of whom pride themselves on NYX being a flexible and customer responsive organization.
Oakwood Healthcare System
As CEO Brian M. Connolly explains, diversity is the foundation of Oakwood’s core values. “We define diversity as creating an environment where individual differences maximize our collective capabilities as a team. Our 11,000 employees, physicians and volunteers live our standards for behavior, reinforcing our commitment to understand and respect each person’s uniqueness and beliefs.” Connolly says that commitment is part of what makes Oakwood work. “All of our success depends on recognizing and appreciating the irreplaceable value of every person who comes through our doors for care.” With four acute care hospitals and more than 1,200 licensed beds, Oakwood serves a 500-square-mile area with some 1,300 physicians and 9,200 employees as well as 1,200 volunteers.
Rickman Enterprise Group, LLC
Even as he sees progress being made when it comes to diversity, Rickman Enterprises CEO Roderick Rickman says even more can and should be done. “Over the years the progress in the issue of diversity has fluctuated due to corporate commitment, which has been a direct result of customers mandating annual diversity development initiatives. In the next five to 10 years I would like to see the bar raised for the percentage requirements as well as inclusion across all minority ethnic categories.” Rickman sees the economic benefit having something of a snowball effect. “Creating ethnic wealth in minority communities would continue to further develop resources for education, community programs, child care and assist in providing resources to enhance public health and safety.” Diversity, he adds, has had a personal impact. “It has been very rewarding to see the growth and development of our communities that have been directly impacted by robust diversity programs. Diversity will continue to provide opportunities that will enable businesses to employ residents within the areas where we live and work.” Even so, he points to challenges, including access to finances, creating strong training and development programs and long term contract commitments. Rickman says communication is key. So is perseverance. “Stay lean and innovative, keep your head down, work hard and survive.”
When Andra Rush, a Mohawk Native American, was taking MBA classes in 1984, the logical opportunity would have been to head to corporate America. But Rush was more interested in being her own boss, so she dropped out to start her own trucking company in an industry that was being deregulated. Rush is someone who pursues excellence. “It’s never good enough, which can be frustrating for people,” she says. “It’s constantly striving to be better, competitive and profitable.” Success, she says, will follow. “If you are very passionate at what you believe and are strongly committed to it, you are going to be successful in whatever you pursue. But success isn’t permanent, and neither is failure. It’s easier to manage life through successes, but your biggest learning is through failures. You grow that way.”
SEKO Worldwide (Detroit Station)
Even as Tanya Bartelo leads the Detroit Station of SEKO Worldwide, an integrated logistics company, she recalls substantial progress in issues of diversity. “The old adage where women had to work twice as hard to achieve half as much as men held true,” says Bartelo. “Now as I look at the company I am responsible for, I see women who have a vital role in how we operate and where we are going. I’m still working harder than ever, but I’m able to realize quantifiable rewards. I believe achieving diversity is an evolutionary process—we’ve come so far but there still is a long way to go.” From a broader perspective, Bartelo sees inherent benefits in advancing diversity. “We see our commitment to diversity as a marketing decision that enables us to sell our services to a diverse consumer base.” But still there are challenges, especially in the world of business. “Many women still do not play a prominent role in manufacturing,” says Bartelo. “I would like to see our role evolve from mainly service-based industries to manufacturing, which would result in a more valuable and diverse workforce.” One way to get there is through mentoring. “It’s important for those who face challenges to find a mentor and to learn as much as possible. Knowledge is the key to success, and perseverance is the road to achieving it.”
|Trinity Health’s Joseph R. Swedish, president and CEO and chief diversity officer; and VeLois Bowers, senior vice president, diversity and inclusion.
Even while acknowledging the progress that’s been made in making the workplace more diverse, Trinity Health Senior Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion, VeLois Bowers says challenges remain. “There are still glass ceiling issues, and issues around people of color getting to the C-suite,” she notes. Indeed, as far as Bowers is concerned, “Health care as an industry has to gain a broader awareness around the need to improve equity in care, closing the gaps that exist around care disparities.” Bowers says Trinity Health is one organization that has embarked on the journey. “We are driving an equity in care strategy with all of our hospital systems across all seven states in which we operate, but it must become a bigger platform throughout the industry.” She sees great opportunities for broader demographic representation, designed to reflect “the growing diversity of the communities we serve, especially from the perspective of the health care industry. We've done a fabulous job from a gender perspective. On the other hand, there are definitely opportunities to build our diversity in respect to persons of color, particularly in senior leadership positions.” Bowers says there is still need to hold leadership accountable for driving and embedding the work of diversity and inclusion. “Now we need to place the onus on middle managers. The baton has to be passed on. Organizations that embrace the new and ever changing realities of the workforce will gain a competitive advantage over those that miss out on the opportunity to fully utilize this increasing diverse labor pool.”
Diversity Business Leaders
Vernice Davis Anthony
Greater Detroit Area Health Council
Even with many advances related to diversity, Vernice Davis Anthony, who leads the Greater Detroit Area Health Council, says the economic downturn threatens much of this progress. “When poverty and unemployment increases, ethnic minorities are the most affected negatively,” she says, even while singling out health care. “We are seeing increasing disparities in health status, lack of insurance and also quality of care.” Davis Anthony says the importance of advancing diversity remains important from an economic standpoint. “Diverse communities attract new and growing populations, which results in stronger, more vibrant communities, creative thinking in business opportunities and job growth. Also diversity in the workplace is essential for the country to benefit from the talents and energies of all people.” Davis Anthony says challenges remain when it comes to making the modern workforce more diverse than it is today. While one of those is the lack of access to quality education for all, she adds that there needs to be a culture that clearly supports and values the need for diversity as a positive force to be embraced and celebrated. Her advice to those facing the challenges: “You cannot always change how others think about you, but you can control your own future.”
Now retired as an attorney, Michael Berry is among the most notable of graduates at Henry Ford Community College, where he serves on the school’s development board. Indeed, Berry, who still lives in Dearborn, was in the first graduating class. The son of Lebanese immigrants, Berry has long been associated with public service, including having served as a member and chair of the board of Wayne County Road Commission. It was there that Berry, who specialized as a lawyer in the practice of municipal law, did his part to reform hiring practices so that they were more merit based than might have been previously. “We encouraged the practice of hiring that was done on the basis of merit, not color or beliefs. We put a stop to practices that weren’t consistent with that.” Berry is also a recipient of an Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the National Human Relations Award from the National Conference. The International Terminal at Metro Detroit Airport is named in his honor.
For Doreen Bolhuis, an entrepreneur who promotes “physical literacy” in her business ventures (she runs FitSmart Productions along with Gymco), the “light bulb moment” regarding diversity came when she looked around at her friends and colleagues. “I suddenly realized that all of my relationships were with people just like me. I decided on that day to overcome my own fears and reach out to make my world more diverse. What I found was that it was much easier than I thought, and it enriched my life in ways I had never imagined!” Bolhuis says two significant challenges—education and the need for intentionality—are key to advancing diversity. “We need to learn about unseen barriers that prevent businesses from becoming diverse, and what to do about them and we must become intentional by developing strategic goals aimed at diversity. Most businesses still haven’t taken this step, and hope that it will somehow ‘just happen.’ It won't.” But action is also key. “We need to do less talking and take action.”
Bald Mountain Medical Pharmacy
Pierre Boutros, who earned a doctor of pharmacy degree, is also certified as a diabetic specialist and geriatric specialist. His 12 years of experience include owning and operating Bald Mountain Medical Pharmacy, located in Lake Orion, Mich. Boutros’ primary interest is in helping and assisting geriatric patients.
American Arab Chamber of Commerce
Ahmad Chebbani is clear: “People of color and others are simply different and want to be seen as such. Not in a negative way, but rather a way to highlight and celebrate their differences.” Chebbani, who is chairman and co-founder of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, says there is a strong hold on culture and ethnic identity that will remain a focus among diversity in the future. “Those who simply don’t understand the world is changing need to realize that diversity is about acknowledging and welcoming someone’s differences, as well as their similarities. Once that occurs in its truest form, then we have achieved a great milestone in diversity.” Chebbani says he has experienced discrimination and prejudice because of his name, heritage and cultural identity. Although matters worsened after 9/11, Chebanni says he is often “pleasantly surprised” how often the organization he leads receive compliments for service and expertise by non-Arab persons. “This is a sign of true success and one in which I hold very dear to my heart.” And yet there remain challenges. “First, I believe that we have to do a better job educating middle and lower management. Executives understand the concept—it’s in their best interest to do so. It’s the ones in the middle that have the greatest challenges with diversity. Second, it’s important to maintain a company’s commitment to diversity. You often see companies who come out very strong on diversity, only to fizzle out after a year or two. And third, we need to be willing to change our thought process and be more open to change. As human beings, we are programmed to resist change. In this environment, we have no choice but to adapt as quickly as possible, because if we don’t, someone else will.”
MGM Grand Detroit
Lorenzo Creighton has no doubt that America has come a long way in terms of inclusion and acceptance. “The election of America’s first African American President is proof positive of that.” Still, he says, “the quest for economic equality still remains unconquered. That is what I would like to see become the focus of the next five to 10 years—a movement that is focused solely on economic equality for all people.” Creighton, who ran small casinos throughout the U.S., took on the job of running the Las Vegas Flamingo in 2002. “There I was, president of a casino that 50 years earlier would not have allowed me inside, except to sweep the floor or clean the toilets,” says Creighton. “It is within moments like those that I am constantly reminded of how important diversity really is. Diversity represents a true commitment to excellence by maximizing the talent that is reflective of the community an organization serves.” Challenges, of course, remain. “The first is recognizing the value of diversity and actually making the commitment to it. Once the decision is made, then there has to be a true commitment to building and executing a successful diversity program within your organization.” Creighton says an organization’s commitment to diversity must run deep. “It has to be a part of an organizations’ value proposition. Otherwise, it becomes reduced to a trendy term that is used as needed.”
Dr. Shukri David
Chief of Cardiology
One of the leading practitioners in the area, Dr. Shukri David says his first career objective in college was to be a lab researcher focused on pure science. “After volunteering as an orderly in the emergency room, I was struck by how quickly the doctors were able to diagnose and render care,” he recalls. “I was impressed. They left a lasting impression and I knew that was also part of what I wanted as a doctor.” Today Dr. David is well known in the metro Detroit community for his leadership in the area of interventional cardiology, the non-surgical techniques used to treat and dissolve heart blockages. He has been widely published in the national medical literature and lectures worldwide on interventional cardiology topics.
Walter E. Douglas Sr.
For Walter Douglas, words are significant “The name diversity is relatively new, having emerged in the 90s,” he notes. “Before then, the term affirmative action was used, which generally resonated a negative response from many sectors of our society, principally because there were strong biases toward the primary recipients that seemed to benefit from the new opportunities that were emerging.” With the term diversity, says Douglas, “the ‘oneness’ of its application has increased opportunities for larger numbers of individuals and begun to reflect inclusiveness. It has been a good thing.” Douglas says he hopes a new oneness will “continue to redefine what America is and what it is becoming.” His advice to others: “Study, learn and persevere!”
Elder Automotive Group
One way of gauging the progress made by society may be to look at the number of ethnic categories that are now included when talking about diversity. So says Irma Elder, who says she appreciates what others have done over the years. “We come from different backgrounds, different economic societies,” notes Elder. “Millions of us have come in later years while others paved the way for our progress when this great country was founded. Just look at the numbers of women business owners and Hispanic/American citizens who contribute greatly to not only the economy of the United States but to its rich heritage and ‘land of opportunity’ inspirational success stories. Our business selves have grown; our industries have been challenged; but our outlook is still positive.” Elder, a woman business owner and Hispanic, born of Syrian parents, says she looks at her business practices “not as a minority but as a total commitment to the community and to the audiences we serve. We do not just take care of our minority-designated clientele, but all persons in all ways from sales and service to employees and vendors. It is this total attention to all facets of business that will be of particular importance to our future and that of our children, minority designated or not.” And yet, Elder’s progress has not been without its challenges. “I have been patronized, ignored and pushed aside by less than cordial persons, but I stood tall and kept my footing,” she notes, recalling the untimely death of her husband. “An entire staff left, led by those who did not want to work for a woman in the auto industry.” Her advice today: “I would encourage perseverance, honesty and integrity. These are the building blocks for success. Keep your word, your compassion, your sense of humor. Never be afraid to take on new projects, new programs. And, most of all, treat others as you would like to be treated.”
Director, Race Relations & Cultural Collaboration
New Detroit, Inc.
Even with the election of President Barack Obama and the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the need for progress in matters of diversity continues, says Angelita Espino. “I’d like to see a racial and ethnic healing, so that there’s an understanding of our oneness, and how we are all connected.” Espino says inequality is one lens by which to view that connection. “Historically, restrictive covenants limited where certain groups could buy homes and live. Discriminatory governmental policies along with discriminatory banking and real estate practices worked to continue these segregationist practices, resulting in minorities living in areas with an older housing stock, greater crime rates, lower home values, and higher auto and home insurance rates. On the other hand, the establishment of policies and practices that strengthen neighborhoods without regard to race or ethnicity promote social and economic equity.” Espino says she’s pleased that her role at New Detroit gives her the opportunity to “make a difference for Latinos and people of color.” Taking a step further, she points to education as “fundamental to obtaining the necessary skills to meet further educational requirements and career advancement. The institutions of higher learning, professional organizations, trade unions, and corporate boards need to understand the societal benefits derived from a diverse workforce.”
Robert Fisher is a senior vice president at Takata, a manufacturer of motor vehicle seat belts, airbags, steering wheels, interior trim, fabric and child restraint systems.
Comerica Bank’s chief diversity officer for the last half decade, Linda Forte credits her employer’s recognition of the role diversity and inclusion play in contributing to the success of Comerica. “We firmly believe that to be successful, we must reflect the diverse markets in which we are located,” adds Forte. That means more than making sure individuals hired reflect that diversity but using diverse suppliers and making sure the bank understands the unique qualities and specific financial needs of its customers. “By doing so, we are able to fulfill our overall mission of helping people be successful,” says Forte, who is an African American. “I have personally witnessed the evolving creation of a more diverse and inclusive country and all of its institutions. My personal watershed moment was the recognition of how much talent, creativity and freedom for our country is at risk if we do not invite all citizens to take a place at the party to grow a prosperous and forward thinking America.”
American Citizens for Justice
Even with the election of President Barack Obama, the political landscape “does not yet reflect the full complexity of the diversity that so many communities have,” says Roland Hwang, who sees the opportunity for even more progress as it relates to diversity. “Corporate boards still need to concentrate on diversifying to reflect their communities and customer base over the next five to 10 years.” When that happens, Hwang adds, “the eventual economic rebound will be more robust. We are waiting for that rising tide that will lift all boats.” Hwang says achieving diversity continues to be an “attainable but unachieved” goal in many sectors, including corporate boards, officers, and among employees. “It is not just black and white, but must include Asian Americans, Latinos, Arab Americans and Native Americans/American Indians,” he adds. “How does one measure success in workforce diversity? How is a company or organization rewarded for achieving a good measure of diversity?”
Shaju Jacob agrees that progress in areas of diversity has been significant. “As long as we continue to make an effort to be aware of the need for diversity, the progress will continue.” It’s having varying viewpoints that result in breakthroughs, says Jacob, who adds that having goals leads to progress. “We all have certain goals in life and the inherent obstacles that come along them. In dealing with those obstacles, there are things you can control and things that you have no control over. For those items that are outside your zone of influence, all you can do is focus on your own attitude in response to those events. For the items within your zone of influence, plan your work then work your plan. The only way you lose is by giving up.”
Ebinger Manufacturing Company/
Jets Glove Manufacturing
Fuchi Textile North America
Janny Lu is one busy executive by any definition. Being chief executive officer for Ebinger Manufacturing, master distributor for a full range of industrial fasteners and construction related products, might be enough for one person. But Lu is also CEO of Jets Glove, U.S.A., and partner of Jets Glove Manufacturing, which has three manufacturing facilities in China. She is also president of the North American subsidiary of Fuchi Textile Company, an Asian-based manufacturer of all types of fabrics and leather for automotive seating. Lu is a recipient of the NAWBO Top 10 Michigan Business Women award and received an award from the president of Taiwan as one of the country’s Top 10 Outstanding Entrepreneurs. She has also served as president of the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce and is on the board of directors of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce.
The owner and president of Ranal, an engineering, IT and consulting services company she founded in 1992, Veera Mahajan oversees the company's growth plan and strategic positioning in the industry. But Mahajan is more than a businessperson. She is a mother and philanthropist who wants to give back to her community. Her empathy for people battling leukemia committed her to run the Detroit Free Press Marathon and raise funds for the cause. Her interests and zest for life embarked her on a unique aerobics video project—Bhangra Aerobics (www.ranal.net)—that brings song and dance to a fitness regimen.
Elias Muawad is a partner in the law firm of Muawad and Muawad, P.C., which has offices in St. Clair Shores and Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Ramsoft Systems Inc.
Having launched Ramsoft Systems in 1992, Victor Naidu has more than a quarter century of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate manager and technologist. He was instrumental in building Ramsoft to become a leading solutions provider to corporations such as Ford, General Motors, Lear, Liberty Mutual, ANR Pipelines, Detroit Edison and Delphi Automotive and aided in launching global companies such as SEAcurity Corp., Medifinity, Inc., and Magna Systems International Inc. Naidu founded the TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) Michigan Chapter and has been a member of numerous organizations. He is president of NACCB (National Association of Computer Consulting Business) Great Lakes Chapter and is on the National Board, instrumental in congressional and legislative matters. As an active business leader in Detroit area, Naidu led the U.S. Trade delegation to India that included elected political leaders, university executives and CEOs. He also served as president of USA Consortium for Trade with India. Naidu is actively involved in various community activities as trustee of Eastern Michigan University and Oakland School Foundations, Advisor-Oakland County Workforce Development and Lifetime member for Detroit Economic Club. Naidu holds a master’s degree in Information Systems, an MBA, a master’s in economics and a law degree.
André A. Nazareth
Charter One Bank
It might be harder to find someone who has a more “global” background than Andre Nazareth. His parents, born in India, moved to Kuwait, but sent their son back to their native country for an education, then to England, then to Canada, where he earned his undergraduate degree before once again switching countries, this time to the United States (he earned an MBA at Penn State). Becoming a banker, he subsequently worked in London, Tokyo, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Hong Kong. Today, Nazareth is sold on the concept of diversity. “I believe that having a diverse employee base is imperative to the success of a corporation. Today, a corporation’s customers and suppliers are of diverse backgrounds and cultures. You have to have employees that understand how to deal with various ethnic and religious backgrounds.” He also says parents share a responsibility to educate their children, but inner-city schools must also foster an environment for learning. And America should, in his view, continue to have an open immigration policy. “The best and brightest come from all over the world,” he says. “They start up businesses that employ people, they are hardworking, they pay taxes, they are productive members of society.”
Denise Rays Pellosma
Three Star Trucking
A second generation member of a trucking family that began its venture by hauling steel from Michigan to Illinois, Denise Rays Pellosma took the reins of Three Star Trucking from her parents, Cesar and Ilene Rays in 1997, having started working at the firm in 1985. She shares management duties with her brother Bob Rays.
Carl Rashid Jr.
Vice President and Shareholder
Yes, progress has been made in the field of diversity. But Carl Rashid Jr., a member of the shareholder group Butzel Long, a firm that traces its roots to 1854, says progress over the years has created greater awareness of the issues of diversity. He says “we are definitely trending” toward more recognition and acceptance of diversity, something he hopes will increase in the next five years. At Butzel Long, the issue of diversity has been front and center for at least the last dozen years. Rashid, who has served on the firm’s Diversity and Retention Committee for the last 10 years, is the committee’s liaison to the Board of Directors. He has also served as a member of the group now known as the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion and as co-chair of the American Arabic and Jewish Friends. Challenges remain, notes Rashid, beginning with recruiting. “In order to create a diverse workforce a company must make diversity recruiting one its primary goals. The second challenge right now is the economy, which could act as a deterrent to toward recruiting and thereby thwart the efforts to make a diverse workforce.” Rashid’s advice to other companies: continue to make diversity a priority in hiring decisions.
The iTIS Group Inc.
In spite of progress made, Monica Sparks isn’t willing to tear up her wish list as it relates to diversity. “We are still failing in many areas of diversity and inclusion, economically and socially,” she says. “I wish we would stop hurting those that come to our great land to make life better. We need a better process. How many of us would be willing to leave our families and all that we know, to go to a strange country where people laugh at us, treat us like low or no-class citizens, open our selves up to poor living conditions and disease all while we work like slaves for pennies an hour, walk home or take the bus only to go to a super market in the area close to where we live only to pay top dollar for goods that are not top shelf? People come to America to be free and live a brave respectful life, not to be imprisoned by stereotypes. We need to welcome our neighbors from afar and help them to learn the language and see the benefits many immigrants offer.” Sparks says advancing diversity is a shared responsibility. “It is our responsibility to teach, by example, our children and colleagues that one person is not responsible for an entire race of people. My fear is that we are not teaching our children the power of unity. Each culture has something to learn from another culture. Each culture has something to contribute; we need each other to survive.”
Sid E. Taylor
Sid Taylor left a management position with General Motors to start his own business in 1989. Having attained Q1 status from Ford Motor Company, Taylor gradually built the business into a full service provider of metal processing, having acquired another company in that field. Taylor has been successful in founding and developing companies due to his outstanding leadership style, which stresses excellence, customer service, employee empowerment and continuous improvement of processes and products. This ability to inspire others to success first became apparent while serving as a U.S. Marine in the Vietnam Conflict. As he fought in the jungles of Vietnam, his fellow soldiers instinctively followed him and emulated his ability to forge ahead through difficulties and fears. The loss of some of his fellow marines in that war strengthened his determination to lead a life that would serve as an example to others. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in his commitment to community service. Several of Taylor's businesses are located in the economically challenged Renaissance and Empowerment Zones of the city of Detroit. He hires employees from the surrounding areas and forges relationships with community leaders and residents.
Reginald Turner, an attorney at Clark Hill, while acknowledging the significant progress made recently (Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor come to mind), he says “there are still many doors that need to be opened so the nation and world can benefit from the myriad talents of women and men from diverse cultures.” And education is key. “We must improve our educational systems so that all young people have opportunities to contribute to the advancement of society.” Turner quotes Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in a majority opinion related to issues of diversity. “These benefits are not theoretical but real, as major American businesses have made clear that the skills needed in today's increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas and viewpoints.” For Turner, the goal is personal. “After the 1967 Detroit riot, my family embraced the mission of Focus: HOPE to build bridges across racial and ethnic lines. The ties we built with families from diverse backgrounds made us better people in countless ways.”
Frank Venegas Jr.
The Ideal Group
From Frank Venegas’ perspective, progress in issues of diversity has been significant in a number of arenas, including, sports, entertainment and politics. But it’s business that he sees being the portal to family-sustaining jobs and where he sees some of the biggest social impacts likely to take place. “A man or a woman that has a desired skill to do a job can support his or her family. They are an asset to their family, their community and a contributor to the local economy.” Venegas also sees great opportunity for the advancement of talented and capable people in all major areas of work. “Neighborhoods are now competing in a global environment. We need to be always building the better mousetrap of giving better customer service.” He also sees real benefit from collaboration. “We have found that by putting collaboration teams of customers, suppliers, trades and end users, we get better solutions than to operate as separate silos trying to build a building or improve and implement a process.” Venegas says growing up with Mexican ancestry was not something he considered a hardship. “I am a lucky guy. I had a good childhood and I have a great family. I do not remember feeling excluded in my youth because I have Mexican ancestry. For years, my company was not a certified minority business. In the beginning, I only certified my business because a customer asked.” Then his perspective changed. “Once the business was certified, I became more aware of how hard it was for many people. We hire from the community, we employ high school students and college interns and people with degrees. We also have on our staff former gang members and ex-felons, who have turned their lives around.”
CEO, Global Bridgebuilders
Having positioned himself as a leader in developing and implementing principles of global quality standards for diversity initiatives, Skot Welch is sought after for his in-depth knowledge. His company, Global Bridgebuilders, brings together what others call a perfect blend of people and process. Perhaps with the emphasis on process from a business perspective, Welch says fundamental changes in the language of diversity are necessary for continuing progress. “We have moved from Affirmative Action to Valuing Differences to Managing Diversity to Inclusion. While these efforts have been good they are incomplete. The dialogue and the corresponding action must shift towards diversity as a means to achieve innovation, innovation that creates market space and captures market share.” Even talking about diversity as “the right thing to do” can be counterproductive. “While true, it doesn’t speak the true language of business—profitability and performance,” says Welch, who adds that pointing to studies that show diverse/heterogeneous teams are far more innovative over a longer period of time than non-diverse/homogeneous teams is more likely to motivate business to make change. “To see this accomplished over the next decade, not simply in theory, but in application will be a ‘game changer’ for those companies and communities that get it.” And those that don’t? “Some people don't understand that the world is changing with or without their permission. In the 21st century, ignorance is not bliss. It is a death sentence.”
Chrysler Group LLC
Even as substantial progress is apparent, Lisa Wicker, who leads diversity issues at the automaker, cautions against becoming complacent. “The pace and breadth of change is not where it could be. It’s important to keep the momentum moving forward. We can’t lose sight of the broader landscape of opportunity to expand the values of inclusion today in our educational systems, in corporate hallways and boardrooms, in academia and in many areas of government.” From Wicker’s perspective, diversity and being competitive go hand-in-hand. Still, not all see the connection. “We haven’t leveraged the opportunities diversity offers to the degree that other countries have,” she says, pointing to education as one area ripe for improvement. “We need to close the skill gap in math and science and languages. An educated, diverse workforce in math, languages and sciences can propel diversity to the next level. Here in the U.S. education is not a ‘right’, but a ‘privilege,’ unlike in Europe where education is embedded into the social and economic framework.” Wicker remains optimistic and says advancing diversity is a grand opportunity. “Growing up, my parents instilled in me and my siblings the knowledge that we could be all that we could imagine regardless of differential treatment or the color of our skin.” She also says future challenges will remain, even as technology continues to advance. “We need to continue to understand the implications and importance of workforce demographics and the impact of ethnic and generational diversity. Because technology will transform when, where and how work is done—and bringing aging or new entrants into modern work environments will be complex—the diversity challenge will become even greater.”
Roy Smith Company
As CEO of Roy Smith Company, a well-known industrial gas and welding supplies firm, Peter Wong has a realistic view of how his firm’s status as a Minority Business Enterprise plays out in the marketplace. “Being a minority business owner is much like having a quality certificate,” says Wong, who purchased the company in 2000. “It is an added benefit to your customer, but it is not why they’re going to do business with you. We are required to be competitive and innovative—all the things you need to succeed in receiving a customer’s blessing.” A Certified Public Accountant by training, Wong had previously worked for Roy Smith Company in the 1980s, eventually returning to take the reins. Wong is also chair of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce, which has its offices in Rochester Hills, Mich. Wong also serves on the board of the Detroit Executive Service Corp., Detroit Regional Chamber, Michigan Minority Business Development Council, and is an active member in other business associations and committees, including Advisory Council for Asian Pacific Affairs to Governor Granholm, Advisory Council of CAPA (Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans), and as Treasurer of CAABO (Coalition of Asian American Business Organizations). A strong advocate for mainstreaming Asians in social and economic life of America, Wong is also an active member of the Economic Club of Detroit.
Automotive Women’s Alliance Foundation
For members of the organization, whose mission is to promote the personal and professional development for the advancement of women in the global automotive industry, the topic of diversity has taken on a new meaning. As Interim President Kim Ziomek, a consultant with Lee Hecht Harrison, explains, “Diversity has gone from a target to a general understanding that a workforce which mirrors its customer base is much more effective and, most importantly, more profitable.” That understanding has been built on a number of factors, including adopting the language that the world of commerce understands. Research has been much stronger around the business case for diversity and this alone has helped improve understanding and acceptance of a diverse workforce,” says Ziomek. For the AWAF, one goal is to see diversity even more widely adopted as a business tool. “AWAF would like to see the concepts of Return on Investment and Diversity in the same sentence,” says Ziomek. “We firmly believe that they are and that is why we encourage and hold forums for women to network and grow in the critical and dynamic automotive industry.”
Business Leaders Linked to Encourage New Directions
Also known as BL2END, this organization seeks to increase the engagement and contribute to the retention of young professionals of color in the Greater Grand Rapids community, say Jamon Alexander and Janean Brown, who co-chair the board. Both acknowledge there much progress to be made. “We actively seek out opportunities to patronize local restaurants, partner with local corporations, and engage in volunteer projects with community organizations to directly impact and support our local economy and overall community health,” notes Brown, who adds that the local economic impact of money earned and saved through the influx of a diversified skilled workforce is not insignificant. The organization, launched in 2006 by a group of young professionals, has helped ease the transition from college to the professional world. “Professionals gain new opportunities for personal and professional relationship building, professional skills development, and a deeper connection to the community through social networking, professional development and community outreach initiatives,” says Alexander. “We encourage individuals to become intentional about engaging in the community where they live, work and play. They can do that by joining organizations that can support their personal and professional interests.”
Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit
Even with one of the most recognizable names in community charity work, Goodwill Industries of Detroit has its work cut out for it. Reaching out to the broader community with its programs for education and training, the organization is proof positive that those with a need come from every walk of life. And with 90 years in the city, Goodwill Industries of Detroit is making an impact. As its Web site points out, the organization is “changing the way southeastern Michigan works. Our work training programs provides a launching pad that catapults people over barriers and into careers—long-term careers, not just jobs. Our work is not about handouts. It’s about giving members of the community a hand-up. We are training people to provide for themselves—returning their pride—and giving them purpose in life.”
Hebrew Free Loan
Since 1895, Hebrew Free Loan has been serving the Jewish community of metropolitan Detroit by making short-term loans without interest to individuals who desperately need the help. Hebrew Free Loan is said to be Detroit’s oldest social service agency and is supported through donations from generous individuals. Its loans enable members of the Jewish community to go to college, adopt children, establish businesses, enjoy a summer camp experience, celebrate weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs or help with an emergency that arises. The current loan portfolio totals $1.6 million to 1,100 borrowers, with most loans being three to five years in length and averaging between $2,000 and $7,500. Loans are typically made to three kinds of borrowers: those who need money to pay for a specific event, those who are in transition (such as vulnerable women who have little or no financial resources and are trying to start a new life), and families who are in a family crisis. The organization also has a small business loan program of up to $15,000. As loans are repaid, the funds are lent out to help another Jewish family.
International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit
An organization founded in 1919, the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit has witnessed the strengths and the fruits of the U.S. through the collective power of its citizens, who can influence change and create positive outcomes that enable democracy, liberty, opportunity and hope. Since then, immigration trends have changed U.S. demographics and made diversity a key driver for both social and economic change. Those in leadership at the IIMD see an ongoing need for deeper understanding into the effects of globalization and immigration on the U.S. economy, including increased research and increased public awareness on the economic contributions of skilled immigrants. Those new Americans find their own challenges, including the switching from one culture to another. On a personal note, Laura Ann Migliore, the organization’s treasurer as well as a board member, says she has seen the dramatic and positive change in leadership opportunities for women that began to occur during the mid 1990s. “I recall working as a financial analyst in an automotive plant environment, and was the only woman in the plant department.” Later she experienced both educational and promotional opportunities through diversity values and work-related initiatives. “I’m very thankful to live and work in a country where freedom is a core value and to have the opportunity to serve the needs of the IIMD, which strongly supports diversity in its day-to-day operations by helping immigrants become U.S. citizens and adapt to the community.”
Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance
In 1996, news that an African-American family had moved out of the community because they felt they were unwelcome spurred some 18 local residents in and around Grand Haven, Mich., to take action. Their initiative ultimately became the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, a grassroots organization that has since expanded to meet identified needs in other communities along the lakeshore, including Holland and Muskegon. Today the organization, led by Executive Director Gail Harrison, includes hundreds of volunteers and thousands of program participants. And the challenges continue. “We must identify and remove the barriers to equal access and equal opportunity,” says Harrison. “That begins with understanding unintentional bias and the impact on society, as well as identifying and removing institutional barriers and eliminating them.” For her part, Harrison grew up witnessing the effects of racism. “I saw people who did not have white skin being treated vastly differently than myself in numerous arenas, on numerous occasions and without just cause.”
Mel Trotter Ministries
Ask Chico Daniels about progress on issues of diversity and the CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries, founded in 1900, recalls growing up in the “tumultuous” 1960s. “Our country has made tremendous strides,” he says. “We need to build on the progress of the past by moving forward to remove barriers to urban and poor youth having access to a superior educational system. We need affordable health care so everyone is healthy enough to compete in an open society.” Daniels says successfully participating in a global economy includes “being able to comprehend and appreciate the rich ethnic cultures of the world. We cannot conduct business with people who are strangers to us.” At Mel Trotter, which ministers to the hungry and homeless in the Grand Rapids area, diversity is a significant enabler. “Children who grow up isolated from diversity are stunted in their ability to be truly competitive in the global marketplace,” says Daniels, who adds this sage bit of advice: “Pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on us.”
Operation ABLE of Michigan
Mary McDougall, executive director of Operation ABLE of Michigan, shares the focus of the organization, especially as it relates to diversity. “We work to see that the talent, experience and skills of older workers are recognized in the workplace,” says McDougall, noting that many of the myths formerly held concerning older workers are falling away. “Ability is ageless,” notes McDougall, even while acknowledging that some age discrimination remains. “We would like to see a time when no one had to experience discrimination for any reason, including age. We would also like to see flexible staffing policies and practices at more companies that would allow for older workers to continue employment in a variety of ways for a longer time. We would like to see employers use older workers in new ways, recognizing that skills are transferrable at all ages.” From the perspective of Operation ABLE, everyone wins from hiring older workers, including businesses and society. “Co-workers can benefit from having mentors to help them move to the next level of performance or position. And customers can benefit from someone who has a seasoned view of what is important in terms of quality and service.” McDougall says she encourages older adults to keep learning. “They should consider their value to their co-workers, their employer (or next employer) and to their community and to explore a wide range of ways for using their talent.”
Nationally recognized as a model of community building, Southwest Solutions is a leading provider of both human services and affordable housing and economic development in its home of Detroit. Noting that the area it serves is roughly 30 percent Caucasian and 70 percent minority (with a preponderance of Hispanic and Latino and a growing Arab-American population), the organization says its staff is close to those demographics, one of its goals. With the launch this year of a “Young Leaders Group,” Southwest Solutions hopes to support its young and minority staff. These initiatives are intended to support Southwest Solutions’ quest to advance diversity, which it says is “part and parcel” of a vital and vibrant workplace. “An organization that fails to put in place and achieve diversity goals compromises its own culture and competence,” says President John Van Camp. “Diversity helps facilitate an exchange of different points of view. It enhances creativity, helps keep an organization from getting stagnant, and boosts corporate morale. All of these positives—and more—cannot help but enhance the bottom line.”
State Bar of Michigan
Equal Access Initiative
The organization representing the legal profession in the state has focused on issues of inclusion as far back as the 1980s, says Gregory Conyers, director of the Justice Initiatives Division. In 1998, that ongoing effort took on a new emphasis with the establishment of the Open Justice Commission (now the Equal Access Initiative), itself a response to a study and subsequent report two years earlier by the Michigan Supreme Court. While the effort seeks to improve access to justice for all diverse populations (including those with disabilities, and those from different racial or ethnic backgrounds), it also focuses on issues related to gender and the poor. “Giving increased recognition to the successes and improving upon them are things we’d like to accomplish in the next five to 10 years,” notes Conyers. Certainly, the business case for diversity in the legal profession is compelling. But so is the intrinsic value of having lawyers who reflect the diversity of the population. “Moreover, the effective functioning of the legal system requires the respect of those it represents, and it must reflect society as a whole in order to truly engender that respect from all quarters,” adds Conyers. In the future, he says, the demographic of the workforce is certain to make the initiative even more important. Even so, challenges remain. “They include barriers such as the cost of a legal education, the system of examinations and the level of support available for diverse individuals already in law school or in law firms. The entrenched societal prejudices we all struggle to overcome all must be addressed on an ongoing basis for the benefit of the whole. The real challenge is to recognize where the problems are and to address them comprehensively.”