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Leading in Color Newsletter - August 2020
August 2020
  • Message from Tiffany Hamel Johnson 
  • A Case 4 Bold Action ... Next-level supplier diversity
  • We CU: News from our members
  • Don't-miss Chicago United programs 


Chicago United programs build valuable connections, insights, and understanding

Quality programming is a hallmark of Chicago United. Our staff constantly strives to offer content, speakers, and interactive experiences that members won’t find elsewhere. Roundtables for chief executives and diversity officers, sessions with national thought leaders who’ve studied leading-edge diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) practices, and opportunities to celebrate Chicago’s leaders remain on our schedule, even if virtual. This is our plan to help organizations cultivate a culturally competent workforce and position people of color for advancement, no matter where they are in their DE&I journey.

Over the past five months, we’ve presented a discussion about resiliency among small business owners with Zain Raj, CEO and Chairman of Shapiro + Raj. Our Business Leaders of Color Author Series continues to feature BLCs who share their insights and guidance as published authors; recently, we featured 2007 BLC Melody Spann Cooper and BLC 2009 Shundrawn Thomas. And, in partnership with Astellas Pharma US President and Chicago United Board Member Percival Barretto-Ko, we launched the four-part ERG Symposium series, which explores proven ways to unlock the value of employee resource groups. Also, our CEO Roundtable Series featured a discussion on leadership during a global crisis, which was hosted by Charles Matthews, the President & CEO of Peoples Gas.

Additionally, we continue to implement our signature, ongoing initiatives—the Corporate Inclusion Institute, the Inside Inclusion and Business Leaders of Color publications and the Five Forward Initiative™.
As we all continue protecting our own health, and the health of others, Chicago United will not convene in-person sessions for the foreseeable future. In fact, we’re in the process of developing several major virtual programs for the fall that will bring together our members on an even larger scale than we have so far this year, including a Member Town Hall in late September and our annual Bridge Awards Celebration in November. We’ll share more information on both soon. Rest assured, the staff and I--with your support--will deliver the value you expect from Chicago United.

Be well.

Editor’s note: Scroll down to the 2020 Programs section to track our upcoming programs lineup. 

Tiffany Hamel Johnson
President and CEO
Chicago United 

A CASE 4...Bold Action

Business diversity: How to take it to the next level

Companies have successfully activated business diversity programs, but they may find themselves uncertain about the next phase of inclusive business partnerships and ways to optimize these relationships during the current economic downturn. Chicago United member Lawrence T. Wooten, Senior Manager of Supplier Diversity for American Water, shares advice for both the corporate supplier diversity professional and the minority business owner.
  1. Articulate the value proposition of diverse suppliers
    “We’re at this tipping point where we as supplier diversity professionals have to keep articulating the value proposition of diverse suppliers,” Wooten says, adding that being inclusive isn’t the end goal of these programs. “It’s not just about being inclusive. That is still key, but the true value of supplier diversity is the innovative thought and differences that diverse suppliers bring to the table.” 
  2. Get out of the “legacy” of supplier diversity
    Supplier diversity professionals can’t let the traditional “it’s the right thing to do” position be the overriding business case for business diversity programs. Wooten says these corporate professionals should make it clear inside their organizations that diverse suppliers are good business partners because, among other traits, they make decisions in a timely fashion and they’re customer focused. Their “can do” spirit helps a company meet its goals, he says. Chicago United’s Five Forward Initiative™ encourages corporations to think broadly about ways diverse suppliers can support them, such as long-term partnerships in legal, investment, accounting, marketing and other professional services.
  3. Get deeply involved in your vertical
    Diverse suppliers should continue to innovate, Wooten advises. They can do this by deepening their expertise within their chose industry. These business owners should be involved within the industry and know its trends to better understand the potential impact of their products or services.
  4. Build relationships
    Business owners of color should build relationships beyond those in the corporate supplier diversity office. This means getting to know those who make the buying decisions relevant to their business. The Five Forward process provides tools to support relationship building that elevates and expands MBE partnerships.
California American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, has been a learning partner to Chicago United by leading the local implementation of the Five Forward process with a cohort of Committed Corporations.  These Committed Corporations are Tier 1 suppliers to California American Water and are committed to growing their own diverse business partnerships.  

Five Forward MBE delivers for its corporate partner in
time of need

When Aon plc, a Chicago United member and Five Forward Committed Corporation, recently experienced a critical need as a result of the COVID-19 economic downturn, one of its Five Forward MBE partners stepped into the void.

Due to shutdowns at the global professional services company that were caused by the pandemic, the company’s print shop in north suburban Lincolnshire closed. As Aon associates moved to work from home, and the company’s printing capabilities were unavailable, the firm had an immediate need for a new supplier to print and mail critical Certificates of Insurance (COIs).

So, the Aon Diversity Solutions Team, which provides consultative and strategic advice to Aon departments, clients and diverse partners, used its approved supplier network to identify MOTR GRAFX, a Hispanic-owned supplier.

MOTR GRAFX quickly moved to mitigate disruptions to Aon’s operations and ramped up production. It received Aon’s files twice a day and mailed the documents within 36 hours, successfully fulfilling more than 150,000 customer COI mailings in a critical time of need. Aon praised MOTR GRAFX for its agility in helping to deliver time-sensitive materials.
Negocios Now, a business publication focused on Chicago’s Hispanic community, recently presented its annual “Who’s Who” list of top leaders. It featured several supporters of Chicago United, including Board Treasurer George Burciaga (2017 Chicago United Business Leader of Color), former President and CEO Gloria Castillo, members of our CEO Council, and Chicago United Business Leaders of Color. And, special recognition goes to Arthur Zayas Miller, President and CEO MZI Group, whose company was recognized on the list as the Business of the Year. The full list is viewable here.

Adela Cepeda, 2005 Business Leader of Color, was featured in the current edition of Latino Leaders magazine discussing the impact of the pandemic on corporate governance. 

Dean M. Harrison, President and Chief Executive Officer of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, was named the new Chair of the Board of Directors for The Executives’ Club of Chicago. 

Glenn Eden, Executive Vice President, Weber Shandwick, recently received the Public Relations Society of America’s Chicago Chapter award for Diversity and Inclusion Champion of the Year.

Several Chicago United Business Leaders of Color were included among the 40 executives named in Crain’s Chicago Business’ 2020 Notable Minorities in Commercial Banking. Congratulations to Carlos Cardenas, Senior Vice President and Group Manager, Wintrust Financial Corp. (BLC 2019); Ramon Cepeda, Senior Managing Director, Specialty Lending,  Northern Trust (BLC 2009); Carl Jenkins, Managing Director BMO Harris Bank (BLC 2019);  Oscar Johnson, Jr., U.S. Head of Treasury and Payment Solution Sales, BMO Harris Bank (BLC 2015); Michael Leong, Senior Vice President and Head of Diversified Industries, Midwest, Fifth Third Bank (BLC 2017); and former Chicago United Board Member Eric Smith, Vice Chairman, BMO Harris Bank (BLC 2015).

KDM Engineering was recently named to the Inc. 5000 for 2020, the list of the fastest-growing private companies in America. The company was also honored as the recipient of the 2020 Illinois Rising Star Small Business of the Year award, presented by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Illinois District Office. KDM’s president and founder, Kimberly Moore, was also named one of Crain’s Chicago Business’ 2020 Notable Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). 

Program Spotlight: Member Town Hall 

Join in conversation and community with other Chicago United members: 

  • Discover how we are reaffirming who we are, what we do, and how we are moving forward during this time of racial and social upheaval
  • Learn more about what we offer our member companies to assist their strategic DE&I journeys
  • Find out how your organization can get more involved with our major programs
  • Hear from a prominent leader in the DE&I space 
  • Share insights and ideas with other leaders committed to racial equity in business

September date and time to be announced soon! 


  • CEO Roundtable Series (for C-Suite executives): Sept. 22, Oct. 20
  • Member Town Hall: September 
  • Business Leaders of Color Author Series: Oct. 2
  • ERG Symposium - Commerce: Oct. 16
  • Bridge Awards Celebration: Nov. 19 
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