KC Corporations See Potential in Minority Entrepreneurs

By Jim Moore

Today is graduation day for 30 Kansas City-area participants in a program called Strategy and Business Development for Minority Business Entrepreneurs—a 2½ -day intensive education program for executives, brought to Kansas City by the Ivy League staff of Dartmouth College’s  Tuck School of Business through the sponsorship of Burns & McDonnell, Hallmark, Sprint, DST, KCP&L and the City of Kansas City, Missouri.

Momentum to bring the program to Kansas City started with Burns & McDonnell, whose chairman and CEO, Greg Graves, says his company’s motives, “might not be as altruistic as you think.” According to Graves, “to be successful, we need to have successful companies around us. It makes us better.”

Program participants from a broad range of businesses have had the opportunity to share their personal business plans with Tuck’s world-class faculty, receiving customized insight on concepts such as small business strategy, accounting and finance, marketing and sales, and organizational development.

Fred McKinney, Tuck’s managing director of minority business programs, is excited about the gender balance, ethnic mix and industry diversity among participants, but places special importance on the program’s focus on individual success. A personalized action plan, he says, is the heart of each student’s takeaway. “We actually have the participants write letters to themselves,” says McKinney, “and in six months we send them those letters, saying, ‘Here’s what you said you’d do. What have you done?’”

Tuck has been teaching entrepreneurs for decades, because business-builders aren’t necessarily natural business runners. “The people who start businesses tend to be very good at a product or service,” says Len Greenhalgh, faculty director for minority and women’s programs at Tuck. “They’re not as good at cash flow, strategy, marketing and understanding customers. Lack of expertise there is a problem. That’s where we come in.”

Minorities are Becoming a Majority

Greenhalgh points out that fostering success for minority-owned businesses, in particular, is key to success throughout the economy in the future.

“The majority of kids under 5 years old in this country right now are minority kids,” says Greenhalgh, pointing out that they are the work force, customers and business owners of the future, as well. “Supply chains of the future,” Greenhalgh adds, “are going to be more dominated by minorities because they have a higher rate of business formation,” than current citizens.

That’s why proponents of programs like Strategy and Business Development for Minority Business Entrepreneurs believe they make sense, especially for places like Kansas City, with significant inner-city populations.

Greenhalgh cites statistics that say, as people have migrated to the inner cities, the largest population in that migration has been minorities; he also cited statistics indicating that minority owned business are more likely to hire minority employees. Given that and the aforementioned higher business formation rate among minorities, Greenhalgh advises, “If you are interested in urban job creation, you should nurture the growth of companies that hire minorities.”

Greenhalgh also sees value in the examples entrepreneurs set, saying, “With entrepreneurial success comes inspiration to other people,” noting the community benefit of becoming, “a role model in your city.”

Making Kansas City “Better”

Graves, of Burns & McDonnell, says it can be very easy as a corporation to look inward and look only at ways to cut costs. “But we like to look inward and ask how we can be better,” he adds, “and we believe that having strong minority-owned, woman-owned and veteran-owned businesses in our community makes both Kansas City and Burns & McDonnell better.”

When asked about the possibility of giving rise to a competitor, Graves responds with a chuckle, expressing his hope that just such success stories will result from the program. He points to a 2015 participant—a former Burns & McDonnell employee who now runs his own civil and structural engineering firm. Graves views him as nothing but a plus for Burns & McDonnell, because the company wants well-run, successful companies close by. “It’s about involving them in our projects,” he says.