Economic Interdependence Solidifies Diversity

Robby Williams

By Clint Confehr

MEMPHIS, TN — The Black Business Association’s speaker here next week has a message for Nashvillians looking for greater diversity in business contracting 

“It’s an approach to economic inclusion,” says Iconoclast Consulting President Fred Keeton who’s speaking at the BBA’s BENNY (Black Entrepreneurship and Networking Need You) Awards Luncheon Oct. 11 in the University of Memphis Holiday Inn.

Keeton’s approach is relevant to Nashville since another study of city contracting shows Metro doesn’t meet inclusion goals. And, Keeton’s view is in concert with a Community Benefits Agreement in Nashville with the soccer group since politicians said businessmen needed that agreement to get city land for a stadium.

BBA President Roby Williams agrees with Keeton’s view of minority contracting. They speak of compliance, conscience and commerce.

“When you use compliance as the benchmark, you’re going to be engaged with regulations and regulators; legislation and legislators; litigation and litigators,” Williams quotes Keeton. “In addition … you’re likely to encounter a lot of allegations and alligators.”

That, Keeton says, could be viewed “as an external negative force … [so] you do just enough to avoid getting in trouble.”

“Conscience,” Keeton and Williams say, labels a voluntary approach. Williams paraphrases some business’ approach; “It’s the right thing to do, such as; ‘We have some money and we need to spend some of it with black businesses.’” That fails during hard times when churches and charities lose benefactors.

“Commerce” includes need, he says; “I have to do business with people who provide value for me … who help me make money or save me money.”

The same is true for the other side of contracts, Williams says; “When I hurt, they hurt.”

“At that level,” Keeton says, inclusion “is a business critical must-do. It’s helping you become the the city or region of choice for new business growth … for innovation … development of talent  … helping people make money.”

Interdependency is profitable. “When you make money, they make money,” Keeton said. “When you hurt, they hurt, very often.” It’s a position not be ignored.

Interviews with Keeton and Williams didn’t include specific examples of reaching diverse business interdependence, but it’s easy to foresee stadium, transit and riverfront business construction as pending projects that could flourish with inclusion.

“Diversity is not good. It simply is,” Keeton said. “It’s what we do with it; how we deal with, and manage it. Treat the management of how we do marketing, finance and other businesses …

“When we create the capacity to manage difference, then we put together the business systems that are enduring,” Keeton said pointing to Proctor & Gamble as a huge business that benefits from differences.

“But we’ve tried to make it a political football,” he says. “Ask: what should be here that’s not here now and how do I position myself for that?”

To make his point, Keeton quotes Whoopie Goldberg: “I always knew I wanted to be somebody. Now that I’m an adult, I know I should have been more specific.”

Williams met Keeton in Memphis when Keeton was in insurance and risk management. Since then he: worked for Harrah’s casinos; retired as executive vice president and chief diversity officer for Caesars Entertainment; and foundedKeeton Iconoclast Consulting.

His luncheon theme for the affiliate of the U S Black Chamber is the compelling business case for diversity and inclusion. He’s developed profitable and successful “Diverse by Design” programs for Fortune 500 companies.

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