When Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, was elected governor of Indiana in 1988, a strange thing happened that would change my life forever. My wife, Kay, had worked on his campaign and was given a reward of a few managerial jobs to hand out to her friends. One of the positions was deputy commissioner for Minority Business Development. She and our neighbor, who was the new director of personnel, convinced me to take the position. While she took the job of director of marketing for the Hoosier Lottery, I went across the street and started to study the history and mission of my new position.
I was just fascinated. The accomplishments of the office were practically nil. Never had there been more than 2 percent (allegedly) minority participation in procurement at the state and Gov. Bayh made a campaign pledge of 5 percent by the end of his term. In my introductory meeting with him he stated that the 5 percent must be met at the end of four years. I told him it would be surpassed long before that. He and his assistants chuckled. They didn't know what I knew. It can be done anywhere and at anytime. All you need is true commitment. I asked for and received a letter of introduction from the Governor that would be given to every cabinet officer and procurement agent. This would be my passport for success.
There are four types of procurements: 1. Products and General Services. 2. Construction. 3. Requests for Proposals and 4. Professional Services. Thus, my strategy was a four-pronged approach.
Every April, the State printed a list of all professional services. The list would have the type of service, where located or performed, dollar amount and date of expiration. I dissected it and set my goals. I would take all the doctor contracts and brief the Black doctors around the state. I would do the same for CPA's, psychiatrists, psychologists, dentists, property appraisers, realtors, lawyers, etc.
Pretty soon, we would have Black representation at all levels. Before, there was no competition, as these contracts were just handed out – usually to political cronies. I got Black Democrats and Black Republicans into the action. Whenever there was a protest I would show the governor's letter and it would repel any adversaries. The Black newspapers were most impressed as they now carried all procurement ads for the state – the first time ever!
For Products and General Services, I reviewed all the specifications and corrected ones that slanted some categories to specific interests. An example is requiring a five gallon container to be a certain configuration. That configuration was under a patent for Johnson Wax. We changed the specification to "a 5 gallon container of any configuration."
On the very next bid, Johnson Wax lost to a minority vendor. And so it went. I developed a team of 80 minority vendors who would meet once a month in my office and we would review all the bids coming up in the next 30 days. We showed them how to research the history of the bid — all public records — and the files were down the hall from me. These 80 vendors started winning 33 percent of everything they would bid on.
For Requests for Proposals, I inserted language that minority representation was a gradable item. A minimum of 5 percent subcontracting or teaming was required as a component of the States compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Construction was the toughest. I wrote an edit to all CM's and PM's that minority contracting was a firm requirement and any CM or PM failing to ensure that would be banned from any more state contracts. They tested me. My example was quite timely. We caught the largest contractor in the state, Huber, Hunt and Nichols lying on minority participation reports. I crafted a hefty formal complaint and they were formally banned from all state projects for 5 years. It shook the construction industry immensely.
In sum, when I took the job, the State was at 0.5 percent minority participation. Through hard work, it attained 6 percent within my first 18 months. I crafted a press release and announced it to the Governor's people with clear documentation. They went nuts! They tore up the press release and ordered me to be silent — to be silent and stop working progressively. They didn't want their White constituents to find out that they did the "right thing" for minority business.
That's when I knew I had to break away and keep this going. Forming a Black chamber of commerce would be the answer.
Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.