Under the leadership of Dr. Jacqueline Hall Kelly, Minority Business Development hosted its Spring Conference on Thursday, April 26th at the Reynolds Alumni Center. This event was attended by 31 participants, including mentees (small businesses), mentors (large firms), university team leaders, faculty and staff, as well as representatives from Lincoln University, Southeast Missouri State University, the Office of Administration and other guests.
One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation of Torch Awards by Vice President Nikki Krawitz. The award recipients, whose terms in the program were two years, graduated from the Advocacy-Mentoring Program; thus, they “passed the Torch,” allowing new participants to serve in the program. The Torch Award is a metaphor for serving, teaching, learning and sharing. Undergirding the concept of Torch Awards is a quotation attributed to Margaret Fuller, a journalist among others, during the 1800s: “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.” Each of the following award recipients allowed others in the program to “light their candles” in their knowledge and to glean from the awardees’ experiences:
- Ted Ruth, Director – Design & Construction, Missouri S & T (Team leader)
- Monica Santos, Principal- Antella Consulting Engineers, Kansas City (Mentee)
- Phil Wentz, Principal- McClure Engineering, St. Louis (Mentor)
Also during the conference, Gabriel Okafor, President of Alpha Energy and Electric in Kansas City, did a presentation on his firm’s experiences as a mentee in the Advocacy-Mentoring program. He expressed great passion and appreciation for what his firm was accomplishing through the program. With the help of his mentor, Radd Way of the Weitz Group, his team leader, Greg Silkman of UMKC and with Dr. Kelly’s leadership of the program, his firm was able to build goals around revamping its marketing strategy, enhancing its systems and processes, and enhancing employee training and delegating. Moreover, prior to the firm’s participation in the university’s program, Okafor said, “everything that we did – projects performed – was as a small business, always 2nd or 3rd tier subcontractor. Now we go in as a Prime Contractor.”
Additionally, a major portion of the conference was spent in break-out sessions where the mentees and mentors brainstormed ideas, discussed topics of concern, and proposed solutions to issues they were experiencing. The groups dealt with the challenges of growth, joint ventures, and business systems and processes. At the breakout session for the Joint Venture group, Jerry Daugherty, President of Reinhardt Construction in Centralia, spoke to the group about the importance of working relationships with other businesses. He gave valuable advice from his 20 plus years of experience in joint ventures.
Dr. Deborah Noble-Triplett, Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs at UM System, conducted a session on “The People side of the Enterprise.” She spoke about selecting high quality people and ways to ensure a good fit with the culture of the firm. “Think about your vision for the future of your company and hire people that you believe will help you get there,” She said.
The conference ended with a discussion and announcements of future design and construction projects around the state. Facilitating the session was John Neal, Associate Director of Campus Facilities and Construction for MU.
Dr. Kelly, Director of Minority Business Development, said that some of the goals of the Advocacy-Mentoring program are accomplished through the networking that occurs at these conferences. “Through the program, small businesses are able to build relationships and support systems where they can share experiences and ideas; they, too, are able to acquire skills and knowledge to aid them in managing the intricacies of growing their firms.” One of the unique features of the Advocacy-Mentoring program is the triad model on which the program is designed. Each triad consists of a mentee (small business owner), mentor (large firm) and university team leader. The primary goal of the program is to help the mentees acquire the business competencies they need to grow their firms and become greater contributors to the economy. Business school faculty and MBA students at each of the University of Missouri’s campuses have contributed to the achievement of this goal. Without a doubt, they have knowledge and have allowed others to light their candles in it.