Third annual business diversity symposium celebrates new partnerships, seeks to broaden reach

The University of Chicago’s annual Business Diversity Professional Services Symposium—an innovative program that establishes the University as a leader in creating opportunities for new business partnerships with diverse service providers—kicked off Monday, Oct. 10 with a reception for participants at the Quadrangle Club.

Now in its third year, the two-day event provides networking opportunities for senior University leaders and minority and women business owners from the City of Chicago and around the country. The symposium offers the University a chance to build its portfolio of business partners, ensuring access to the most innovative and diverse ideas in the professional services community. It also offers minority and women business owners a chance to promote and expand their businesses, contributing to local and national economic growth.

President Robert J. Zimmer noted the importance of the symposium and its place within the University’s mission. “The University of Chicago was founded on principles that embrace inclusion and diversity and these principles remain at the core of our scholarly mission,” Zimmer said. “We believe that diverse perspectives are essential to full and open inquiry, and that diversity of thought leads to innovation, discovery and the capacity to address the most important problems of our times.”

New business partnerships emerge

At this year’s program—hosted by the University’s two offices of business diversity on the main campus and at the Medical Center—40 different firms in architecture, communications, human resources, information technology, money management, and law gave 45-minute business presentations to University and Medical Center officials.

Since the symposium debuted on campus, new business partnerships born out of these interactions have emerged. Zimmer highlighted some of those successful results, including an advertising collaboration with Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Ebony magazine; an external audit partnership with Washington, Pittman and McKeever; and two legal relationships, with the University retaining Neal & Leroy and the Medical Center retaining the firm of Pugh, Jones & Johnson.

In April, Mark Schmid, Chief Investment Officer at UChicago, retained Holland Capital Management and EARNEST Partners, both African American-owned money management firms that participated in the 2009 and 2010 business diversity symposiums at the University.

John Rogers Jr., University Trustee and Chairman, CEO and Chief Investment Officer of Ariel Capital Investments, praised the University’s leadership for its continuing support of minority business owners. “It’s really very rare to see people who are willing to make the kind of commitment the University of Chicago has made,” he said. Rogers, who runs the largest minority-owned fund firm in America and who pushes for the diversity agenda in the board room through his work with the Black Directors conference, noted that momentum builds when leaders commit to making a change. “It’s so terrific to see all of you here who are committed to this initiative and moving the ball down the field so we can all work together to create a better environment for minority businesses throughout the city of Chicago and throughout this country.”

Nim Chinniah, Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer, is among those University leaders who work toward creating an inclusive business environment at UChicago that supports the University’s strategic goals. “Through our intentional focus on the engagement of minority and women-owned professional services firms, the University of Chicago continues to ensure inclusion and opportunity in our business relationships,” said Chinniah.

A model for other institutions

Rogers handed over the podium to Monica Walker, CEO and Chief Investment Officer of Equity at Holland Capital Management, whose firm is investing a portion of the University’s endowment funds. “I think it’s a beautiful thing—the model that’s been established here—because meeting with the key decision makers provided me with an opportunity to talk about my firm, have the decision makers know who I am, and talk about how we can add value to what it is the University of Chicago does.”

The Business Diversity Professional Services Symposium also has drawn the attention of a number of state and local leaders, including Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Andrea Zopp, president of the Chicago Urban League. 

Quinn echoed Zimmer’s thoughts on the necessity of diversity, citing the University as a model, not only for other educational institutions but also for public institutions. “I came last year and I wanted to come again this year because this is a special movement that the University of Chicago has spawned and we need to replicate it across our state and indeed, across our country,” said Quinn.

As the invited guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, they shared similar views about the nature of such a symposium. “I think this is an outstanding event; it’s a great example of what organizations like the University can do to bring together talented and strong diverse businesses and give them access to the decision-makers,” said Zopp.

For Deborah Chambers Chima, of Chambers Consulting Group, Monday’s reception was a success from the moment she arrived. “When I walked in the door, I had someone from the University approach me and ask me a question about my services. I must have said something that she found of value, because we’re going to have an ongoing conversation to see how I can meet her needs.”

Nadia Quarles, assistant vice president for business diversity, and James Williams, business diversity manager for the Medical Center, collaborated on the symposium three years ago. “We wanted to focus on professional services because this was an area where we lacked minority- and women-owned business participation. And also because professional services generate great economic development,” she added.