University & Medical Center help expand opportunities for business diversity

Diversity is central to the University of Chicago’s intellectual mission and it must be a part of its daily business, President Robert J. Zimmer told a gathering of business executives, elected officials, and faculty and staff members at the annual Business Diversity Symposium.

The Offices of Business Diversity for the University and the Medical Center sponsored the two–day event that Zimmer kicked off with his opening remarks. He was joined on the podium by the Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, University Trustee John W. Rogers Jr., and Johnson Publishing Co. Chairman Linda Johnson Rice.

The symposium brings together minority– and women–owned professional service firms for an opportunity to network, make formal presentations and begin building sustainable relationships with University and Medical Center senior decision makers. It began with a reception Thursday, Nov. 11 for more than 200 University leaders, local and national business leaders and government officials.

“We are a place that is devoted to inquiry at the highest level and that means that all perspectives need to be present and need to be at the table,” said Zimmer. “The issue of diversity for us goes to the very core of what we are and what we’re trying to be every day, so it’s a piece of our highest aspiration.”

Rios, the only woman confirmed in the U.S. Treasurer’s Office in 2009, applauded the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s new policy requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their diversity plans regarding board members.

“What’s interesting about my role as Treasurer of the United States is diversity is not part of my portfolio; women in finance is not part of my portfolio, but I make it my responsibility. I make it my obligation,” she said. “In my opinion, investment in human capital is the best investment that we can make.”

Gov. Quinn said diversity must work at all levels from local to state to national fronts for businesses to become increasingly successful.

“Great institutions like the University of Chicago can help spawn and build new businesses through their purchasing power,” said Quinn. “There are so many things we can do together if we really put our minds to it and our efforts into it.”

Rogers echoed those sentiments and said all too often leaders “talk a lot about diversity” but fail to put action behind their words.

“The University of Chicago gets it, and it’s so unbelievably rare to see that,” he said.

Return on Investment

Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer Nim Chinniah said because the University and Medical Center are the largest employers on the South Side, it is critical that the symposium provide a way for minority firms to create sustainable business relationships.

Thirty–six firms from around the country participated in this year’s symposium and gave 30–minute presentations throughout the second day of the event. Last year at the inaugural joint symposium, representatives from 33 businesses attended.

Chinniah said the University and Medical Center entered into new partnerships with minority– and– women–owned money management, publishing, legal and IT firms since last year’s inaugural event, which helps reinforce the continued commitment to business diversity.

Johnson Rice, whose flagship Ebony magazine partnered with the University to co–host the inaugural Ebony Education Roundtable with MSNBC this fall, said the forum opened the door for increased awareness about the importance of diversifying collaborations with African American media outlets to gain a wider audience share.

“We are definitely seeing sound, quantifiable results from an array of disciplines,” said Nadia Quarles, Director of Business Diversity for the University. “For the first time, the University and Medical Center extended its reach and advertised in both Ebony and Black Enterprise magazines, two premiere publications targeting millions of African Americans.”

For Dail St. Clair, President of Williams Capital Management, the symposium gave her a chance to present the firm’s core competencies and eventually secure a contract with the University. She said the event provided the needed arena to network with top executives that many minority firms do not otherwise have the opportunity to meet.

“The business diversity symposium is important because it allows our key decision makers at the University and the Medical Center in HR, marketing, advertising, PR, IT, legal, architecture, and finance to come in direct contact with a wide array of outstanding minority and women–owned firms,” said James S. Williams Jr., Business Diversity Manager at the Medical Center. “We have a wonderful opportunity to reach innovative firms, which in turn helps broaden our commitment to diversity and underscores our inclusionary business practices.”