When Don McKneely decided to start Minority Business News in 1987, he was working in the community newspaper business. “At that time, there were 13 competitive community newspapers in the market. It was just too much,” he said. “I started to look at other avenues of opportunity. It didn’t take long to recognize that the diversity space was on the verge of something great. It was just beginning to blossom and gain traction, making it an ideal area of opportunity for comprehensive journalistic coverage.”
McKneely looked at the market and recognized that there was one magazine that focused entirely on the African-American market and one that focused on Hispanic business. “These magazines covered the two largest ethnic minority business markets in the country, but there was a gap in coverage,” he said. “Our objective was to sit in the middle, so that we could bring together the entire space. This [strategy] allowed us also to cover Native-American and Asian-American business development. We sought to bring all of these into the mix and spotlight successes.”
From day one, the mission at MBN was to tell the story around the value proposition of minority business development and supplier diversity inclusion. “This [policy] has been our mission ever since,” McKneely said. “It’s through this vision that we have been instrumental in bringing corporations and minority businesses together, letting others share in their successes — regardless of size.”
McKneely initially rented a one-room, 100-square-foot office within the Dallas market. It was plenty of space because MBN was a one-man operation. He was the one man who shot all the photography, coordinated the stories, sold the advertising and delivered the magazines to all the outlets. “There was an average of one diversity event every day. I would cover every event — meaning at the end of the week, I had five stories or 20 stories each month,” he said. “It was both exciting and exhausting!”
Fortunately, MBN had solid support from the beginning from a wide array of organizations, all of which are still supporters today. “The magazine was very well received, primarily because people appreciated our positive message,” McKneely said. “We have always focused on relationships. From the beginning, we have really worked at articulating the value of minority business and diverse markets. This [strategy] opened up partnerships with business communities and corporations alike.”
In addition to corporate sponsors, MBN was actively involved with the National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. from the day it launched. “When we introduced the magazine, we did it at one of the NMSDC trade fairs,” he said. “We have been a member, supporter and ally to NMSDC ever since. And, the relationship has only continued to evolve and expand.”
Many of MBN’s key milestones have coincided with NMS- DC and its affiliate councils, McKneely explained. “Our relationship has provided extended network connections. It’s this network that allowed us to truly become the one voice for minority business both on the supplier and corporate sides,” he said. “From California to New York, and Texas to Minnesota, we have been fortunate to cover what is happening in every nook and cranny across the nation. NMSDC and its affiliates have been key to our success.”
MBN has been recognized 97 times for its work. “We have received awards from numerous corporations and national organizations, including Urban League, [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], etc. One award that really stands out is the NMSDC Supplier of the Year Award,” McKneely said. “No other media company has ever won this award. Our sister publication also won the Applause Award, which is Women’s Business Enterprise National Council’s most prestigious award.”
Moving down the track, there was some involvement in the women’s markets. As a result, the initiative needed a separate publication that could focus entirely on women-owned businesses and address their specific needs. So, Women’s Enterprise was established as a sister publication. After that transition, Asian Business News and American Indian Business News were launched simultaneously. It helped in addressing their specific market needs.
The company has changed progressively with the times, McKneely explained. “We have always strived to be on the leading edge, meaning we have moved in-sync with the trends. We try to be sensitive to market dynamics so we remain relevant to our market,” he said. “Fortunately, we have had the opportunity to work in collaboration with some of the best minds in business. We have worked intimately with corporate America for 25 years, so when it comes to business development, execution and strategy, it doesn’t get any better. We have been able to extract and apply the best practices in this ever-changing landscape.”
The MBN evolution has taken many forms during the past 25 years, most notably with additions to the company’s talent pool. For example, Jarilyn Fox began her journey with the magazine more than two decades ago as managing editor, after being a part of Fortune 500 media companies. She was one of the first individuals to join the company on a full-time basis. Since then, she has held various other leadership positions in editorial, sales and marketing, until being named president and publisher in 2008. She is elated to be a part of MBN’s journey as the team works together with its diverse partners to tell the supplier diversity and inclusion story.
Supplier diversity has also evolved considerably with expansive programming and tremendous spending increases. “I have seen organizations that started small grow considerably over the years, as a direct result of supplier diversity — so much so that there are now several minority businesses that have surpassed $1 billion in annual revenue. This [growth] is a testament to the supplier diversity movement and its value,” McKneely said. “At each step of the way, we have been telling the story and spotlighting exactly how these organizations have grown. In many ways, their successes have been our success.”
Even as it evolves, supplier diversity will always be about connecting the dots, building the relationships and looking at the changing dynamics, McKneely explained. “Minority business is just a small subset of big business. Whatever is happening in big business, minority businesses need to do the same, but, ideally, do it better,” he said. “What we see in this changing climate is that minority businesses need to strategically collaborate, because the market is one where you need to be quite large if you are going to deliver to corporate America. Minority businesses need to constantly look at the landscape and figure out where they can realistically fit.”
For smaller minority businesses, this process means often working in collaboration with larger minority-owned firms. “Even though it might be tempting to supply directly to the Fortune 500, it’s very difficult to accomplish without strategically partnering with another organization that has the scale needed,” he said. “History has shown that organizations only achieve scale through collaboration and working with strategic partners that can help them grow. This [collaboration] is how some businesses have reached the billion-dollar level.”
Fox agreed, adding that supplier diversity has come a long way over the past 25 years. “Initially people embraced supplier diversity because it was the right thing to do. Today, with the flexibility, innovation and thought leadership minority entrepreneurs bring to the table, diverse suppliers are instrumental in helping organizations improve sustainability and competitiveness,” she said. “MBN has played a huge role in the evolution of minority business; we tell the stories of the minority business arena. We are helping MBEs share and uncover best practices by providing a medium whereby the minority business community can learn from one another. It’s about educating and enriching in an effort to take the initiative to the next level.”