William A. Kirk has simple advice for minority and small business owners who want to grow, scale up operations and be successful: Pay attention to public policy.
Kirk, a partner at K&L Gates LLP ,has enjoyed a long and successful career in Washington, D.C. He served on Capitol Hill for 10 years, first as a staff person to U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, and later as a staff person on the House Committee on Ways and Means, where he helped write the United States tax code. He also worked as a staff director on the Subcommittee on Oversight. Today, at K&L Gates, he counsels minority and small business clients and serves on the steering committee of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC and as a board member and counsel to the CBC Political Education and Leadership Institute. A longtime friend of the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council, he is often asked to speak at NMSDC conferences and events about public policy and its impact on supplier diversity.
Kirk said, “What government does be it federal, state or local can have a direct or indirect impact on inclusion and participation.” He added that while many minority and small businesses have benefited from race-based programs that ensure participation of women and minorities, others have been negatively affected, citing legislation passed in California and Michigan that bars racial consideration in state contracting.
Small businesses need to realize that government affects them in one way or another, according to Kirk. First and foremost, all citizens are taxpayers. Second, government policies such as recent changes in healthcare affect everyone. Third, the government is a huge purchaser of products and services. And last, small businesses need to know where public policy is going, if they want to align themselves strategically.
For example, Kirk said, a railroad company should be keeping track of government policies and regulations in transportation. Finding out what legislation may be passed or where the government is investing in terms of economic development could help identify new growth areas or new business opportunities, he said.
“If a small business is not looking at these things, they are not looking at everything available to them in their toolbox to make them successful,” he said. “Sure, you want to sell your products, but you need to pay attention to what the government is doing and be aware of what is going on.”
Kirk said that being aware also includes being vocal and taking a stance on pending legislation that can affect small businesses. While NMSDC itself is not allowed to take a stance on political issues because of its nonprofit 501(c)(3)status, Kirk said that individual NMSDC members can and have made an impact. “When there have been attacks on inclusion, these members have rallied together and provided intellectual and political capital in support of key legislation,” he said, adding that NMSDC members have also been helpful in providing feedback on how the government can improve its programs or input on federal business requirements.
Kirk’s distinguished career in Washington, D.C., has obviously made him a firm believer in the power of public policy. He said that all businesses no matter how small should feel the same way. If not, he cautions, “If you’re not at the table, you may be on the menu.”
By Genny Hom-Franzen