Category Archives: Minority Business

Architect Donald King: determined to build

Guest post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

Architect Donald King has received much recognition for his lifetime achievements in his chosen field. He was elected an AIA Fellow in 2000 and, of approximately 2200 AIA Fellows, Mr. King is one of about 50 living African American fellows. His buildings have earned scores of national and local design awards. We see his work through the greater Seattle region—the Urban League at Colman School, the new and green Asian Counseling and Referral Service, transit centers, clinics, schools, libraries, public housing. His career has been satisfying and fulfilling as an architect and as an entrepreneur.

But his journey was not a path well-travelled.

Donald King knew he wanted to be an architect when he was only 12 years old, but “in the 1950’s and 1960’s it was hard to say you wanted to be an architect if you were young, black, working class and poor,” he said. Many people discouraged him from pursuing architecture, including his guidance counselor. “I overcame discouragement because of my stubbornness. Every time I was told I couldn’t be an architect, it would make me want to disprove that person. I was not the best student in high school, and I had to go to community college to get caught up and improve my GPA. Working full time and going to school part time, it took me 11 years from the time I started undergrad to complete college with my masters in architecture at UCLA.”

After moving to Seattle in 1980, it was very difficult for King to find work. Most firms were only interested in having him work on projects in the black community. He eventually obtained a position as principle architect for the non-profit Environmental Works Community Design Center. And it was because of the encouragement of Sea Mar Community Health Centers Executive Director Rogelio Riojas that he ventured forth in 1985 to start Donald King Architects (DKA).

After nearly 27 years, and over 400 projects, King has become known for his strengths as a planner, programmer, and designer, and noted especially for his collaborative design approach. Although primarily focused on community facilities, DKA has weathered several economic downturns by being flexible enough to move back and forth between public and private sector contracts. This last economic downturn has had the greatest impact because activity has slowed in both the public and private sectors, and competition is tighter. “The big firms got hit, and they have started moving into the markets that we have served.” Despite the success of DKA, King believes there is still a “glass ceiling” for black architects.

“Success can be a double-edged sword,” he notes. If you grow, you need to “feed the beast.” He advises minority entrepreneurs to understand that things are going to be a little more challenging than you might think. “You need to be flexible, ready for changes in the economy and market. You can’t rest on your laurels,” he said. “There are a lot of rewards, but you have to love what you do to sustain your commitment.”

Today Donald King is practicing his craft, working on an ownership transition for DKA, and teaching at the University of Hawaii. He is currently working with the university to set up a non-profit Community Design Center in Honolulu which will support community building needs in Hawaii’s low-income neighborhoods. Still not resting on his laurels, still stubborn, still serving the greater good.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.

2011 minority business of the year awards

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

Each year the UW Foster School of Business recognizes exceptional performance by minority-owned businesses throughout Washington state. On December 8, seven businesses were honored. They hail from throughout Washington, and are owned by Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latino Americans. They come from services, construction and sales. They are local, national and international.

They range from small to large. Some, like Sister Sky who produces natural bath products inspired by Native American herbal wisdom on the Spokane Indian Reservation, expects 2011 revenues to be $600,000. Others like Sam & Jenny of Bellevue is one of the largest waste paper exporters in the US, with anticipated 2011 revenues of over $70M, exporting 300,000MT of waste paper each year to South Korea and China.

The youngest company, Macnak Construction of Lakewood founded in 2007, has grown their revenues by 375% since it was founded—without borrowing any long term debt. They expect $6M in revenues in 2011. Indian Eyes, a Pasco business specializing in equipment logistics and construction management founded in 2005, expects $20M in revenues in 2011. Revel Consulting, a Kirkland-business management consulting firm founded in 2005, expects $26M in revenues this year. The Hughs Group of Tacoma, a logistics contract management company, anticipates sales of $8.1M. Everett-based Del Sol Auto Sales in operation since 2002 expects revenues of $5.5M this year.

“All seven businesses have proven that they have what it takes, even during this challenging economy, to survive and thrive,” says Michael Verchot, director of the Business and Economic Development at the UW Foster School. Since 1999, the Minority Business Awards program has given much-due recognition to high-performing, minority-owned businesses. Congratulations are due to:

  • Sam & Jenny (William D. Bradford Award)
  • Del Sol Auto Sales (NW Washington Award)
  • Revel Consulting (King County Award)
  • Hughes Group (SW Washington Award)
  • Sister Sky (NE Washington Award)
  • Indian Eyes (SE Washington Award)
  • Macnak Construction (Rising Star of the Year)

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.

Informed innovation: interview with Steve Tolton of Petrocard

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBrogan

The Brogan Blog had a chance recently to chat with Steve Tolton, the CEO of PetroCard, a leading Pacific Northwest fuel and lubrication distributor. PetroCard, specializes in unattended stations that use a proprietary card lock technology to provide fuel to commercial customers that can be as large as Pepsico or as small as the one-truck plumber down the street.

And it may be one of the largest companies you’ve never heard of.

In 2010, PetroCard grossed over $900 million. PetroCard was ranked last year as the fifth largest privately held corporation in Washington State.  It is owned by Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.  BBNC is owned by about 8,200 Eskimo, Indian and Aleut shareholders.

PetroCard started in 1997, when Steve Tolton, then the Chief Financial Officer of BBNC, was looking for promising investments.  He partnered with banker Tom Farr, who saw an opportunity to consolidate the fragmented card lock business, starting with the purchase of a small company called PetroCard.

Neither Steve or Tom knew much about petroleum.  But they knew a good business opportunity when they saw it.  In less than 15 years, PetroCard has gone from 25 million gallons to 300 million gallons of fuel sales per year and it has leveraged its base business into other compatible business ventures

Steve Tolton attributes PetroCard’s success to focus on its customer base..   Their regional customers include school fleets and taxis, as well as Waste Management vehicles.”

“We touch our customers a thousand times a day,” says Tolton.  “We stay abreast of trends so we can offer solutions to our customers before they have to ask for them.”  Innovation means knowing how to manage risk with great due diligence.

“It is rare to hit a complete home run,” says Tolton.  He noted, however that the “Clean N’ Green” fuel stations, PetroCard’s partnership with Waste Management, has come pretty close to a homerun—exceeding all  expectations.

“For the last two years, we’ve been operating commercial natural gas stations, because of the continued expansion in the area of compressed natural gas,” said Tolton.

Tolton has grown PetroCard, but  does not believe in growth for its own sake.  “We focus on our commercial customers fueling and lube solutions, even though we may see other opportunities,” he said.  “We’re better at taking a decent companies and helping make them better.” PetroCard’s venture into natural gas has been an entrepreneurial “home run,” built on a deep understanding of industry trends and changing customer needs, including the need for a cost-competitive product in an emerging market.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.

Women leadership in India via microfinance

Guest post by Cynthia Sánchez (UW English major, graduating in 2011)

I used to believe microfinance pertained only to those in the banking industry. However, I’ve discovered this is not the case. Microfinance can be utilized by many banks, but also individuals seeking to help others. I learned microfinance does more than lend money. It helps people save, build their resources and reduce their vulnerability.

Microfinance repayment gathering in India
Microfinance repayment gathering in India

Meeting with Grameen Bank in Bangalore, India allowed me to witness the difference the bank makes by giving 97% of their loans to women while they also strive to educate the next generation. Our meeting with Grameen Bank began by attending a repayment meeting. We arrived at the gathering location—encountering a few goats along the way—and entered an open space. A group of women sat leg-crossed chanting the sixteen decisions, a set of values, followed by the recitation of a vow. This was the way they commenced meetings. They welcomed us with smiles and requests to sit next to them, tapping the floor beside them to signal open spots. The women wore saris and a few cradled their children. We took our seats barefoot and watched each member sign in. Their glass and golden bangles slid up and down, synchronized to the movement of their arms.

The session was quick. The women were prepared with the money stacked in their hands, like a deck of cards. They all sat attentive waiting to hear their name to pass the payment to the lender. The money circulated, hand in hand, until it reached him. He counted the amount and recorded the amount in the borrower record sheet which contained the borrower’s picture, her name, the names of her children and spouse and dates of all the past payments.

We learned from the women that with the money they borrowed they had paid for their children’s education, started businesses, resolved personal issues and emergencies and also had the opportunity to expand their knowledge of business. Obtaining a loan from Grameen Bank had empowered them to decide what was best for their families and their future. Women who were once considered “uncredit-worthy” are now beginning to move away from poverty in a country where 41% of its population is still “unbanked”—demonstrating the difference a small loan can make.

Cynthia is a University of Washington student participant in the Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Business women in India and America share hope

Guest post by Emily Gerloff (UW business major, graduating in 2011)

“Nearly everything you do is of no importance, but it is important that you do it.” -Mahatma Gandhi

I was told that India is life-changing.  After hearing this on several occasions, I remember thinking to myself: What a strange concept. How can a country be life-changing?

After spending a month on the Half the Sky Exploration Seminar via the UW Foster School of Business, I am still unable to express exactly how India changed my life, but I know with absolute certainty that it did.

Emily (far right) sits with Indian women at a microfinance repayment gathering.
Emily (far right) sits with Indian women at a microfinance repayment gathering.

During the micro-lending meetings I expected to see poor, impoverished women with sob stories capable of making me instantaneously empty my pockets. I was surprised and relieved to find it was nothing like what I had imagined. These women did not have an ounce of desperation in their voices as they told their stories. They are an absolute testament to the power of hope and determination.  They live their lives with an innate sense of duty and purpose I can only compare to an American’s sense of equality and freedom.

Another surprise was how closely the lives of these women parallel my own. The micro-loans they receive are similar to the loans that fund my education.  I come from an underprivileged family (by American standards) and would be unable to attend college if it weren’t for the grants and loans provided to me by the government. Although I am occasionally jealous of my fellow students who will graduate with zero debt, it doesn’t change the fact that I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to better my life. I don’t think I am any less deserving of an education just because I was born into a family that couldn’t pay for one. This is a similar stance these women take regarding the micro-loans they receive. They possess gratitude and a humble belief that they deserve the right to prove their worth.

India changed my life.  I have seen first-hand the power of hope and determination and won’t deny myself the chance to see how far my own hope and determination will take me.

Emily is a University of Washington student participant in the Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Expanding cosmos—women in leadership study tour

Guest post by Melanie Sharpe, Foster MBA 2011 with a global business focus

BananaLeafIn the pre-trip brief just hours before we left for India, our professor Cate Goethals made a preparatory comment I’ll always remember as I weave my way through the world: “Becoming cosmopolitan means expanding and pushing the current boundaries and edges of your world.”

The trip to India expanded my cosmos in that very way. It exposed me to a diverse array of Indian leaders that redefined my perspective of business leadership as a woman—an aspect of business school that is largely overlooked and one I admittedly had not taken the time to consider prior to the transformative trip.

Inspiring women entrepreneurs

We encountered a colorful gamut of inspiring women. From workaholic bankers to avant-garde filmmakers to powerful lawyers and wealthy philanthropists to arguably the most influential female spiritual guru in the world to rural tree harvesters—all incredibly ambitious and driven women who seemed to have something very profound in common: They all seemed to be working to uplift others around them.

Call it social entrepreneurship or call it a compulsion to help better their community or family. Sometimes this innate desire compelled them to work 16-hour days to allow their fatherless children to have a better future. Sometimes that internal murmur told them that funding clean water was the only way to ensure the success of future generations of Indians. Sometimes that calling told them to hold and convey love to thousands of people everyday. In each instance, the evidence of that desire to give was palpable and tremendously inspiring.

TajThe pinnacle of the trip was hearing Rohini Nilekani, wife of the Infosys founder, speak at her clean water non-profit, Arghyam. Her profound statement: “Your generation no longer has the luxury of pessimism” was galvanizing. No longer can we absentmindedly guzzle water from plastic bottles or live in first-world luxury flushing away our waste with fresh water without considering the ramifications to the earth or other members of the world community. Her CEO Sunita Nadhamuni was an example of such awareness. Nadhamuni and her husband had reinvented the American business school dream of Silicon Valley wealth, prominent management positions and a constant search for “more” by transitioning their careers to work that directly helped communities of people have access to clean water.

Globally interconnected economy

The trip to India opened my world to the interconnectedness of the global economy. Imagine Dharavi: Asia’s largest slum, prominently featured in the blockbuster film “Slumdog Millionaire” as an impenetrable, crime-filled, filthy dystopia. The reality? The living conditions were certainly difficult: On average there is 1 toilet per 1,500 people! But the families inside the neat and tidy (albeit tiny) apartments were hardworking, entrepreneurial and contributing to global economic epicenters of recycling and clothes dyeing. In fact, many of the raw materials that we consume in the United States are sourced straight from Dharavi.

I left India transformed. The trip confirmed what I had suspected for my own career path: My own compulsion to serve was an innate calling that could be aligned with both business ideals and women’s leadership. Arriving at this realization completed the goal of the trip. My cosmos is expanded forever.

Melanie is an MBA student participant in the University of Washington Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Jai Elliott wins 2010 UW diversity and community building award

Jai2Jai-Anana Elliott, associate director of diversity and recruitment at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, won the 2010 UW Vice President for Minority Affairs and Vice Provost for Diversity Community Building Award.

Elliott manages the recruitment process for undergraduate business students at the UW Foster School and oversees the school’s diversity programs and undergraduate scholarship process. Elliott received Foster’s 2009 Staff Excellence Award and was a two-time recipient of the Staff of the Year Award. She was also presented the UW Brotman Diversity Award in 2002.

“Jai is constantly retooling and envisioning what the Foster School can do in terms of diversity, recruitment and community building,” said Vikki Day, assistant dean for Foster’s undergraduate programs. “If there is a project she feels is important and contributes to the diversity of Foster, she will figure out a way to make it happen, in spite of staffing and funding constraints. She is truly a leader in thought and action for diversity efforts.”

Diversity accomplishments

Elliott envisioned and implemented Young Executives of Color (YEOC), a community outreach program targeting underrepresented high school students. She initiated and now directs Foster’s participation with the Alliances for Learning and Vision for Underrepresented Americans (ALVA), a Boeing intern program for underrepresented high school seniors entering their freshman year. Most recently, Elliott created a bridge program for incoming UW freshmen which launched in the summer of 2010. Elliott’s efforts do not end with recruitment—she also serves as advisor for the Association of Black Business Students and works closely with the Hispanic Business Students Association as well as other UW organizations, helping students connect to the business school.

The 2010 Diversity Award for Community Building will be presented at the Multicultural Alumni Partnership Bridging the Gap Breakfast on Sat., Oct. 16 in Haggett Hall (Cascade Room) from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m.

The award recognizes a University of Washington student, staff or faculty member whose efforts toward positive change on campus have resulted in multicultural community building. Foster School’s Michael Verchot, director of the Business and Economic Development Center, won the award in 2008.

Let Climate Solutions be part of your business solution

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganWe all know the song, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Building a business is all about relationships.  The conundrum of many minority-owned businesses is how to build those relationships with people for whom there is no history of social interaction. 

What do you have in common with successful and established business people in the emerging green economy? Plenty. Fundamentally, you share a mission and a commitment to a better and healthier planet. This provides a common cause that can only strengthen with broad and diverse support. Many of the most exciting companies in the local clean energy economy are minority-owned or have key managers from the minority community. And there are opportunities for every type of business.

It’s easier than you think. 

I recently had a chance to chat with Ross Macfarlane who is the senior advisor for business partnerships at the Seattle-based organization Climate Solutions. He observed that, “Global warming is a fundamental issue of our time. The transition from dirty energy to clean energy is happening.  It is now not a question of whether we will make this transition, but whether Northwest businesses can lead in attracting jobs and finding profitable opportunities.” He added, “We are working with businesses, environmentalists, government and public interest groups to lead that transition.”

Climate Solutions offers a range of educational, business support and policy advocacy programs.  They also work with other coalitions to advance the fight against global warming. He offered some interesting tidbits of information:

  • The “Business Leaders for Climate Solutions” network of more than 800 business executives and entrepreneurs is a way for those who share a common mission to lead rather than follow to engage on policy, education and networking.  Membership is free, and the Climate Solutions website posts a calendar of events of interest.
  • Many other great organizations partner closely with Climate Solutions and also provide opportunities.  For example, NW Energy Angels provides opportunities to network with potential  investors and get additional tips about how to get financing. Local businesses should also check out the Clean Energy Committee of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which is working to boost participation by minority businesses in these opportunities. 
  • Climate Solutions authored a report that highlights many of the most important opportunities in this sector: “Carbon Free Prosperity 2025.” This report identifies some of the  most promising business-development opportunities that will be in the fields of energy-efficient green building design,  smart grid and information technology, advanced biofuels and biomaterials and clean energy.  A statewide effort, the Clean Energy Leadership Council, will be completing a report later this fall that highlights key sectors and outlines an action plan for making this a more robust part of our economy.

In the meantime, Climate Solutions continues to advocate on the policy side for new financing options, revolving loan funds and stimulus-related resources for green businesses.  It wants to hear from businesses what will help create jobs and drive investment in this sector.

The key to success?  Make sure that you are providing as much to your business relationships as they provide to you. Climate Solutions provides an opportunity for you to contribute by helping lead the way to a green economy.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.

Urban Enterprise Center: advocating for multiculturalism AND sustainability

Guest post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganWhether you belong to the Urban Enterprise Center (UEC) or not, you benefit from its programs and vision. Established in 1993 as the multicultural business arm of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, its focus is to build and nurture cross-cultural economic relationships for the benefit of all.

At the UEC sustainability is considered as an ethical and systemic response to the type of fragmented thought in the “old” culture that traditionally allowed people to marginalize and abuse resources without considering impacts on the whole planet.

The UEC applies this holistic thinking to business and economic development with educational resources, job skills training, business literacy, multicultural marketing, cross-cultural business development, policy advocacy and personal development.  “We can help folks to focus on specific job skills, training and knowledge for a career or to establish a green-oriented business,” says Dr. Skip Rowland, executive director.

Dr. Rowland explains, “The whole civil rights issue is about reducing the marginalization of people, because doing so damages our whole society. We need to also think about how marginalized thinking damages our air, water and land.”

The UEC has formed strategic partnerships with scores of organizations that include Enterprise Seattle, Prosperity Partnership, and scores of multicultural organizations.  UEC makes connections by raising awareness of minority-owned businesses and helping businesses expand their customer bases to multi-cultural markets.  Currently, the UEC has about 12 committees of volunteers who focus on a range of issues relevant to communities and businesses of color.

“The act of being green reminds us of a way of thinking about how life on the planet is meant to be lived,” says Dr. Rowland.  “Green is where the economy must go to sustain our planet.” For more information about the Urban Enterprise Center, call 206.389.7231.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.

The ABCs of LEED

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganIt is almost impossible these days for there to be a discussion about building or development that does not include discussion of LEED, an internationally-adopted third party certification of environmental excellence in metrics related to energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, stewardship of resources and sensitivity to impacts.

LEED, which stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” was initiated by Robert Watson in 1993 to:

  • Define “green building” by establishing a common standard of measurement
  • Promote integrated, whole-building design practices
  • Recognize environmental leadership in the building industry
  • Stimulate green competition
  • Raise consumer awareness of green building benefits
  • Transform the building market

Although it is not the only certification system for sustainability, it is certainly the best known. With the broad-based efforts of the US Green Building Council, LEED has become the global sustainability certification standard for everything from building design to interiors to whole neighborhoods.  And, oh yes, for people, too! 

Increasingly, public agencies are requiring or incentivizing compliance with LEED standards in new construction. In addition, many believe that LEED accreditation of buildings and neighborhoods offer a real market advantage for people who want to live and work in healthy, environmentally-responsible settings.

Individuals can become accredited as either LEED Green Associates or LEED APs through a program administered by the Green Building Certification Institute. The Institute offers educations and seminars, and certifies environmental expertise through a testing program. 

LEED certification can open doors to the green economy for minority entrepreneurs in architecture, construction, planning, engineering or design. It represents official recognition of expertise in sustainability from the industry, and it is a way for you to become current with state-of-the-art business practices in the new green economy.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.