Creating virtual and in-person events for diverse businesses.
Less than a month after Gerard Littlejohn attended an elevator pitch competition hosted by Ally Financial, he was hired to videotape an annual company event that awards scholarships to students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
A few weeks later, Littlejohn landed a second project with Ally—to record the company’s annual Supplier Diversity and Sustainability Symposium that will be held in February in Charlotte, North Carolina. The owner of Creators Collab, a video production firm, Littlejohn credits Ally’s Supplier Diversity Spotlight Program with giving him the opportunity to pitch his business to executives of the financial services company.
“Every company doesn’t have those kinds of robust capabilities,” Littlejohn says. “To be able to filter in Black-, minority-, and women-owned businesses and have that pathway that leads to face time and to opportunities, it just means the world to owners of businesses like me.”
Creating a Virtual Supplier Diversity Event
Ally’s Spotlight event was launched in 2021 as a virtual forum, with the intent of improving access and connectivity during the pandemic between qualified diverse suppliers and Ally executives and supply chain personnel who make key purchasing decisions on behalf of the company. The program invites business owners to participate in a 90-second elevator pitch competition, with winners chosen by the audience securing a followup meeting with Ally’s supply chain team.
The program expanded last year and now attracts diverse suppliers from around the country. The program has also become more prominent within the company, drawing more than 75 of Ally’s supply chain professionals to participate in the online event.
“I wish we could say we thought about all this when we first came up with the idea,” says T. J. Lewis, Ally’s senior director of supplier diversity and sustainability. “By doing this virtually, the suppliers are meeting with all our supply chain right then and there. That’s better than if I were going to a conference and meeting someone because they would only be meeting me, and I would then have to refer them to someone on my team.”
The three Spotlight events held in 2022 attracted 31 diverse-owned businesses, with each receiving feedback on their elevator pitches. The event is promoted through regional and national diversity councils that certify businesses so that they can be identified as potential suppliers for companies in the private sector.
“We’ve definitely broadened our reach and the word has been getting out,” says Lewis, adding that the event was initially promoted only to regional diversity councils in Charlotte and Detroit, where the company has its main offices.
Littlejohn attended a Spotlight event in August, where he made his elevator pitch and then met with Lewis. He was then asked by the company’s public relations team to videotape Ally’s fourth annual Moguls in the Making event, which attracted 60 students from HBCUs who pitched ideas to support economic mobility in Charlotte and created plans to put their proposals into action. Each student on the top three teams that were selected received scholarships ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 and guaranteed offers of paid internships at Ally in summer 2023. All other student participants received $1,000 scholarships.
Littlejohn says the connections he made at the Spotlight event helped him become one of Ally’s diverse suppliers. “I think this was a great success story of a Black and minority business owner who was able to get access to and face time with executives and be entered into their Rolodex for an opportunity,” he says. “It’s a testament to the inroads and pathways that Ally has created to diversify their supplier vendor base.”
Creating an In-Person Diversity Symposium
Last year, Ally received its first two awards for its supplier diversity program, which was launched in January 2020. The company was recognized with a Top Corporation of the Year Award from the Greater Women’s Business Council serving Georgia, North and South Carolina, and with an Excellence Award from the Carolinas LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce.
Ally will host its first in-person Supplier Diversity and Sustainability Symposium on Feb. 16. The company has been hosting the Symposium virtually the last two years but is shifting to its first hybrid in-person and virtual format since the pandemic started. Ally has invited its top 40 diverse suppliers from across the country to attend the event at its corporate offices in Charlotte, while other potential vendors can participate online.
The purpose of the Symposium is to provide not only networking access to the company’s key executives but also information to diverse suppliers about the company’s goals for the coming year. There are also breakout sessions planned with Ally’s technology partners and bank operations teams for suppliers to learn more about how the company is structured.
“We’ve invited a lot of executives from within our organization to share more information about strategically where we’re going,” Lewis says. “I think it helps suppliers be better informed about what our strategic objectives are so they can see how they can help us reach those objectives. The event will provide impact and potential future working opportunities to the companies participating.”