Travis Spencer and his team empower many through their work.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an ideal as a standard of perfection or excellence. Though hard to achieve, ideals serve a vital purpose as both goal and motivator. When it comes to supplier diversity, Ford Motor Company comes as close to an ideal as any company can.
Launched in 1968, Ford’s Supplier Diversity & Inclusion Program has spent more than $181 billion with diverse businesses since 1978. In 2019 alone, Ford’s engagement with “small-, minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses led to over $20.6 billion in contributions to the U.S. economy and sustained more than 140,224 jobs,” through direct purchases by Ford, indirect activities within diverse supplier supply chains, and induced effects from company individuals spending and wages in the wider consumer economy. That’s astounding. But for Travis Spencer and his team leading Ford’s supplier diversity and inclusion efforts, it’s still not good enough.
Always striving to innovate, expand, and improve, the Ford team serves as a supplier diversity ideal. But in their partnership with minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, small disadvantaged businesses, and businesses located in Historically Underutilized Business regions (HUB Zones), the Ford team also helps facilitate strategic alliances among diverse and non-diverse businesses. LM Manufacturing and its CEO Sylvester Hester serve as a perfect example.
Founded in 2019, LM Manufacturing, LLC, is a Detroit-based joint venture between Magna International, a 60-plus-year-old global automotive supplier and LAN Manufacturing, a minority-owned firm founded by Hester. Providing manufacturing, assembly, sequencing, supply chain, and logistics management of complete seat assemblies for the automotive and other mobility industries, LM Manufacturing’s heart is Hester and his drive to deliver quality product and help a community he calls home.
“I’m a car guy. I was born in Lansing, Michigan,” explains Hester. “I grew up in the shadow of Fisher Body (the now-defunct coachbuilder plant). I had aunts and uncles and friends that worked there. My father was a mechanic at Max Curtis Ford. Cars were special to me and my father, but they also represented more. During the Great Migration, when African Americans migrated from the south to the north, they would send one person to get a job and establish himself. My father did that. He’d fix cars on the side, too. Then he’d send for another family member and give them a car, so they could get a job. So, we have cars in our spirit.”
A born entrepreneur and a 30-year veteran automotive executive, Hester grew LAN from 12 people and one location to 2,300 people and 18 locations, expanding from the automotive industry to aerospace, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and government business sectors. Hester succeeds because of his unique experience and perspective.
For example, LM Senior Leadership & Development Specialist Jimmie Comer, II, credits Hester’s 5Cs—to care, commit, connect, communicate, and celebrate—for fostering a productive, people-centered culture that attracts and retains talent, but also provides a relatable atmosphere for community residents.
LM Quality Technician Ryan Grady agrees and adds, “The 5Cs tell me as someone who is interested in pursuing a career that LM treats me as an individual, not just a number. The 5Cs really do show that the company cares for you. They are going to celebrate you and communicate with you the whole way.”
Though always sure of its success, its rapid pace has even surprised Hester. But he knew something else that others may not have realized—Detroit was a safe bet for productivity.
“There’s a lot of talent right here. It’s the mecca of the automotive sector. And we’ve been able to augment talent through other organizations like my fraternity, the National Society of Black Engineers.”
But Hester and LM also spend considerable time developing another workforce—local high school students. Through initiatives like Expose 2 Inspire and Manufacturing Day, Hester engages high school students, bringing them into the plant and enlightening them on real job possibilities. And the programs work. Several current LM employees are veterans of the programs. While Hester deserves the lion’s share of credit, he also cites Ford, Spencer, and the Supplier Diversity and Inclusion team for always providing key ingredients for success. A recent Manufacturing Day serves as the perfect example. In addition to joining the students on the plant floor, Spencer and his team arranged to have two brand new Ford Bronco vehicles there as well.
“Kudos to [Spencer and his team] for helping and supporting us on Manufacturing Day,” adds Hester. “When they brought those Broncos in? Man, that did it! They stole the show. The kids still talk about it. That was inspiration!”
An ideal is extremely hard to achieve. But ideals serve a vital purpose. Through their work, Sylvester Hester, LM Manufacturing, and the Ford Supplier Diversity and Inclusion team come as close to an ideal as any company can.
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