Ford provides a catalyst to empower women entrepreneurs and encourage them to stake their claim in the business market.
Nine Metro Detroit-area women entrepreneurs graduated in November from MentorWE, a mentoring initiative with Great Lakes Women’s Business Council (GLWBC) that was co-developed and sponsored by Ford Motor Company. The completion of the 12-month program not only marked a milestone in the automaker’s efforts to support the development of women-owned businesses, but also represented a step forward in addressing the underrepresentation of women in the region’s construction industry.
MentorWE was launched in January 2019 to provide women business owners with peer mentoring, capacity-building support, business-growth training and professional coaching. Quarterly modules focusing on sales, strategic planning and program management anchored the curriculum. Additional course work addressed strategic planning, competitive analyses, capability statements and new-business pitch presentations.
The program content was developed by a dynamic team of women representing GLWBC, Ford Supplier Diversity and three Ford WBE suppliers. It included Angela D. Henderson, head of supplier diversity at Ford for the past two years; Shawntay Dixon, GLWBC Women’s Business Center program manager; Michelle Barton, president, and Anne Martinelli, chief strategy officer, of full-service general contractor Aristeo Construction; Lauren Rakolta, president and CEO, DFM Solutions, which provides corrosion coatings and repair services; and Jennifer Ferris, president, Federated Service Solutions, an IT services provider.
GLWBC selected the mentees based on a survey of more than 80 certified-WBE companies operating construction-related businesses. Those firms represent only 7% of the council’s membership. Yet, government and other sources rank the construction industry among the top 10 growth sectors in the coming decade, which points to significant new business potential for WBE firms.
“Mentoring is not new. What is new and what makes MentorWE innovative is that it’s creating a community of mentors—all of whom have proven their ability to be part of the automotive supply chain—and mentees who are trying to do the same,” said Ford Supplier Diversity Development Strategist Stephanie Williams. “MentorWE provides the hands-on opportunities women entrepreneurs need to enhance their business acumen, improve their executive presence and significantly grow their business.”
More than gender
“Any program that helps solo business owners get to the next level is a major step forward. It’s particularly important for women who may not be taken as seriously in industries such as construction,” said mentor team member Jennifer Ferris. “But, it’s more than just about gender. It’s about having the same opportunities as anyone else.”
As mentee Tiffany Klingensmith, president of Unconventional Solutions, learned the hard way, opportunities start with preparation. At a WBENC conference last March, Klingensmith was introduced to a corporate buyer whom she had to pitch on the spot. The two minutes of intense grilling the buyer put her through stung but the experience taught her an invaluable lesson. “Being able to define what makes your company different from the competition is vital when a potential buyer asks for your pitch.” And it’s a lesson that has since paid off. Unconventional Solutions’ sales have grown to $3 million and the firm has expanded into northwest Indiana and doubled its staff.
“The education you receive, the relationships you build and the more opportunities you can give to others because of this program are priceless,” said Klingensmith.
It’s a sentiment shared by Mary LeFevre, regional business development director at The Christman Company, a national construction and real estate development firm, who was one of three judges for the pitch competition held during MentorWE’s last session.
“The support and encouragement mentees gave each other were truly heartwarming and I suspect those relationships will continue for years to come,” said LeFevre. “This kind of network is important because when I started in this business 30 years ago, there were precious few women in the construction industry and even fewer women-owned businesses. We’ve made strides over the years but that progress has been far too slow. MentorWE is not only a well-structured program that can help change that, it’s also a way to share our trials and triumphs.”
2019 FORD MENTORWE GRADUATES
Cheryl Clark, CEO/president, Do-Tech Paint Distribution
Gale Glickoff, president/CEO, GD Top Notch Cleaning Services, Inc.
Gwen Hale, president/CEO, Reagan Mechanical, LLC
Lisa Jackson, president, Contract Dewatering Services, Inc.
Pamella Marsh, owner, Pastro Maintenance & Construction
Jill McEldowney, president, Hirst Electric Company
Taryn Sulkes, president/CEO, Eagle Specialties, LLC
Jennifer Thomas, CEO/president, Flooring Technologies, LLC
Tiffany Klingensmith, president, Unconventional Solutions, Inc.
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