TAKE10: A Conversation With Vaughn M. Williams III

The 2020 SCMSDC Corporate Advocate of the Year award winner.

As the Principal Supplier Diversity Advisor for SoCalGas Company, Vaughn M. Williams III is responsible for ensuring the advancement of small, minority and underrepresented businesses. He has made it his life’s work to break down barriers to ensure that small and minority businesses are included in the process of procurement, contract awards, growth and development. It is no surprise then that he received the 2020 SCMSDC Corporate Advocate of the Year award. In his acceptance speech, he noted, “Advocacy is a continuous process that requires commitment and change.” Here he is, sharing more on his work and focus moving forward, and overall thoughts on the supplier diversity space.

What are your top priorities in your role?

As a supplier diversity professional, my priorities are to ensure that underserved or overlooked diverse suppliers have a seat at the table. Too often suppliers are told no, either because they don’t have experience with the company, or the business units have their favorites. My priority to create change and opportunity remain at the forefront. My other priorities are to maximize opportunities, move the needle of progression and implement strategies that afford change in process.

How have your past experiences contributed to your professional trajectory?

Supplier diversity is in my DNA, I’ve always served in a community capacity. When my friends were taking jobs with major corporations, I was being trained by legendary community leaders like Rev. Cecil L. Chip Murray and Rev. Mark E. Whitlock II who taught me the value of job creation, economic development and creating greater avenues for the underserved. My life’s journey is centered around a mission and focus on minority businesses. In my previous career, I learned to train, mentor and economically empower small businesses. From technical assistance to providing small businesses with a clear understanding of the microloan process, I’ve always had to play a role in the shaping and future of minority businesses. Supplier diversity allows me to sit inside the realm of corporate America to ensure that the objectives remain at the forefront. It’s more than my past experience, it’s my mission. I became a public administrator with the sole purpose of creating avenues for community growth.

“Advocacy is a continuous process that requires commitment and change.”

Can you share a pivotal moment that defined your path to corporate success?

Watching people like Byron K. Reed and Joe Chow navigate through the process motivated me to do more. When you see strong African American leaders making a difference on the corporate side, you say to yourself, I’m going to do that as well. I remember meeting with Byron in 2012 and explained to him that I wasn’t being fulfilled with just writing contracts. He specifically told me that I had to dare to make a difference. His words stuck with me as I’ve always been a fighter for justice, yet my motivation was withering. Yearning for supplier growth, combined with someone pushing me to expand my vision and faith, encouraged my current path.

Which milestones in your professional role are you most proud of?

If I had to choose one accomplishment, it would be my ability to move suppliers from small contracts to multimillion-dollar opportunities. I think about Elite Auto Networks, who I worked with for years, and finally during this pandemic, we were successful in getting them in front of the right leaders, and now they are serving as one of the providers of total fleet management for our company. It’s moments such as these that I celebrate and embrace. My other defining moments are simply when I can do a great job and years later, a supplier calls to say that I made a difference in their organizations.

Why is working in the DEI space important to you, in your role, and your organization?

For me, the DEI space is critical to my life’s journey, which is to help improve the quality of lives in underserved and misrepresented communities. The DEI space is a reflection of my own life. When you live in an underserved environment, and you are blessed enough to move ahead, you reach back. Years ago, I adopted the mantra of helping people to advance beyond the infant stages of business and life. I can appreciate working for SoCalGas as it’s a company that walks the talk. They see the need to develop and grow businesses, and then they allow the supplier diversity team to implement programs, mentorships and strategies for growth. I couldn’t have made a better choice for an employer. When the stars align, it’s like paradise.

Are there any organizations that you are a member of that have been valuable to your professional experience?

I serve on the board for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Chamber, where I find real value in working with a community of overlooked individuals who are met with barriers to procurement that I am able to assist in navigating. I’m a board member for the South Los Angeles Regional Center (Friends of SLARC), which is important to me as I can serve as a vessel for the improvement of services to individuals who have been classified as challenged. I am a firm believer that challenged doesn’t mean counted out. I serve as board chair for Home at Last Community Development Corp. which strives to economically improve the lives of those who simply have lost hope. Often times, the homeless community is viewed as drug users or mentally challenged, but today’s economy proves that to be just a myth. Serving as board chair has grown me personally and professionally as I am challenged to aim higher, identify resources and move the needle. Ultimately these experiences have shaped me for advocacy, enlightenment and change.

Who are your leadership role models?

My grandparents, the late Steve and Annie Randall; my mother Virgia L. Randall; the late Michael D. Smith who pushed me when I really wanted to walk away; the late Assemblywoman Gwen Moore who basically forced me to aim high and conquer the world of supplier diversity; and finally, I owe a debt of gratitude to current mentors, Joe Chow (SoCalGas), Janice Bryant Howroyd (ACT-1 Personnel), Mr. Byron K. Reed and Mr. Richard Hobbs. There are countless others, but these individuals have been examples of extraordinary leadership, and influenced my life’s journey.

What are the challenges you see facing DEI and supplier diversity in 2021?

As a result of COVID-19 and businesses facing mass reductions, I am most fearful that businesses will lose visibility as funding is drying out on a national level, and it’s hard to sustain when you don’t have resources. While our team at SoCalGas will continue to fight for these organizations to survive the storm, I’m truly worried about the masses.

What are the most fulfilling aspects of your professional experiences thus far?

Each day that I am afforded an opportunity to make a difference, I am satisfied. The late Rev. James Walter Bobo out of South Los Angeles told me many years ago that your success is not in dollars, but in your ability to navigate through hard trials, when you wake up in the morning and are able to execute a vision. My professional journey has allowed me to identify a need, create a strategy and execute. SoCalGas has entrusted me to make a difference, and for that I rejoice.

Where do you see yourself and the organization/s you are involved with in the next few years?

As I move into the next chapter of this journey, I see myself as a key decision-maker in the foundation on which my company stands. We are embarking upon something great and over the next few years, I see us leading the nation in identifying, grooming and putting minority suppliers to work. Together, we win and over the next few years, I anticipate great wins. I see suppliers in areas of engineering, fleet, janitorial, pipeline construction and an array of other services platooning. I’m excited about my future, and the direction that SoCalGas is taking to build strong relationships, and to ensure that minority communities within our service territory are provided with an opportunity for equality, justice and economic vitality.