Every morning at 4:00 a.m., when most mere mortals are in the deep stages of sleep and unable to be roused awake, superwoman Shay Gillespie is revving up for her morning workout. And, no, this is not just during the week when she has to prepare for her role as supplier diversity manager at World Wide Technology, Inc. (WWT), a systems integration company. She does it every day. Holidays, weekends, vacations; there are no breaks in her morning routine.
“I don’t sleep in. I go work out because I am a workout-aholic,” she said. “I get up every day, I work out and get it over with. I think that sets the tone for me. If I didn’t work out, I’d be lazy the rest of the day. That gives me energy.”
Gillespie’s high-powered job requires the type of kinetic energy that she exudes. As the executive who handles all of the corporate spending with minority businesses for one of the largest African American-owned businesses in the country, she manages the relationships of more than 200 diverse suppliers and partners, and travels the country to locate and vet qualified diverse businesses to support WWT’s contracts. Under Gillespie’s direction, the program grew more than 400 percent in less than five years to $200 million in spend in 2014.
Dave Steward and Jim Kavanaugh founded WWT as a small product reseller in 1990. Today, the company has grown into a global systems integrator, which boasts almost $8 billion in annual revenue and over 3,000 employees. Like many minority-owned businesses, part of WWT’s growth early on was fueled by the company’s minority certification and partnering with large corporations like AT&T. Gillespie recognizes the significance of those types of partnerships in helping diverse firms grow and illustrate the value that they bring.
“Because of some of those early advocacies with AT&T, we were able to get our foot in the door and showcase the kind of company we are and what we have grown to be. We understand that hardship and where we came from,” she explained. “For us, [supplier diversity is] full circle.
So now I am challenged every day: How can I help another minority-owned business grow? But it’s not simply because they are minority, and I tell them that. We want to know, and everybody else wants to know, your value.”
Like most supplier diversity professionals, meeting the company’s diversity spend goals is important to Gillespie. Mentoring diverse businesses and preparing them to succeed, however, is what brings her the most joy in her job.
“A lot of [minority businesses] are small companies, and this may be their first big contract. And you’ve got to come correct,” she stated. “I want them to succeed. I try to tell them exactly how it is, because I don’t want them to fail. If I just sugared them up, they may get to the next level and bomb the meeting because I didn’t prepare them. That’s how I see it.”
Gillespie’s commitment to ensuring diverse businesses succeed extends beyond her job at WWT; witnessing other people’s success empowers and motivates her personally. She uses success stories, particularly those of African Americans, to impact the people in and beyond her social sphere.
“I see a lot of pessimistic people on Facebook, or you see comments after news stories are published. Comment after comment about, ‘That’s why I don’t do business with black people.’ So I dispel those myths. I get on Facebook and I’ll tell them about a black-owned business that I work with,” she shared. “I like to dispel stereotypes. That is my goal or motivation to get people away from self-hate. How can you constantly criticize your own race? A lot of it is [through] awareness and knowledge.”
While the St. Louis native is inspired by supporting others’ successes, her personal drive and motivation come from her two sons, Grant, 9, and Dylan aka “Diggy”, 8. Gillespie’s youngest was diagnosed with Down syndrome several months after birth. Rather than accept the limitations that medical professionals and society wanted to place on him, she looks past those labels and encourages him to live a life free of others’ expectations and stipulations. His willingness to be a typical rambunctious child with chores just like his older brother pushes his mother forward.
“If this boy can walk around smiling and trying everything, who am I? Of course I can. It just inspires me to do everything I can,” she said.
Since her son’s diagnosis, Gillespie has joined the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis, and in 2015, was appointed to the organization’s executive board, adding to her already impressive list of volunteer activities. She’s also on the board of the St. Louis Minority Business Council and has lent her time to the AIDS Foundation of St. Louis, The Lupus Foundation of North America and many others.
If it’s hard to imagine where Gillespie gets the energy to manage a successful supplier diversity program at a major minority-owned business, maintain a 12-year marriage, parent thriving young sons and begin her days before roosters wake, you need only look back to her beginnings.
“My nickname is Shake-n-Bake,” Gillespie confessed. “When I was 10 months old, my grandfather gave me the name because he said I wouldn’t sit down. As far as I know, I was always that way. He’d say ‘shake-n-bake’ and I’d dance and never sit down. When I learned how to walk, I was moving and I never stopped.”
Today, her youthful energy has been refocused into Color Coded Kids, a computer programming business designed to teach elementary and middle school students how to develop apps, video games and other developments. Teaching the fundamentals of coding promotes future candidates in STEM related careers.
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