If Diversity Is America’s “Secret Weapon”…

ELC CEO Carl Brooks

Over the past two days the Executive Leadership Council has been holding its annual series of meetings–private CEO summits, its hot-ticket recognition awards gala and a mid-level managers conference. For those of you who haven’t heard of ELC, it is an organization composed of senior African American executives who help manage major corporations across the globe.  Or as the group’s CEO Carl Brooks says: ” our membership includes the baddest brothers and sisters on the planet.”

That’s not just hype. Among the awardees and attendees at last night’s dinner included former Secretary of State Colin Powell, superstar entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk,  ex-football player cum real estate mogul Emmitt Smith, Amway Chief Marketing Officer and 2009 BE Corporate Executive of the Year Candace Matthews, Commerce Department Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Wade, GE Diversity Chief Paula Madison, AARP CEO A. Barry Rand and Darden Restaurants CEO Clarence Otis and Michael Strautmanis, to name a few.

The ELC conference, however, has never been about power on parade.  Under the theme “A New Era, A New Vision,” this year’s event has focused on the value and relevance of an inclusive corporate America as the nation and the world is undergoing reconstruction. One recurring theme has been voiced during the conference: As ING Americas CEO Tom McInerney, one of 70 CEOs of the world’s largest corporations in attendance, said: “The US will only stay competitive if it uses its secret weapon: diversity.”

To validate the message, you only need to look at the achievements of ELC’s New Day Award recipient: President Barack Obama. Hailing from a background that’s a fusion of Ivy League education, community organizing and political prowess, he has had the vast, rich and life-shaping journey of many within ELC’s current membership. Moreover, he’s proven the global impact of diverse experiences, skills development and fresh perspectives. In the case of Obama, these attributes  has resulted in salvation and redesign of our nation’s financial system and a foreign policy of engagement and dialogue which has redeemed America’s standing on the world stage and earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. As Brooks stated: “President Obama is an example of the new generation of leadership” American business must embrace.

As the ELC continues its series of  discussions related to the progression of African American executives, it must focus on a number of planks on its platform. First, define diversity for today’s new realities. When our Black Enterprise Editorial Director Sonia Alleyne interviewed Food Lion CEO Rick Anicetti for a Black Enterprise Business Report television segment, he laid out the evolution of diversity as being business critical. In his 15 years of focus on the area, he says it “has gone from diversity to inclusion. Now, we are at cultural competence,” in which the differences of employees must be used to maximize competiveness. ELC will serve as one of the organizations to further frame the diversity discussion as well as bring a number of corporations into the 21st Century.