Diversity, leadership, and business growth: An interview with Ying McGuire, NMSDC CEO & president
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)

Diversity, leadership, and business growth: An interview with Ying McGuire, NMSDC CEO & president

Ying McGuire, president and CEO of the National Minority Supplier Development Council, discusses how critical culture and change management are in navigating transformations.
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In this episode of The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast, Heidrick & Struggles’ Jennifer Streitwieser speaks to Ying McGuire, the CEO and president of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC). The NMSDC is the longest-operating business growth engine for the broadest group of systematically excluded communities of color in the United States. In this interview, McGuire discusses the untapped potential of minority business enterprises and shares her perspective on leading through the significant transformations within organizations brought about by technology, data, emerging markets, and economic dynamics. She also discusses how critical culture and change management are in navigating transformations and what specific leadership skill sets and capabilities will be most important to help the National Minority Supplier Development Council meet its strategic goals, and offers advice for other aspiring, underrepresented leaders.

Below is a full transcript of the episode, which has been edited for clarity.

Welcome to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. Heidrick is the premier global provider of senior-level executive search and leadership consulting services. Diversity and inclusion, leading through tumultuous times, and building thriving teams and organizations are among the core issues we talk with leaders about every day, including in our podcasts. Thank you for joining the conversation. 

Jennifer Streitwieser: Welcome to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. Hi, I am Jennifer Streitwieser, a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ Philadelphia office, and a member of Heidrick Consulting. Today I am thrilled to be joined by Ying McGuire, chief executive officer and president of the National Minority Supplier Development Council.

Founded in 1972, the National Minority Supplier Development Council is the longest-operating business growth engine for the broadest group of systematically excluded communities of color in the United States, including Asian Indian, Asian Pacific, Black, Hispanic, and Native American. Prior to this role, Ying was the vice president of international operations and business development at Technology Integration Group, and held multiple roles at Dell, including global supplier, diversity leader, and worldwide procurement leader.

Ying, thank you for joining us today. 

Ying McGuire: Thank you, Jennifer. It’s my honor to be on the podcast. 

Jennifer Streitwieser: So, Ying, you have experience across various environments and roles, for-profit and nonprofit, as well as being a government policy adviser. Given your journey, what about NMSDC inspired you to join, and how have your past experiences positioned you to take on this new opportunity?

Ying McGuire: Great question, Jennifer. In many ways, my path to NMSDC began when I arrived in America with one suitcase and $1,000 with very limited English to pursue my American dream in the wake of the Tiananmen Square incident. From those humble beginnings, I have been very fortunate to achieve all aspects of my American dream, including higher education, a great career with Dell Technologies, and the opportunity to be an entrepreneur running the global business of a minority business enterprise, actively engaging in my community, serving nonprofit boards and serving as adviser to government agencies, and building a beautiful family. I have two children. They’re finally off my payroll. People ask me, Why did you give up your tech career — and I also had a real estate venture — to lead a nonprofit? In 2020, like so many others, after witnessing the outcry of racial injustice, my vantage point of America’s social and economic state drastically changed.

So today my renewed American dream is really to help systemically excluded communities of color to actualize their American dream and to close the equity gap. And that is why I decide to join NMSDC as its first AAPI woman CEO and president. 

And you asked the question: How has my past experience positioned me to take this opportunity? I bring perspectives of NMSDC stakeholders as a MBE, minority business enterprise, as a corporate member, as a regional board chair and board member, and also experience of working with the government, running a business. You know, I consider a nonprofit organization as a business. We still need to bring the best and brightest talent and investing technology and optimize costs. But the only difference between running a nonprofit and running a business is we’re making impact. We’re not making net profit. 

It has been fun for the last 22 months since I took this role. It has been fulfilling, and while it has had its up and downs, I often remember the words of encouragement of my former boss, the founder of Technology Integration Group, Bruce Geier, shared with me shortly after I started the position: “You are made for this,” he said. “Don’t let anyone tell you you cannot do it.”

He passed away two weeks later, and these words reminded me that NMSDC and our network are made for accelerating MB growth and closing the equity gap. So it’s an honor and fun to serve our community. 

Jennifer Streitwieser: Thank you, Ying, for that. That’s very compelling. Could you speak to the untapped potential of minority business enterprises, MBEs, and how you influenced and worked with your board and the network of regional councils to set the ambition for the National Minority Supplier Development Council. 

Ying McGuire: Great question, Jennifer. Last year, shortly after I came on board, we conducted 2021 Minority Business Economic Impact Study, and the report showed that NMSDC-certified MBEs generated about $261 billion, and we sustained 1.75 million jobs, $122 billion wages for the workforce.

And three weeks ago, we released our 2022 Economic Impact Study, and we actually are showing great progress. The new study showed $316 billion in total revenue for NMSDC-certified MBEs, so that’s 21% increase from 202. And we generated $482 billion in total economic activities, 1.8 million US jobs supported, and we also had disaggregated data by ethnicity. For example, Hispanic revenue totaled $77.7 billion and represents a 23.3% increase from 2021. 

So the numbers seemed very impressive, but there are opportunities of potential. Looking at the number, we’re very excited to see the growth among all these groups we serve. We also recognize that we still have more to do, especially for Black businesses, who only saw single digits increase in revenue compared to double digits for everyone else.

So think about $316 billion. It’s only a little over 1% of our US GDP. And even though these communities that we serve make up around 40% of the population—and we’re gonna be the new majority of America—and so it’s obvious that there’s a huge amount of potential for MBEs to contribute to a greater percentage of the US economy.

And the reality is why my number one priority. Since joining NMSDC has been to refocus our efforts on accelerating growth for MBEs, something the board of directors also saw as a priority, which has made aligning on this goal that much easier. And as you are aware, last year as we celebrated our 50th anniversary, we set a clear and ambitious goal, like the march to 1 trillion in NMSDC-certified MB annual revenue.

And we are also working with the board, the team at the national office level, and 23 regional affiliate councils to transform and evolve our organization through technology, through organizational improvements aimed at providing the MBEs the support they need to grow and scale their businesses. And something I emphasize regularly with our leadership that this is urgent—the urgency of a move forward as a network with this work saw MBS equipped to accelerate their growth and the contribution to the US and the global economy. So the potential is tremendous, and I’d love to invite everybody who’s listening to join our march to that 1 trillion. 

Jennifer Streitwieser: Thank you, Ying. You mentioned transformation and across all industries, we are seeing significant transformations within organizations brought about by technology, data, emerging markets, and economic dynamics, just to name a few. How are you personally leading through this as CEO and president? How have you driven transformation within NMSDC to meet the mission and vision of your organization? And which leadership capabilities are most important for you and which are you trying to instill in your team? 

Ying McGuire: Thank you, Jennifer. Yes. We’re currently in the midst of a massive organizational transformation aimed at creating a more unified and efficient NMSDC network. I was chatting with another nonprofit organization board chair and talking about some of the challenges that come with federated nonprofit model. And thanks in part to the excellent work and the support of Heidrick & Struggles, led by you Jennifer, we have been able to make some great strides in a relatively short time. 

Personally, as a leader in the face of organizational transformation, it is crucial to embrace change and to cultivate a culture of innovation. I called us right now a 50-year-old startup, adapting to new technologies, leveraging data, effective communication to articulate the vision, build trust, and inspire the team is really essential. As you may be aware of, we recently took a huge step forward on the transformation when the NMSDC board of directors passed a motion a few weeks ago to take the next step toward a more modernized, more modern certification process. As you know, NMSDC created a gold standard certification for minority-owned business enterprises.

Things have changed. Over the next year, we will begin implementing, we call it a hybrid certification model that will modernize the certification process and free up additional resources across the network to accelerate its focus on minority business enterprise growth and development. The new model, it’s gonna provide minority business enterprises with one single point of entry into the NMSDC network with a faster, more intuitive, and frictionless certification application experience that will improve the certification cycle time by up to 70%.

It’s a huge change for our network because we’ve been doing the same thing for the last 50 years. And this moment has been over 18 months in the making and the Heidrick & Struggles team is a critical part of it, and NMSDC is looking forward to taking the next step toward a more responsive, effective certification process that’s gonna increase the entire network’s impact. You asked about the most important leadership capabilities, and I think one of the things is communication, effective communication. You know, people not gonna receive your message until you talk seven, eight, nine, ten times. And then the other thing is resilience. People don’t like change, so you’re gonna come across all these resistance and obstacles. Just be resilient and kind but firm and collaborative but decisive, and really have conflict resolution skills. Be able to have the courage to address problems head-on, attack problems not people, and ability also to inspire a team toward a shared goal. 

Jennifer Streitwieser: Following up on this, can you share your experience in how critical culture and change management are in navigating transformations. 

Ying McGuire: Jennifer, you and I are talking about it—it is not only about what to do, but more importantly with who and how in navigating transformation. As we learned from the Heidrick & Struggles team, in order for us to have a successful transformation, my team and our affiliate councils must align on four things.

Number one is a purpose: why we exist, what kind of impact we want to make. For us, it’s very clear it’s to grow minority business enterprises and to fuel economic growth to close the equity gap. And then the second thing is a strategy, and also structure, the organizational capability. And then the culture. Culture plays a vital role in any transformation process. Having shared values, beliefs, behaviors, and habits are critical in order to realize our ambition plan to fulfill our vision as a leading organization for driving socioeconomic equity and generational wealth in systemically excluded communities of color.

And also change management is equally crucial. It involves a lot of planning. You and I talk about nemawashi methodology: implementing, communicating changes effectively throughout the organization. And change can often be met with resistance. I always joke with folks, you know, the only people who like to change are babies. They want their diaper changed, so very few people like to change. So I’m spending time with our regional councils and the stakeholders to address the concerns, provide so support and involve them in the process. Successful change management requires really repetitive and effective communication. So I have been spending time communicating the reasons for the transformation, the benefits it brings, the expected outcomes. And transparent and ongoing communication really helps alleviate fears and uncertainties, and it really encourages buy-in and ensures that everyone can be on the same page throughout the journey. 

Jennifer Streitwieser: It’s very inspiring. Each May here in the United States, we observe Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month. The theme for 2023 is advancing leaders through opportunity. As the first AAPI woman and immigrant president and CEO in NMSDC history, what mindset have you approached the role and opportunity with, and do you have any advice for other aspiring underrepresented leaders? 

Ying McGuire: I’m very honored to be the first AAPI CEO of this storied organization. My mindset is number one, I will be, I am a transformational leader regardless of my ethnicity or cultural background, to really set this organization for success, to deliver to our mission, not just during my tenure, but set the organization for success beyond my tenure. Also my mindset—I recognized the significance of my role as the first in breaking barriers and paving the way for others. I realized I am paving the path for others who look like me, who aspire to lead. I read an article most recently that AAPI woman representation at the corporate America C-suite level declined by 70% last few years.

So we need to correct that trend, and hopefully, I’m playing a part to inspire other, to step up and to take leadership position within corporate America, in politics, in their business, in the community. And I want to set a good example for them to follow. My advice for other aspiring underrepresented leaders are, number one, really embrace your unique identity and background as a strength that brings very diverse perspectives to the table and recognize the significance of your position in breaking barriers and paving the way for others, and be very authentic about it. You know, I always joke with people I speak Yinglish, you know, because I came to this country with very little English and still learning English, so I’m not shy about my unique identity and background.

And then the other thing is really seek mentorships. Seek coaching and build networks. Really connect with mentors and role models who can guide and support you on your leadership journey. I actually have a voluntary coach from Heidrick & Struggles, Rose Gailey, who has been tremendously helpful in my journey. And also it requires a mindset that rooted in confidence, resilience, determination, and a really strong sense of purpose. The other thing is, you know, the agile mindset. It’s really focus on adapting to change that comes my way. My journey to the American dream included some very steep learning curves, you know, including American culture that was diametrically opposed to the culture I came from.

Like, you know, you’re not supposed to speak up. You’re supposed to be very humble, not supposed to talk about your accomplishments. I had to learn a second language. I had to change my communication style to be able to effectively participate in corporate America. I recently published an article on Entrepreneur.com and focused on providing guidance to business owners looking to succeed in a crisis that I think can apply to any leader.

The four main takeaways from the article include: You will have time to feel sorry for yourself. When faced with a crisis, get creative and focus on opportunities. Don’t forget about your physical and mental well-being. I practice yoga every morning so I can stay physically and mentally healthy. And remember your community in times of crisis. And lastly, I just say always have a goal in mind and continually strive toward everything that you do. 

Jennifer Streitwieser: Ying. One final question as we begin to bring this conversation to a close. NMSDC recently hosted your second annual economic forum, which gathered policymakers, academics, business, and community leaders in the United States to discuss the systemic barriers that minority business enterprises face in growing their businesses.

Looking ahead, what specific leadership skill sets and capabilities will be most important to help the National Minority Supplier Development Council meet its strategic goals? 

Ying McGuire: Thank you, Jennifer. Thank you for bringing up the forum. It was a huge success. You know, last year we created the first one, I called it Davos for minority business enterprises. NPS was 22, and this year was 46. We literally more than doubled NPS, and I’m very grateful to our corporate leaders like you, MBEs, NMSDC staff that helped make our second year of the conference a huge success. And you ask about specific leadership skills, capabilities, and it’s beyond our staff, our team, I wanna talk about the leadership capabilities, what they can do, the leaders from our network. At the forum, we held our annual equity honors award dinner to recognize corporate chief officers, like a CEO, CMO, CIO, CFIO, etc., a CPO, who are the true leaders at the vanguard of economic equity and minority business integration.

I think these individuals exemplify what’s going to be needed to help NMSDC reach our goals. As we describe them when talking about awards, we say they’re breaking open old cycles of inference and opportunity to usher in talent, perspectives, and expertise that have been too long ignored. They are the visionaries creating the conditions for minority businesses to fully realize the vast untapped impact on the American economy and quality of life. And they are unshakable, the thriving blueprints for upending the status quo and making the kind of changes that transform everything. 

And in addition to the traits I mentioned earlier, I truly believe these are the kind of leadership qualities we all need to exhibit as we work to accelerate MBE growth and the equity gap, and, you know, talking about living blueprints for ending the status quo. As is reflected by these leaders, I think it is vital we all get out of our silo thinking and approach to this work, not just from a compliance or supply diversity standpoint, but also from a business diversity, economic growth point of view.

What I mean by that is that organizations and leaders should instill the importance of this work at every level of the organization, from the C-suite to the front-line workers. If you are spending money at all, consider how you can spend with minority business enterprises, how you can drive the economic growth through helping minority business enterprises to grow. Because after all, accelerating MBE growth and creating generational wealth for the communities of color, that is why we’re here. 

Jennifer Streitwieser: Thank you for making the time to speak with us today. 

Ying McGuire: Jennifer, thank you so much for having me. It’s a great honor to speak to your audience and great honor to partner with Heidrick & Struggles in this transformational journey.

Jennifer Streitwieser: Thank you, Ying. So inspiring and thank you for your leadership and for the impact that you have made for NMSDC and for minority business enterprises.

Thanks for listening to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. To make sure you don’t miss more future-shaping ideas and conversations, please subscribe to our channel on the podcast app. And if you’re listening via LinkedIn, Twitter, or YouTube, why not share this with your connections? Until next time. 

About the interviewer

Jennifer Streitwieser (jstreitwieser@heidrick.com) is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles' Philadelphia office and a member of Heidrick Consulting.

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