For Les Haughton, Helping Minority Businesses Helps Everyone

Les Haughton wants to help businesses, because that also helps the University of Virginia.

Haughton, the director of supplier diversity in U.Va.'s Procurement and Supplier Diversity Services, works to improve the University's relationship with small and women- and minority-owned businesses. In this context, "small" is a company with fewer than 250 employees and less than $9.5 million in sales, and a woman- or minority-owned business must have at least 51 percent ownership by women or minorities.

Haughton has also formed the Charlottesville Minority Business Network, which officially launched in January.

"This is primarily to find businesses to supply the University, because that is my job," Haughton said.

Ten businesses have joined the network thus far, including a limousine service, a caterer, a Web designer and a computer repair service. He stressed that the network is not for start-ups and that all the network members are established firms.

Haughton, 58, helps steer qualifying "SWaM" firms through the sometimes-complex process of becoming certified to do business with U.Va. He said because the University is decentralized, once the businesses are in the system, they still must sell themselves to many centers, divisions and departments that may require their services.

Haughton, who has had extensive experience in operating retail concerns, said he does not tell those in the network how to run the business.

"I just point in a direction and they are the ones who run with the ball," he said. "I have dealt with some of the biggest companies in the world and with start-up companies. I can tell who has the right stuff. I just advise and mentor."

He has made presentations about the network to the Board of Visitors and groups of administrators. He said he has also talked with the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County about the network.

"If I see or hear about an opportunity, I say 'Go talk to these people,'" he said.

He said the businesses also work with each other, providing opportunities and contacts.

Haughton has been the director of supplier diversity for about 10 months, coming to the University after a career in retail and consulting. He retired in 2003 from Target, where he had been vice president and divisional merchandise manager, overseeing $4.5 billion in annual volume of health and beauty aids and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.

Haughton, who had become involved with diversity concerns at Target, formed the Business Leadership Group, a consulting firm, in the process moving his family from Minnesota to Central Virginia. In that capacity, he ran executive searches for women and minority businesses and helped Fortune 500 companies with their diversity initiatives.

He's worked with the largest black-owned, hair-care distributor in the U.S. and with a Darden School of Business graduate who developed the world's smallest and most portable microwave oven. And there was a Swedish firm that developed a biodegradable diaper and sought American markets.

"I also worked with small companies – some too small to pay me, but with promising futures," he said. "I did it for no charge because it was the right thing to do."

But after 6 1/2 years on the road, he decided it was time to stop. "I was burned out from the travel," he said.

He was looking for other opportunities when the position at U.Va. opened up.

"I like it here," he said. "This is very comfortable and I know I can add value."

In the past three fiscal years, the University has spent about $169 million with SWaM businesses. The University is also a member of the National Minority Supplier Development Council and the Virginia Association of State College and University Purchasing Professionals SWaM committee, and is a three-time winner of the "Soaring Eagle" award for top public-sector supplier diversity programs in Virginia.

In the current fiscal year, the supplier diversity initiative has hosted six vendor training sessions and five workshops on building a business, participated in more than 25 local and statewide supplier events and represented the University at national supplier diversity events.

Haughton said the University is meeting its goal of purchasing 42 percent of its supplies and services from SWaM businesses. The state's goal is to purchase 40 percent from SWaM suppliers.

By encouraging small businesses, Haughton sees an advantage for the surrounding area.

"A lot of things are community-related," he said. "Maybe the most important thing for business and for U.Va. and for Charlottesville is for the minority firms to prosper and grow, and the important thing here is to reach out and help them."

Haughton is passionate about business and about helping people. He sees his current job as a combination of these.

"I was in retail for 28 years and I realized it was time to make a 100 percent commitment to diversity," he said. "I really enjoy what I do because procurement fully supports supplier diversity.

"I care about business and community and how important ethics are and how to help the community," he said. "Charlottesville is the smallest city I have lived in and I know my impact can be bigger here. It doesn't take much effort to make an impact. You just have to be committed."

– by Matt Kelly