By Irwin Drucker, NGLCC board of directors, and chief public affairs and government relations officer, WOSH Inc.When 1999 began, I could never have imagined how my life was about to change. At the time, it was my 16th year at IBM Corp. and I was serving as the global sourcing manager for software, meaning I was responsible for the company’s annual spend on software around the globe. Although I was initially very excited to have achieved such an important promotion, I had now been in the job for almost four years and was feeling restless — to the point that I considered leaving IBM! Late that summer, I attended the annual IBM Global Sourcing Executives Meeting in New York. Ted Childs, then IBM’s chief diversity officer — and soon to become one of my mentors — delivered the keynote address, which focused on IBM’s continued commitment to its award-winning global supplier diversity program. After Childs spoke, I asked Theresa Metty, one of the procurement vice presidents, why IBM didn’t include businesses owned by gays and lesbians in the program, given the fact that IBM already had a robust human resources program for its gay and lesbian employees.
The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Literally, within 30 minutes of asking the question, Gene Richter, then IBM’s chief procurement officer, made the game-changing announcement that IBM was adding gay- and lesbian-owned businesses — now lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or LGBT — to its global supplier diversity program, and that I would be the world’s first-ever director of gay and lesbian supplier diversity. Imagine my surprise — but also, my excitement!!! The first three years of the program were rough going. It was like trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack each and every day. At the time, most gay and lesbian business organizations were focused on business-to-consumer in the entertainment, travel and tourism and food and beverage sectors.
And then came the night in late 2002, when I saw Justin Nelson and Chance Mitchell profiled in that year’s Out Magazine “Out100” article. It explained that Nelson and Mitchell were the co-founders of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. What it didn’t say was that the NGLCC was only two months old at that time. I was shocked to hear of the existence of the organization, as I immediately saw the potential for close collaboration.
I made contact with Nelson the next day and set up a meeting at the NGLCC’s Washington headquarters for early February. What I didn’t know was that Nelson and Mitchell thought the call had been a practical joke perpetrated by a friend. They couldn’t even begin to believe that IBM, still viewed at the time as one of the world’s most conservative companies, would have any interest in meeting with them. Imagine their surprise when I arrived at the office, dressed in full IBM corporate regalia! But, the meeting went exceptionally well. After convincing the duo that providing LGBT supplier diversity certification would set NGLCC apart from other groups, IBM became the group’s first founding partner. Although I retired from IBM in 2012, the partnership endures.
For the next 10 years, I worked very closely with the NGLCC leadership team, ensuring I did everything I could to foster the organization’s growth, as well as the growth of IBM’s LGBT supplier diversity program. I served as chairman of the NGLCC corporate advisory council and procurement council. And, for the past six years, I have been a member of the NGLCC board of directors. Currently, my board responsibilities are as chairman of the strategic planning committee, and also as corporate secretary, which makes me a member of the executive committee as well.
In addition, in 2007, I was the first recipient of the NGLCC Supplier Diversity Advocate of the Year award. Receiving that award was a peak experience — one of the most exciting moments of my life! I will always remember walking onto the stage at the National Building Museum to accept the award, looking out at the hundreds of LGBT business owners and corporate supplier diversity professionals standing and applauding and saying to the crowd, “WE HAVE COME A LONG WAY!!”
And to bring things full circle, I am now in the process of getting a new business, WOSH Inc., certified as an LGBT business enterprise. WOSH is an on-demand waterless car cleaning company, based in Los Angeles, which was formed in 2014. I serve as the chief public affairs and government relations officer, overseeing — among other things — our corporate social responsibility and diversity programs. I’m looking forward to attending this year’s NGLCC International Business & Leadership Conference in Fort Lauderdale as both a board member and — for the first time — as an LGBT small-business owner. LIFE IS GOOD!!