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WBENC plans its seventh annual conference and business fair

WBEs and corporate execs will meet in Miami this June for networking and business development opportunities


Susan Phillips Bari of WBENC: "It's time women understand that they have power."

Susan Phillips Bari of WBENC: "It's time women understand that they have power.

'As a result of a contact made at last year's conference in Las Vegas, NV, one WBE is doing so much business there she had to open another office," says Susan Phillips Bari, president and founding architect of Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC, www.webenc.org).

Founded in 1996, WBENC is the nation's leading third-party certifier. It ensures that firms claiming to be WBEs are, indeed, bona-fide woman-owned businesses. It's also the leading advocate of WBEs as suppliers to corporate America.

Today WBENC represents some 6,000 WBEs. One of them is Renard Communications, which publishes Diversity/Careers magazine. Renard was certified as a WBE by WBENC affiliate Women Presidents' Educational Organization-NY in 2004.

The annual conference is an exciting event, Bari notes. It offers women business owners the opportunity to meet hundreds of corporate buyers and other procurement folks, supplier diversity reps and execs. They're all there to solidify their supplier diversity programs by offering more opportunities to WBEs. This year's conference will be held in Miami, FL from June 26 to 29, and WBENC membership is not required to attend.

Strategic planning
Besides the wonderful networking opportunities, the conference will offer general sessions, workshops and CEO forums.

Headlined speakers include Patricia De Stacy Harrison, CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Edie Weiner, president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc, a leading futurist consulting group. Weiner is an influential proponent of social, technological, political and economic intelligence gathering.

"It's important for WBEs and other businesses to understand trends, demographics and globalization," Bari explains. "Having an idea of what's coming over the horizon helps with today's business planning."

Strategic planning for the next decade will be a major topic at the conference. Globalization and other trends are all part of the business case for WBEs.

A women's enterprise leadership forum is new this year, and some 300 women will participate in a variety of workshops.

Business clout in politics
Barbara Kasoff is president and CEO of Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP). She'll moderate a workshop on using your business clout in the public arena. Panelists include Janet Reno, former U.S. attorney general, and Melanie Sabelhaus, former deputy admin of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Bari notes that, according to data from the Center for Women's Business Research (www.centerforwomensbusinessresearch.org)nearly half of all privately held U.S. firms are 50 percent or more women-owned; 51 percent of the population and 57 percent of college grads are women.

"It's time women understand that they have power as a constituency," Bari says. "We need to move forward to more effective utilization of our power, and WBENC wants to play a role in that."

Contacts to contracts
Pamela Chambers O'Rourke

Pamela Chambers O'Rourke

Pamela Chambers O'Rourke is president and CEO of Icon Information Consultants, LP (Houston, TX), which works for Fortune 500 companies. She was advised to apply for WBENC certification by a client at Shell, and has since become one of the organization's most enthusiastic supporters.

Networking at last year's conference helped her win two new contracts, one of them with ExxonMobil, O'Rourke confides.

Of course, attending the conference doesn't guarantee that you'll leave with new contracts, she notes, but it's a great way to meet up with a lot of potential customers. In addition, "I especially appreciate the opportunity to talk about the trials and tribulations of ownership with other women owners," she says. "We have fun."

Globalization and education
Joan Kerr is executive director of supplier diversity programs for AT&T; Inc, vice chair of WBENC's board of directors and chair of its global business committee. She's delighted that the conference is being held in Miami, which she considers the gateway to Latin America.

"The world has shrunk so much with the advances in telecom and IT," she says. "The sphere of procuring goods and services is international." Many WBEs already have multinational ops, and globalization will be the topic of several programs.

Kerr joined SBC Communications (San Ramon, CA) in 1985. AT&T; Inc was created last November when SBC Communications acquired AT&T; and adopted the AT&T; name. The merger means Kerr will be going to this conference with an expanded perspective. "I'll be looking at WBEs as potential suppliers for a whole new realm of operations," she says.

Kerr notes that corporations attending the conference will be meeting highly qualified WBEs that can help them do their core business better and produce better products and services. "That's the only kind of sustainable business proposition that corporations in today's competitive world can consider," she says.

Corporate support
WBENC has about 200 corporate members. BellSouth and Raytheon are co-chairing the 2006 conference. Dell provides onsite computers, technology consulting and onsite staffing, and UPS supports registration online and onsite.

Bill Moon is VP of global sourcing at UPS, and chair of the WBENC board. He notes that "The UPS supplier diversity process and our involvement in great organizations like WBENC contribute to our success by diversifying our supplier and customer base. WBENC conferences give us another opportunity to support and build businesses that enhance our ability to serve customers, sustain our economic vitality and help our community."

UPS, he says, is committed to doing business only with certified minority- and women-owned businesses, and he especially recommends WBENC certification for WBEs.

WBE co-chairs for the conference are Language-Speak Inc (Miami, FL), an international language translation, interpretation and instruction firm, and ASAP Staffing (Atlanta, GA), an IT consulting company. "They support the conference not only for the value to themselves, but to help other WBEs who may not be as large or as involved in the corporate marketing scene as they are," Bari says.


Susan Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Hewitt, NJ.

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