By Ali Amagasu
Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.
Cisco hosted its first-ever Black-owned Partner and Supplier Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on April 25. Word on the street is that it was a huge success, but today I’m checking in with event organizers Tanisha Gordon-Flowers, Sr. Manager, Strategic Alliances, Cisco Capital, Ronnell Nobles, Sr. Manager, Diverse Partner Investments, Andrico Spates, Senior Manager, Global Partner Sales and Business Development, and Bryan Wiggins, Leader, Supplier Diversity, to learn more about how it went.
What were you trying to achieve with this event?
Tanisha: The intent of the conference is really to bring our black owned businesses together as a community to network, share best practices, and provide information to help strengthen their businesses.
Andrico: It was about empowering them to excel with Cisco and beyond. To strengthen their businesses and expose them to what’s possible. Not just with Cisco, but also with each other, which is something that came out of the conference.
“The intent of the conference is really to bring our black owned businesses together as a community to network, share best practices, and provide information to help strengthen their businesses.” — Tanisha Gordon Flowers
Did it meet your expectations?
Tanisha: I thought it was really exciting to watch the participants interact with each other. They were so engaged. I loved when we were in the federal session, and they were banding together as one voice to communicate some of the challenges they were encountering while working in the federal space. They voiced opinions on their experiences and shared best practices. So, I loved seeing that interaction. That was the vision I had. That they would have a space that made them feel comfortable enough to be transparent and to express themselves freely.
Ronnell: I’ll also say that part of this was to show the Cisco commitment to the Black-owned business community. This was really the first time Cisco put together an event of this magnitude just focused on this community. We brought in our executives, we brought in outside speakers, and we focused on the content that was relevant to this audience. So just getting it done the first time was a win. But it’s really the follow up conversations and actions that come out of it that will be the true measure of success.
Bryan: I want to piggyback off one thing that Tanisha said—about the attendees coming together. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work with the incumbent suppliers and aspiring suppliers. And the way that our incumbents sort of embraced and reinforced our message was really great. They were explaining the programs we have to support suppliers, sharing their experiences with them, and encouraging the other businesses to get involved. I was surprised and impressed.
Andrico: The speakers at the event talked a lot about empowerment and excelling. And I think when it comes to the empowerment piece we landed that plane successfully. Now we’re all looking forward to how we will support their success as they move into the future.
What was the most surprising thing about the event?
Tanisha: I was surprised by just how quickly everyone embraced each other. You would never know that these people just met the evening before at the networking event or that morning. I introduced one of our finance partners to one of our channel partners the morning of the conference and it turned out they had met during the networking event the night before and already had an inside joke running like they were old friends.
Ronnell: I will say one other thing that I thought was pretty cool was that the partners we’ve been working with for a while were really advocates for us, throughout. They had taken a degree of ownership of this thing and they were helping some of the newer partners understand best practices and benefits of working with Cisco.
What do you envision for next year? Is this going to happen again?
Tanisha: Absolutely. I think that not only will we have continued support from our executive team, but after hearing about this year’s event we’ll have many more partners or aspiring partners and suppliers who will want to participate next year.
Andrico: I’m hoping we can look at the actions that have been taken between the first conference and the next one. I’d love to see the companies that attended share their achievements so other companies can emulate their success. Our closing speaker emphasized “Empowerment to Action.” We will continue with the empowerment piece, but also celebrate and evaluate the action component.
Bryan: We may wind up having a beginner track next year, because there are more Black-owned businesses that need to receive empowerment messaging and tools.
Andrico: I agree. It would be great to put our partners and suppliers in the forefront of the community. It would be more impactful for the alumni to be running sessions and telling the story.
Tanisha: It was nice to see some of the more experienced partners become mentors in a way to some of the other partners. So, maybe the partners who came this year can be mentors for the next round of folks coming in.
Ronnell: I completely agree. I definitely think there was more partnering than competition at this event—even though a lot of these companies are competing in the same spaces.
“It was nice to see some of the more experienced partners become mentors in a way to some of the other partners.” — Tanisha Gordon Flowers
Any final thoughts?
Bryan: Yes. I just want to thank all the people who helped make this happen but didn’t get credit because they weren’t standing on the stage like we were. The video team, the caterers, the people managing registration. They were almost all from diverse-owned companies and they brought so much value. It takes so many moving parts to put on an event like that and they are the ones who made it happen.
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