LaKesha White, Vice President, Certification, WBENC
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for GWBC Radio’s Open for Business. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:18] Lee Kantor here live from the Georgia World Congress Center at the WBENC National Conference 2022, inside GWBC’s booth. We have LaKesha White. Welcome.
LaKesha White: [00:00:30] Thank you.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:31] Now, you’re one of the big shots at WBENC, right, LaKesha? Rumor has it. Probably, one of the founding mothers of the organization. Now, really, talk about your work at WBENC.
LaKesha White: [00:00:46] So, my work at WBENC spans almost two decades. I started within the WBENC family back in 2003.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:59] Before it was cool.
LaKesha White: [00:01:00] Before it was cool. Before anyone knew what certification was. At our regional partner organization in Louisiana. And then, because I am a military spouse –
Lee Kantor: [00:01:14] You might travel a bit.
LaKesha White: [00:01:15] … prior military, he is actually retired now. So, clearly, I had to leave.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:22] Periodically, that happens, right?
LaKesha White: [00:01:24] Yes. Just a little bit. So, no one can keep up with where I am. And, luckily, I was able to land in the hands of Roz because I moved to her territory in North Carolina. So, I spend a couple of years there, and then I had to move again. So, you know, that’s the life of a military spouse.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:48] A little nomadic.
LaKesha White: [00:01:49] Yeah. Sometimes you have to start over. So, I had to leave Roz. I moved back to Texas, to San Antonio, Texas, and actually did some things for the RPO in Houston because they covered that territory.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:06] So, you collect all the RPO –
LaKesha White: [00:02:08] Pretty much. I almost call myself, like, the RPO stepchild because I go all around.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:14] You’ll get there. You get a punch card, right? You get at all 14, you win a prize.
LaKesha White: [00:02:17] Yes. So then, finally, there, I got a call from the national office, because WBENC had been approved as a third party certifier for the WOSB certification and they were looking for someone to pretty much launch that, and offered me a position. So, enter LaKesha into the actual WBENC staff in 2011. So, this year will be 11 years of being with the national office.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:50] So, how is this event? I know you haven’t had the event for a year or so because of the pandemic, and now you’re doing this event here in person. And it’s pretty exciting to have everybody all together like this, right? It’s kind of like a reunion.
LaKesha White: [00:03:02] It is. I think it exceeded our expectations because, you know, with COVID, you don’t know how comfortable people are going to be. So, to know that we have over 3,000 attendees, clearly we’re doing something right. They wanted to come.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:21] People are so hungry for this, right?
LaKesha White: [00:03:21] Yes. And they just want to be together. And I’m shocked because I just didn’t think I would ever see this again in one space.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:28] This many people.
LaKesha White: [00:03:29] But that’s been our number one priority, is, you know, trying to make it as safe as possible, which is why we changed the entire structure of the conference. You know, no longer having the workshops kind of in closed in rooms. We’re just in this big open space so people can feel a little more comfortable moving around. But it’s been great.
LaKesha White: [00:03:57] And, you know, we’ve seen each other over the last years in the squares, like I call it Hollywood Squares. So, it’s so nice to see people. And some people just walk by you because you may look a little bit different than you look in that square.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:10] You’re a lot taller in real life.
LaKesha White: [00:04:12] So, thank God for the the name badges. Like, “Oh, that’s really you.”
Lee Kantor: [00:04:18] So, over the years of seeing the evolution kind of WBENC, do you feel positive about the trend of women certified businesses? Is this something that you feel optimistic about?
LaKesha White: [00:04:31] Absolutely. It’s funny to say that I think it’s in to be a woman, like, it’s finally our time. And I’ve seen that kind of transition over the years. And I hope it’s creating more opportunities for our WBEs. And I’m so glad those who made the decision to come, I’m sure it’s going to pay off for them. So, I’m like, “Use it to your advantage.”
Lee Kantor: [00:04:59] Sure. Now, is there a story you can share or maybe something impactful of a woman that you helped certify or got certified that, you know, it changed maybe the trajectory of their family or their life or their community?
LaKesha White: [00:05:15] I have one. So, from my first RPO in New Orleans, her name is Teresa Lawrence. She’s the owner of Delta Personnel. And she started the process. You know, I was the certification manager. And it was all in the midst of Katrina. And so, clearly, after Hurricane Katrina, we were all displaced. Like, I was in Texas. I’m from Texas, but evacuated to Texas for a month. And then, even when we moved back, working from home. That was my first experience of working from home way back in 2005 because of Katrina. And I just kept after her, because people’s lives were in shambles. They’re trying to figure out how they’re going [inaudible].
Lee Kantor: [00:06:06] [Inaudible].
LaKesha White: [00:06:07] You know, forget about this company. I don’t know where my family is.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:11] I have to eat tomorrow.
LaKesha White: [00:06:11] And things like that. And so, you know, just kept after her. And I’m sure she had some choice words for me, like, “She keeps bothering me.” But she’s like, “She changed my company because if she wouldn’t have kept after me, I wouldn’t have had all these opportunities.”
Lee Kantor: [00:06:33] She wouldn’t have done it. Right.
LaKesha White: [00:06:33] And so, that is my joy in all of this is to see, you know, small business when they’re sponsoring events and things like that, they’re up on the panels giving that advice and being the mentor. So, that makes all of this work that – I always say – back in 2003, I answered an ad in the newspaper job interview and it turned into a career.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:01] Yeah. And the passion. It’s a life’s work. It’s almost a calling.
LaKesha White: [00:07:05] Yes. You know, it’s like you feel like you are are changing the world.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:12] Well, you are one business at a time, one business person at a time. It’s true. I mean, it sounds silly in some ways, but it’s real. I mean, to that person, their life changed, their family changed. They have a better tomorrow because of what you did yesterday.
LaKesha White: [00:07:27] Yes. And it makes it all worth it. And people ask me like, “Oh. Does it inspire you to be a business owner?” And I’m like, “Oh, well.” Like, Look, we all have our place.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:38] We got our lane. I’m helping you.
LaKesha White: [00:07:38] I’m going to be the champion for you, but I like taking vacations. So, that’s what my calling is, you do the hard work and you inspire me, but I don’t know if I want that seat.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:52] So, the conference has, you said, 3,000-ish people here.
LaKesha White: [00:07:58] Yes.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:00] When you were drawing this up on the chalkboard of, “Okay. We got Atlanta.” And I know you had to go higher, River Valley was the one before this, and then that got postponed, and they combined the two host committees for this one.
LaKesha White: [00:08:14] Well, no. It was always supposed to be combined.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:17] Oh, it was supposed to be combined.
LaKesha White: [00:08:19] Yes. So, we were coming here and because of kind of the territories bordering, you know, decided to combine it. So, it wasn’t a missed opportunity. We came back.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:27] So, they just made sure that they hit them and didn’t skip them.
LaKesha White: [00:08:32] Yeah. No skip.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:33] So then, it’s here in Atlanta, so everything was kind of touch and go for a while almost to the last minute.
LaKesha White: [00:08:40] Yes. We didn’t know. And you have to fill it out.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:47] You have to be bold. It’s the theme, right? You have to be bold.
LaKesha White: [00:08:47] And, look, we just had to go with it because after a certain point, you have to commit. Like, we had a very small kind of boutique event in November to where we could fill things out, and it really was depending upon the corporate members, because for a long time they couldn’t travel and that’s the concern.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:08] Budgets were cut.
LaKesha White: [00:09:09] Yeah. The WBEs, we absolutely promote doing business with one another, but they also want to meet the corporate members.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:16] Right. It’s an ecosystem here that every part has a role.
LaKesha White: [00:09:21] Yeah. So, the November meeting, it was nice and definitely the WBEs were all in.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:28] Yeah. They’re in no matter what was happening.
LaKesha White: [00:09:30] And then, when we got kind of the green light from the corporate members like, “Yeah. I’ll be able to travel.” We’re like, “Okay. We’re full steam ahead now. We’re going to make this happen.”
Lee Kantor: [00:09:40] Game on. So, now, what’s kind of your view of next year, like next conference? Is this just bigger and better? Is that the plan?
LaKesha White: [00:09:49] I think so. We’re going to Nashville next year. So, yeah, it’s always a little competition. Like, each year, we want it to be bigger and bigger and bigger. And then, the RPOs, because they host, they have a little competition going, so it makes it interesting. But we’re always going to top it going forward.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:15] So, one action step before we wrap, for a woman business that isn’t certified, what should they be doing to think about to get ready to go through certification and why should they be doing certification?
LaKesha White: [00:10:25] So, I say, certification is a marketing tool for your company. It’s not a guarantee for business, but it can possibly give you the leverage that you need to get that opportunity that you want. And it’s really about having all your ducks in a row. Clearly, we know the process is a little intrusive. However, it really is a learning experience for a number of our WBEs to see that, “Oh. I didn’t realize I needed that in place.”
LaKesha White: [00:10:57] So, reading your bylaws, making sure you have those things in place to protect you, and to ensure that it mirrors your actual operations of the company. And if you have all the documents together, you’re operating according to our standards, then absolutely apply. And if you have questions, we are available to answer them. Don’t assume, because that could be a waste of your time.
LaKesha White: [00:11:24] So, contact us, email us. We are very responsive. I hear that some organizations aren’t. So, I pride us on having excellent customer service, gold standard customer service. So, please, we will respond to you. We even have someone responding now. We’re here at conference and a couple of our team members had to stay back because of COVID, but still operating.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:50] Because customer service is important.
LaKesha White: [00:11:51] Yes. It’s customer service, so we don’t stop.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:54] Right. And that’s the thing, you don’t want to just think that you fill out a form and this is going to take care of itself. If you have a question, ask the question. There’s no dumb questions. It’s important. And be bold. Take the steps. Be certified. You can catapult your business to a new level if you just do everything right, and play by the rules, and be at the standard that’s needed in order to get certified.
LaKesha White: [00:12:19] Yes. And get involved. The people here are involved. That’s what it takes.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:25] You got to show up and do the work.
LaKesha White: [00:12:26] Yes. You can’t just think that you’re going to have the certificate and then everybody’s going to want to do business with you.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:32] It doesn’t work like that.
LaKesha White: [00:12:33] It doesn’t work like that. We do business with people we know.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:35] Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. What’s the website someone can go to for more information?
LaKesha White: [00:12:39] It is wbenc.org, www.W-B-E-N-C.org.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:46] All right. Well, thank you again for sharing your story. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
LaKesha White: [00:12:50] Thank you for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:51] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll be back in a few at WBENC’s National Conference 2022.
The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) is a leading non-profit organization dedicated to helping women-owned businesses thrive.
We believe diversity promotes innovation, opens doors, and creates partnerships that fuel the economy. That’s why we not only provide the most relied upon certification standard for women-owned businesses, but we also offer the tools to help them succeed.
The Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®) is at the forefront of redefining women business enterprises (WBEs). An increasing focus on supplier diversity means major corporations are viewing our WBEs as innovative, flexible and competitive solutions. The number of women-owned businesses is rising to reflect an increasingly diverse consumer base of women making a majority of buying decision for herself, her family and her business.
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