When Luke Yancy III agreed to sign on as president and CEO of the Mid-South Minority Business Council in Memphis, Tenn., the career banker thought he would stay on for about two years—tops—to help the struggling economic-development agency get back on its feet.
That was 10 years ago, and today, Yancy, 61, remains as passionate and committed to his job and the potential the agency has to make a difference in the lives of minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) as the day he signed on.
“I felt like … the glorious career I had in banking was preparation for this,” says Yancy, who left banking after a successful 30-year career, where he served as president of West Region at AmSouth Bank and, prior to its acquisition by AmSouth in 1999, First American Bank. “I thought my banking career was really the highlight of my life, but I realized after I got here that my banking career was the training ground to do what I’m doing now.”
The Mid-South Minority Business Council, which encompasses a five-county area including parts of Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, was launched 35 years ago to address what Yancy describes as the “dismal” lack of minority participation in the business community. While progress has been made during this time, Yancy is the first to say that much work still needs to be done.
Yancy says that while Blacks make up 54 percent of the overall Memphis Metropolitan Statistical Area in terms of population, Black-owned businesses account for only 0.8 percent of total business revenue. “Everyone is always shocked when I give them that statistic,” he says.
Mid-South Minority Business Council counts among its members more than 500 certified minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises and more than 90 corporate members. The agency’s role is to match the two and help MWBEs grow and thrive, thereby creating jobs, inner-city development and opportunities in the region.
Yancy said his agency focuses heavily on what he calls “the development of scalable businesses,” helping the growth and development of MWBEs so that they can, over time, be better able to compete with more established companies.
When Yancy first took over the agency, he visited its corporate members and asked why they weren’t buying more goods and services from MWBEs. “The answer was, ‘Most of your members are too small and do not have the capacity or breadth to provide for our needs,’” he says. “If [MWBEs] don’t scale up, they’re not going to be able to participate in the bigger market where the bigger contracts are and will be relegated to remaining small.”
The biggest competitive issue that small companies have with big companies is their ability to price-compete, and generally their ability and inability to price-compete has to do with volume, he says.
“So for us, scalability [to accommodate growth] is a big part of the answer,” he says. And it’s working. When Yancy arrived at the agency 10 years ago, not a single one of its MWBEs had a contract worth at least $1 million a year. “We now have north of 60 of our members who have been awarded million-dollar contracts and/or have multi-year contracts, and it’s the result of the programs we have in place on the development side and the matching side, a term coined ‘the dialup,’” he says.