Thomas M. (Tim) Belk Jr. is taking his family's long history of community service to an entirely new level, with an emphasis on the value of diversity.
Belk is only the third member of his family in 122 years to be CEO and chairman of Belk Inc., the department-store chain with more than 300 stores in 16 southern states. His two predecessors included his Uncle John, who led the company for 50 years and also spent eight years as the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., where Belk is headquartered.
"Community involvement is part of our business strategy. It was that way when my grandfather founded the company and my dad and uncle raised us that way. Business, community and diversity go hand in hand," says Belk, who is also chairman of the company's diversity council.
The company's strong values are critical to its sustainability, says Belk. "Values serve as rudders during stormy times; they keep you focused on what's most important," he says, adding that diversity is a core value because "different ideas make for good decision making. We want our middle- and upper-management team to understand our consumers—it will drive business and drive sales."
Noting that private companies such as Belk can take a long-term view without being forced to manage to quarterly earnings, he emphasizes the deep-rooted community connection. He established the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce's Belk Innovation in Diversity Award, which now has also been started in Birmingham, Ala.
Observing the changing demographics of his customers, he says, "We want to create a welcoming and inclusive shopping environment … Diversity has a direct link to sales."
To see this article as it originally appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of DiversityInc magazine, click here.