More than 500 guests celebrated excellence in African-American business and the business imperative of diversity at the 13th Annual Salute to Excellence in Business Awards & Networking Luncheon held Thursday, November 15 at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis.
Hosted by the St. Louis American Foundation, St. Louis RCGA and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, the event awarded executives, entrepreneurs and one corporation, but it also offered breaking business news and moments of high emotion.
Joe Reagan, president and CEO of St. Louis RCGA, announced that the RCGA – one of the region’s most powerful business associations – had appointed Valerie Patton, executive director of the St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative, to serve as vice president of economic inclusion for the RCGA (see full story in the Business section, B1).
And Barbara A. Washington, vice president of public relations and special events for Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club, also delivered major news when accepting the 2012 Non-Profit Executive of the Year Award. She announced that the iconic youth service organization is struggling with operating expenses.
“We need your support now more than ever,” Washington said during an emotional acceptance speech. “We need to make sure the funding is there. Young people come through our door needing all sorts of things.”
The 2012 Corporate Executive of the Year Pamela Wall-Dover, senior manager of supplier diversity at Boeing, spoke with her own passion about adapting to St. Louis as a transplant coming to the city as “a country girl from Franklin, Tenn.” Her breakthroughs were finding a church home at First Baptist Church in Chesterfield and pursuing community service through her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.
“It was easy to find places in St. Louis where I can connect and be of service,” Wall-Dover said.
Community service and philanthropy were dominant themes. There was a shared subtext in the African American Leadership Giving Initiative at the United Way of Greater St. Louis having just announced a new annual record of $2.2 million raised to support the United Way’s 175 member agencies, including Mathews-Dickey.
Ann Marr, vice president of human resources for the Salute event’s lead sponsor World Wide Technology, Inc., commented on the successful United Way campaign. “St. Louis is a very giving town,” Marr said.
She introduced 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year Tim Slater, president of Information Solutions Design, Inc., who also remarked on the new African American Leadership Giving fundraising record. “That’s something we should all be proud of,” Slater said. “We should stay connected with our city and engaged with the United Way.”
The sense of community at the event was striking, particularly given what a diverse group of awardees and guests were represented, everyone from minority small business owners to senior executives at the region’s largest employers.
The 2012 Corporate Diversity Award was accepted by two Nestlé Purina PetCare executives, Steve Degnan, VP and head of human resources, and Annette Morris, manager of meeting and travel service.
“Steve is a champion of change,” Morris said of her VP. “He is always seeking that new generation of diverse leaders. None of us is as good as all of us.”
Four Excellence in Business Performance Awards also were given to Patricia R. Coleman of Behavioral Health Response, Inc., Darron Lowe of Wells Fargo Advisors, Wendy Richardson of MasterCard Worldwide and Chris Tabourne of Enterprise Holdings.
The Top 25 African-American Businesses of the Year were recognized at the reception before the luncheon. Emcee Carol Daniel of KMOX remarked that two of those 25 businesses, Interface Construction Corporation and Vector Communications, are owned by people who are married to one another, Samuel Hutchison and Laurna Godwin. “Congratulations for still being married,” Daniel teased them.
Donald M. Suggs, president of the St. Louis American Foundation, gave very brief opening remarks that set a warm tone for the event. “This is a very proud moment for me,” Suggs said, “because I get to thank you all and express how much we appreciate your continued support of our Salute program.”
The invocation was delivered by Bishop Geoffrey V. Dudley Sr., senior pastor of New Life in Christ Interdenominational Church. Bishop Dudley prayed that God “enable all these businesses, profit and non-profit, to serve humanity.”