On Tuesday, Nov. 17, MICHauto hosted a takeover of the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion & Advancement’s CADIA Connects series. In the session, Carolyn Sauer, senior director of MICHauto, had the opportunity to virtually sit down with Dennis W. Archer Jr., CEO of Ignition Media Group and president and founding partner of Archer Corporate Services, to discuss the current impact of COVID-19 on small businesses and restaurants, the racial injustice inflection point we are in, and the future of Detroit.
Having come from a strong family background of civic involvement, Archer has always prioritized giving back. In his business endeavors, people recognize the strong focus on “doing well while doing good,” which is why the COVID-19 pandemic and most recent state orders have weighed heavily on his mind. As a business owner with a sense of responsibility for his team, Archer is working through how to help support them during this latest pause.
On a deeper level, the conversation turned to the current inflection point around race, equity, diversity, and inclusion. It is a topic we have seen rise to the surface many times in the past, only to be left behind without any real systemic change. So, what is different this time? Archer believes that corporations are responding in a positive way, with General Motors Co.’s CEO Mary Barra, who is at the forefront of GM’s goal of becoming the most inclusive company in the world. As a member of the General Motors Inclusion Advisory Board, Archer reflects on how important it is for leaders to set the right tone.
“I would say that not only Detroit, [but] nationally I see what I believe and hope to be a much more sustained difference in people’s behavior,” said Archer. “Now the true measure of that will be in a year from now or two years from now to see if the same level of importance and same emphasis is placed. But I see a lot of companies, I see municipalities really taking a step forward and trying to make foundational change, systematic change.”
As people ask what we can do today to really impact systemic change, Archer’s recommendations are clear:
- Self Reflect: Whether you are a larger corporation, small business, or an individual, you must recognize your weaknesses, blind spots, and prejudices. You have to acknowledge those first or you can’t make any real change.
- Be Intentional: This is not a topic that can be solved by putting out a statement or an email. You have to put in the hard work if you want systemic change.
- Look to the Outside: Fiscally, consider hiring a consultant to give an outside assessment. If leadership in a company has been the same, then getting another perspective can help get down to how the cultural environment is perceived by current employees, what is being done for retention, and what questions are being asked in exit interviews.
Talking about how Detroit can evolve over the next few years, Archer believes the city is on a great glidepath, despite the bumps in the road caused by a pandemic and an unusual political cycle. Detroit is positioned well to come through any potential economic downturn, with enough investments and companies moving into the city, said Archer. Even if we do a hit a recessionary period, Detroit will sustain and continue the path forward.
Our automotive industry has been slow to move the needle regarding diversity at the top, as MICHauto’s Glenn Stevens Jr. and CADIA’s Cheryl Thompson pointed out in their recent op-ed, Industry Diversity Needed Now. Archer’s take on what must fundamentally change brings us back to the talent pipeline and intentionality, not just in automotive, but across corporate America. Companies have to be intentional about wanting to be inclusive.
“Back in the 70s and late 60s when a lot of diversity programs came to be, then it was the right thing to do. Everyone felt it was the right thing to do. It was important to have diversity. Now, it’s a business imperative,” said Archer. “It just makes business sense that your workforce, board of directors, your suppliers, and your senior leadership reflect the constituents or consumers that you serve.”
Dennis W. Archer Jr. is the CEO of Ignition Media Group, president and founding partner of Archer Corporate Services, and creator and managing partner of Central Kitchen + Bar. He is also highly engaged in civic and philanthropic endeavors, including Past Chair of the Detroit Regional Chamber Board of Directors where he also sits on the executive committee. Recently appointed by GM CEO Mary Barra to serve on the General Motors Inclusion Advisory Board, Archer continues to be sought after for inclusion on other boards and committees to share his knowledge and insights. Learn more at dennisarcherjr.com.