New B2B Exchange To Empower Minorities, Women

Former General Motors executive Roy Roberts has announced the formation of, a business-to-business (B2B) trade exchange that will encourage minority-owned businesses to take a more active role in electronic commerce.

Roberts, who was once the automaker’s highest-ranking African-American executive, will serve as chairman, chief executive and half-owner of He said the site will foster purchasing from companies that are owned by racial minorities and women.

“We want to take all businesses and expose them to minority businesses,” said Roberts, who was group vice-president of North American Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing for General Motors until his recent retirement. “You can’t get that today.”

Jackson Lends Support

Roberts and his partner, Gary Wasserman, were joined by the Reverend Jesse Jackson in unveiling the new exchange Tuesday. Jackson, who has long fought for minority businesses to achieve a stronger presence in U.S. commerce, commented that “There is nothing you want to procure that we cannot supply.”

Jackson’s own Wall Street Project has been instrumental in bringing substantial mainstream investments to minority companies and communities throughout the United States.

For his part, Roberts simply wants to allow minorities to have a fighting chance to participate in the burgeoning new economy.

“Supplier diversity is a central issue for thousands of businesses in almost every industry,” he said. “ will make it easier for purchasers and minority suppliers and providers to come together in cyberspace and the real world.”

Automakers Likely To Sign On

Automakers are already expressing enthusiasm for Roberts’ project. “It would be something that all three of the companies and a lot of companies beyond the automotive industry may have a need for,” said Bud Liebler, vice-president of marketing for DaimlerChrysler.

In fact, many minority entrepreneurs are already convinced that Roberts’ exchange is an idea whose time has come.

“There is no question that business-to-business connectivity is going to be a highway to the future and all companies need to understand how to use that new channel, and minority companies in particular,” said Melvin Brown, owner of ChemPak, Inc., a Michigan-based company that deals in industrial cleaning products for the auto and health care industries.

Although details of the new exchange have yet to be outlined, it is likely to be operational by July, said Roberts. In its initial phase, will give corporate buyers the capability to order goods and services via online catalogs hosted on the site.

Roberts added that M-Xchange will likely follow the lead of previous exchange models, generating its revenue from transaction fees paid by its users.

Light at the End of the Divide

A number of recent studies have tried to predict how pervasive B2B e-commerce will become, with estimates ranging between $2.7 and $4.4 trillion by 2003. projects that by that year, mainstream companies will buy about $135 billion, or five percent of total B2B purchases, from minority-owned suppliers. Depending upon how aggressive minority business owners become over the next few years, some industry observers believe that five percent is a conservative estimate.

“Closing the digital divide is a key issue facing people of color in the business community as they struggle for equal opportunity, access to the new economy and the technology skills to participate in this revolution,” Jackson said. “The bridge over the divide is the key to growth. When there is growth, everybody wins.”

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