• Warner Norcross & Judd Receives Diversity Visionary Award

On March 12, Warner Norcross & Judd was presented with the 2009 Diversity Visionary Award by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.  The firm’s Diversity Partner, Rodney Martin, accepted the award on behalf of the firm. His remarks appear below. 

Remarks on Accepting the Diversity Visionary Award

On behalf of Warner Norcross & Judd, I want to express how grateful we are to receive this award.

It is very humbling to follow the likes of Jim Hackett, Bob Woodrick and Cascade Engineering in receiving this award, knowing how much each of them has done to level the playing field of opportunity for all people. Their leadership and example have inspired us, and many others in this community, to take seriously the commitment to diversity.

Diversity Visionary AwardIt is also a great honor to receive this recognition from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, which has done so much to spread the message that, faced with a rapidly changing world, the economic future of our community depends in large part upon our ability to attract diverse peoples from anywhere in the world and to include them in the fabric of our businesses and our community. As a community, we owe a great debt to the Chamber for its leadership.

This award is a milestone on a continuing journey for our firm. We have been on this path for many years. About 10 years ago, John Tully, who was then our Managing Partner, spoke passionately to us about the need to become a more diverse organization. Following his example, we began sending attorneys and staff members to the Institute for Healing Racism and building momentum for change. The Institute helped us to understand white privilege and to begin to see how it affected us as individuals and as an organization.

Our experiences at the Institute led us to bring in a nationally known consultant to conduct a cultural assessment of the firm. Through questionnaires and focus groups, the consultant was able to provide us with a picture of ourselves. Holding a mirror up to your face is not always flattering, but it is an essential step in achieving change. The assessment allowed us to bring into the open the ingrained biases – both personal and institutional – that we would have to confront if we were to achieve our goal of being a diverse and inclusive organization.

The institute and the consultant’s report helped us to see more clearly what we aspired to be and what we needed to overcome to achieve our goal. They provided us with the vision, if you will, to see what a diverse and inclusive firm would look like. But, as Futurist Joel Barker has said, “Vision without action is merely a dream.”

The true measure of leadership in an organization is whether it can convert vision into action. We have been fortunate over the past decade to have leaders who were willing to commit the organization to do what was necessary to move forward. As an organization we are indebted to John Tully, Alex DeYonker, and Doug Wagner, each of whom during the last decade served as Managing Partner and used that position to speak out about the importance of change to create the structures that have led us to this point. Everything that we have been able to achieve as a firm has been made possible by the commitment at the top.

Because of that commitment to diversity and inclusion, our firm is a better organization. Our growing diversity has brought us a broader range of perspectives and experiences that have made us better able to serve our clients. Our emphasis on respect, inclusion and teamwork allows individuals in the firm to have more fulfilling careers and is essential to maintaining an engaged workforce that is dedicated to working together to meet the needs of our clients. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion has resulted in a better partnership with each other, with our clients, and with our community.

There are many in this community to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for helping us along our journey. Bob Woodrick, Bing Goei, Sonya Hughes, Brian Harris, Faye Richardson Green, and Alice Kennedy, to name just a few, have been great resources for us and great sources of inspiration. Your insights, your kindness, your passion and your dedication to diversity have been invaluable. We are better because of you.

West Michigan is a wonderfully diverse community. But it will only continue to prosper if it leverages that diversity and truly becomes an inclusive community — a community where each person is able to participate and contribute, a community that values our differences and understands our commonality, a community that recognizes that our lives will be richer and our community more prosperous if we embrace each other and the future. In this, the business community must lead. If it fails to do so, change will overwhelm us and leave us behind.

Warner Norcross & Judd is proud of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce for the leadership role it plays in this regard, and we are grateful to the Chamber for this award this evening.

Thank you.