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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Wolley: I am not anyone’s pass-through

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I am not your pass-through.

I’m a Black business owner. I happen to own a few businesses that provide services that are responsive to various markets. I’ve spent quite a bit of time evaluating markets and competitors and thinking about how I can create a sustainable, competitive advantage. I have a brand strategy. I’ve got product development strategies. I’ve got business plans and business goals.

But then there is this guy named Daniel.

Daniel thinks that because I showed up on a list, that he can send an email request that I be a pass-through for his benefit.

Daniel knows nothing about my businesses or my business models. He doesn’t care. He’s going after some bid that he didn’t bother to tell me anything about. He just wants a quote where I place a markup on an employee he has that will perform the work.

That’s right. I do nothing but be an MBE on paper and receive a pittance of a check to pretend like I’m bringing value to a project — that I know nothing about.

I don’t know Daniel, but Daniel’s company does not have a DEI statement on its website. I checked.

He doesn’t care that I have highly trained and credentialed team members working with my companies.

He doesn’t care about my personal desire to create a safe space for Black talent to be able to show up as their authentic selves, be brilliant and to be fairly compensated for their work.

Daniel just wants to use my company and brand to satisfy a need on paper to have an MBE on some project that he didn’t explain because my value to Daniel is not that I have assembled talented Black professionals on my team — it’s merely that I have an MBE certification.

The subject line of the email was “MBE Opportunity.”

I don’t think Daniel understands the word “opportunity.” Being a pass-through is not an opportunity.

I delayed getting certified as an MBE because I didn’t want to deal with the Daniels of the world. I’ve intentionally chosen not to be a subcontractor because I know how easily subcontractors can be abused. The city’s own disparity study documents how Black businesses can have great balance sheets but the cashflow statement destroys them — subcontractors struggle getting paid.

Like any business, I’m committed to growing my capacity and capabilities.

“Prime” contractors in this XBE scheme too often are about having to comply with public contracting regulations and mitigating risks. The relationships too often are shotgun marriages where the “prime” contractor is trying to figure out how to comply with public works regulations as profitably as they can.

MBEs, especially in construction, have to deal with the pressure of being black-balled if they don’t acquiesce to these schemes.

Too often, MBEs are willing accomplices in this fraud.

But Daniel doesn’t know I am not afraid of being black-balled because I actually have capacity, capabilities and a pretty good brand.

I’m also always the prime and I pay my subcontractors on time.
I imagine there are some subcontracting opportunities that are mutually beneficial. I just think too many of them are not, so I’d rather grow my companies more intentionally with the amazing capacity and capabilities my companies have in their own right.

I’m wondering if Daniel will see this. I certainly hope that he is embarrassed about his actions and knows that I forwarded his email to the appropriate city personnel.

I don’t expect to hear from Daniel again unless it is an apology.

Black Onyx Management is an applied research firm and management consultancy with talented, highly skilled team members with a track record of leading high-impact initiatives that produce social benefits for our city.

My companies are my legacy. I am not anyone’s pass-through.

Marshawn Wolley is CEO of Black Onyx Management.

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