Looking Back on 40 Years of Tuck Diversity Business Programs

By Lydia Herndon

05 October 2020

Tuck Diversity Business Programs have been delivering life-changing business education to business owners for 40 years. This four-decade period has required the programs to grow and adapt to changes in culture, technology, and the needs of the communities which they serve. Tuck is proud to offer the premier suite of diverse business education programs in the nation and looks forward to continuing to innovate and evolve as the Diversity Business Programs enter a new decade.


Pioneering MBE Education: 1980-1999

In the 1970s, the American federal government and several large corporations began to incorporate the concept of supplier diversity into the way they did business. This trend was fueled by the creation of supplier diversity programs in companies including IBM, General Motors, and AT&T in 1968; the establishment of the Minority Business Development Agency in 1969; and the organization of the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program in 1970.

Throughout the 70s the Small Business Administration (SBA) offered training and business development programs for minority-owned small businesses through the 8(a) program. While businesses remained in the eight-year program, they tended to prosper and grow, but many struggled to thrive with less support after completing the program. In order to continue to support graduates of the 8(a) program, the SBA decided to partner with the Tuck School of Business to fund and develop an educational program for diverse entrepreneurs and business owners.

The Minority Business Executive Program (MBEP) at Tuck became the first university-based business education program designed with the particular needs and opportunities of minority businesses in mind. The inaugural MBEP class ran in the summer of 1980 at Tuck’s campus in Hanover with a cohort of 26 participants from a variety of industries and locations. These entrepreneurs participated in a week of intensive training in finance, strategic planning, and marketing, all led by Tuck faculty.

In addition to delivering essential content about growing businesses and working with larger corporations, MBEP provided a further value proposition to its participants. Robert Wallace T’84, who worked on recruiting participants to MBEP during his time as a student at Tuck, recounts how he convinced busy executives to take the time to attend a program: “We know that the real value and benefit of a successful business is based upon your relationships. And not only the quantity of your relationships, but the quality of your relationships. I submitted to them that they would be meeting businesspeople from around the country who would serve as a great starting point to expand their relationships. What is interesting is that at that time, at least for most of these people, no one had ever approached them with this kind of value proposition. That made our programs unique.”

By 1987, the MBEP alumni network had grown to the point that a second course, the Advanced Minority Business Executive Program (AMBEP), was created to offer learning for more established businesses. The programs had also transitioned from being primarily funded by the SBA to a corporate sponsorship model. MBEP proved to be ahead its time and remained the sole program of its kind until Clark University began a similar program in 1994. Several other universities began to offer executive education programs for diverse entrepreneurs in the second half of the 1990s, indicating that Tuck had led the way into a new and necessary educational space.


Diversifying Impact: 2000-2014

Twenty years in, Tuck had firmly established MBEP and AMBEP as part of the fabric of the school, to the point that the sitting president of the MBEP Alumni Association had an ex-officio seat on Tuck’s Board of Overseers. However, these two programs made up the entirety of the diverse business education portfolio. In 2002 Professor Len Greenhalgh became faculty director of the programs and was determined to expand their reach to encompass a broader range of historically disadvantaged business owners. Seeing a need for a dedicated program for women entrepreneurs, Greenhalgh worked with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and IBM to establish the Tuck-WBENC Executive Program in 2003. This program has been hosted by IBM at their headquarters in New York for the past 17 years and continues to offer a curriculum tailored to women business leaders.

That same year Tuck developed a partnership with the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). Through this collaboration, Tuck professors delivered training to the staff of MBDA centers around the country. These programs educated MBDA staff and empowered them to provide better support for the diverse entrepreneurs in the communities served by their development centers. Tuck’s partnership with the MBDA expanded the reach of the MBEP and AMBEP concepts and methods well beyond the confines of its signature week-long programs.

In 2006, Greenhalgh negotiated another strategic partnership for Tuck Minority Business Programs, this time with the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). Greenhalgh brought together funding from both the DOI and the MBDA to run condensed three-day programs for executives from Native American-owned businesses. These programs allowed faculty to further curate their materials to address the particular concerns of Native American business owners and executives. Tuck Minority Business Programs and the DOI ran several programs each year from 2006 through 2012, serving hundreds of participants.

This period of expansion and strategic bridge building for the Tuck Minority Business Programs did not go unnoticed by the larger business community. In 2006 the Tuck School was inducted into the Minority Business Hall of Fame, an honor given to “a person or institution who set an example of leadership in the Minority Business Development field that all can follow and build on in the future.” Tuck was the first educational institution to receive this award, which gave particular recognition for the program’s partnerships with global corporations and federal agencies.


Digital Forward: 2015-2020

As the Tuck Minority Business Programs entered their third decade, the rate of digitalization in the world of business was rapidly accelerating. In sharp contrast to the business landscape of the 80s and 90s, diverse businesses needed a digital presence in order to gain traction. As Alva Taylor, Associate Professor of Business Administration and Director of the Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies, told The Dartmouth in a 2015 interview, “in today’s world, in order for a company to be successful, they have to understand the digital world.”

Over the years, Tuck’s Minority Business Programs had begun to incorporate digital strategy into the curriculum of MBEP and AMBEP, which had been rebranded as the Building and Growing programs, respectively. Because the need for dedicated training on digital business models was only increasing, in 2015 Tuck forged a partnership with Google to provide the three-day Digital Excellence Program (DEP). DEP is offered twice a year at different Google offices around the country and helps entrepreneurs to better understand and implement digital technologies in their businesses.

Tuck further aligned the Building and Growing programs with the digital world of business in 2019. These programs had been continually iterated on throughout the past 39 years to better meet the needs of their participants, but 2019 brought a more robust overhaul of the program to make room for content on digital strategy across the curriculum. Additionally, a name change to the Tuck Diversity Business Programs reflected changes in the language of diverse businesses over time and more clearly incorporates the full breadth of participants, who include people of color, Native Americans, women, veterans, the LGBTQI+ community, and people with disabilities.


The Future Forty: 2020 Onward

The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the digital capabilities of Tuck Diversity Business Programs. After deferring participants from spring 2020 programs to a later date, Tuck will offer the November Building program as a two-week virtual session. This program will continue to deliver curated thought leadership from Tuck faculty members, along with the opportunity to join a uniquely supportive and collaborative network of Tuck Diversity Business Programs participants and alumni.

As Tuck Diversity Business Programs celebrates forty years of supporting thousands of diverse business owners, the future looks bright. Building on an unsurpassed depth of experience in diverse business education, Tuck is prepared to continue to offer innovative programming that is tailored to the needs of its participants.

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