How Nine Detroit-Based Top Execs and Respective Companies are Addressing Racial Injustice One Year Later After George Floyd’s Murder

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan President and CEO Dan Loepp, left, DTE Energy President and CEO Jerry Norcia, center, and Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford, right, are three of nine CEOs who discussed measurable steps their respective companies are taking to help fight injustice after George Floyd’s murder last year.

 

By Donald James

Special to the Chronicle

On Wednesday, June 3, 2020, nine days after George Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed Black man was murdered by a White police officer in Minneapolis, Minn., nine Detroit-based CEOs, and other top-level executives stood united at a press conference to voice their disdain. The leaders, while massive global protests were raging, pledged to address racial and social injustices of African Americans in the workplace and underserved communities.

The nine companies and their “top executives” in attendance included General Motors (Mary Barra); Ford Motor Company (Bill Ford); Stellantis, formerly FCA North America (Mark Stewart); Quicken Loans, now Rocket Mortgage (Jay Farner); Henry Ford Health System (Wright Lassiter); Ilitch Holdings (Chris Ilitch); Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (Dan Loepp); DTE Energy (Gerry Anderson); and Huntington Bank, formerly TCF (Gary Torgow).

Fifteen months after the unprecedented press conference, the Michigan Chronicle has followed up to gauge the progress of the top executives’ pledges to address racial and economic injustice and inequality.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

Dan Loepp, President and Chief Executive Officer

Bridget Hurd, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Inclusion and Diversity

 

The following is based on the Chronicle’s phone interview with Dan Loepp.

 

For Dan Loepp, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s top executive, if one is going to “talk the talk” of change, one must “walk the walk” to make it happen. According to Loepp, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) exemplifies that action speaks louder than words when addressing racial and social injustice issues.

 

In an exclusive interview with the Chronicle, Loepp talked about BCBSM’s current strategies to combat racial intolerance in the workplace and beyond. Loepp said to date, BCBSM has implemented more than 100 inclusion and diversity learning sessions centered on better understanding cultures in multiple communities. More than 5,000 employees attended at least one learning session in 2020, with more than 23,000 employees attending various learning, inclusion, and diversity sessions in 2021.

 

“We’re also proud to have started a ‘Be Inclusive” campaign three years ago to educate employees and leaders about the importance of not only diversity but what it means to be inclusive and enabling inclusiveness daily,” Loepp said. “This year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan launched expanded programming for our employees and required training for our leaders, which provides education to develop self-awareness about unconscious bias, learn how to speak up when they see bias to mitigate situations, and engage in ongoing dialogues on the impacts of unconscious bias in the workplace.”

 

In June 2021, BCBSM launched a cross-cultural coaching program, which matches executives with employees from all levels of the organization. The goal, said Loepp, who was raised in Detroit, is to learn more about the differences and similarities of people and their respective social and cultural circles.

 

Loepp is also excited about the company’s celebration of Juneteenth as a new corporate holiday beginning in 2022.  “This decision reinforces other company activities during which diverse perspectives are appreciated, recognized, respected, and valued,” Loepp said. “It’s important to be educated about different cultures, communities, experiences, and other perspectives.”

 

DTE Energy

 

Jerry Norcia, President and Chief Executive Officer

Gerry Anderson, Executive Chairman of the Board

Diane Antishin, Vice President, Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer

 

The following is based on a phone interview with Diane Antishin, an in-person interview with Jerry Norcia at the Chronicle’s new digital studio, and a written statement submitted to the Chronicle by Norcia.

 

At the history-making press conference in early June 2020, Gerry Anderson, DTE’s board chair vehemently denounced George Floyd’s murder.  Anderson pledged DTE’s commitment to addressing racial and social injustice in the workplace and across communities in Detroit.

 

While improving existing Diversity, Engagement, and Inclusion programs at DTE to meet the pledge, the company unveiled new initiatives.  According to Diane Antishin, VP, Human Resources and chief diversity officer, DTE has launched mandatory company-wide training sessions on unconscious bias for all employees. And all top-level executives have been required to undergo a diagnostic assessment to measure their leadership behavior regarding the company’s vision for diversity, engagement, and inclusion.

 

Antishin spoke glowingly about DTE’s nine Employee Resource Groups, including REACH (Respecting Ethnic And Cultural Heritage). A predominately Black group, REACH is comprised of employees who regularly engage in critical discussions centered on police brutality, the need for police reform, and other issues facing underserved Black people in the community and the workplace.  The company also conducts “courageous conversations,” where company leaders and employees are free to discuss serious issues of race and injustice within the company.

 

The overall task of advancing DTE’s pledge has been powered by Jerry Norcia, the giant energy  company’s president and chief executive officer. He has personally spent countless hours, said Antishin, listening and talking openly with DTE’s Black employees and other minorities about  how the Floyd murder personally impacted them.

 

“At DTE, we are focused on connecting our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to every part of our business strategy and creating a thriving, inclusive culture,” said Norcia  “We know that one of the best ways we can build equity and advocate for racial justice in our communities is by breaking down barriers to employment and providing training and access to good paying jobs for people living in Detroit and throughout Michigan.”

 

Ford Motor Company

 

Bill Ford, Executive Chairman

Lori Costew, Chief Diversity Officer and Director of People Strategy

 

The following is not based on direct communications with Bill Ford and Lori Costew.

The story is based on the Chronicle’s internet research of Ford Motor Company’s websites containing the company’s racial and social justice initiatives; diversity, equity, and inclusion programs; the letter sent to all Ford employees by Bill Ford regarding George Floyd’s murder; and the “Social” section of Ford’s 2021 Integrated Sustainability and Financial Report.    

 

 

Shortly after George Floyd’s murder, Ford Motor’s Executive Chairman Bill Ford and CEO Jim Hackett publicly denounced the brutal and deadly act.  Subsequently, Ford and Hackett sent a heartfelt letter to all Ford Motor employees, calling Floyd’s death a “tragic killing” amid the country’s “systemic racism.”

 

In the midst of this, the tragic killing of George Floyd, compounded by other senseless killings over the years, has sparked the expression of decades of collective anger and frustration over the unacceptable abuse of power and authority,” the letter read. “There is no doubt that the weight of these challenges disproportionately falls on the black community. We have seen the legacy of economic disparities in our home city of Detroit.” 

 

“George Floyd’s death was an awakening for so many of us,” Lori Costew, Ford’s chief diversity officer and director of people strategy,” said in a posted statement. “In response to the moment, we launched the U.S. salaried DEI audit, part of a comprehensive, global examination of the employee experience. This process revealed that many women, Black and Hispanic employees felt excluded and faced unique barriers along the employee journey.”

 

Costew’s team in the DEI office is tasked with advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies by working with multiple Employee Resource Groups.  The team’s mission is to

oversee DEI-related activities across the enterprise, which include providing experiences and events designed to educate and raise the awareness of all employees, create prototypes to improve the employee experience from recruitment to departure, and attract future diverse talent through Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  Costew’s team works with and   through the Ford Fund, the company’s philanthropic arm, to implement programs and initiatives that help underserved communities.

 

“There are no easy fixes to long-standing systemic issues,” Ford said. “However, we are committed to listening, learning, and creating solutions to make us a better company.”

 

 

General Motors

 

Mary Barra, Chair and CEO

Telva McGruder, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer

 

The following is based on an in-person interview with Mary Barra, conducted by the Chronicle at its new digital studio.

 

 

Shortly after George Floyd’s murder, Mary Barra, GM’s top and most powerful executive, said the following.

 

“The recent death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor astonishingly add to the important and unconscionable list of Black Americans who have lost their lives based on the color of their skin,” Barra said. “I am both impatient and disgusted by the fact that as a nation, we seem to be placated by the passive discussion of Why does this happen? Let’s stop asking why and start asking what we can do ‘individually and collectively” to drive change – meaningful, deliberate change. As one of the largest global companies, there is much we can do.”

 

Barra has created and currently chairs GM’s Inclusion Advisory Board, a diverse panel of internal and external leaders. The board consults with GM’s Senior Leadership Team to ensure the giant automaker is functioning with equity, inclusivity, diversity, justice, and fairness for all.

 

Barra is proud of GM’s ongoing “Social Investments” that empower underserved communities in Detroit and beyond.  She said GM’s social impact strategy focuses on philanthropic investments that put people at the center.  Barra designated $10 million from GM to support organizations that promote inclusion and racial justice, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

 

During Barra’s in-studio interview with the Chronicle’s Digital Anchor, Andre Ash, Barra  addressed the controversy about GM’s small media spend with Black media outlets, which has been under scrutiny by some Black-owned media outlets.

 

“As we looked at our diversity media spend, and specifically, Black media spend, we recognized that we could make changes to be better,” Barra told Ash. “Because GM is such a large company, we probably focused on scale at the expense of understanding companies that can add tremendous amounts of value.  We’ve set goals for ourselves that by 2025 to have eight percent of our spend be with Black-owned media.  We’ve learned and made changes. This is how we can be better. This is how we can be more inclusive. ”

 

 

 

Henry Ford Health System

 

Wright Lassiter, President and Chief Executive Officer

Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, Senior VP, Community Health & Equity

Chief Wellness & Diversity Officer

 

The following is based on the Chronicle’s phone interview with Wright Lassiter and a Henry Ford Health System website post by Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom.

 

 

After George Floyd’s murder, Wright Lassiter knew something on a grand scale had to be done to address growing racial and social injustice in African American communities in Detroit.

 

“As I joined my colleagues and the mayor on that day at the press conference, although Henry Ford Health System was doing many good things in the workplace and the community, I kept asking myself: Were we doing enough?” said Lassiter.

 

One of HFHS’ most significant initiatives to address racial and social injustice, Lassiter told the Chronicle, was the creation of “On the Journey to Equity for All.” Lassiter described the initiative as the organization’s Diversity, Engagement, Inclusive, and Justice (DEIJ) Strategic plan.

 

The plan, said Lassiter, the only African American corporate CEO at the historic press conference, has four pillars: Anti-Racism & Social Justice Advocacy; Diverse Workforce & Inclusive Culture; Community Empowerment; and Healthcare Equity.

 

“We commit to rejecting and eliminating all forms of bias, racism, and violence within our organization and communities,” Lassiter said about the “anti-racism and social justice advocacy pillar.” “Many health organizations have recognized us for being one of the top healthcare systems in the country as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, we had not focused on anti-racism and justice. That’s the big change for us.”

 

Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, senior VP, Community Health & Equity and Chief Wellness & Diversity Officer agrees with the big change when tackling anti-racism and social injustice issues.

 

“Your first step toward becoming the change we need in our community and society at large is to determine what unconscious biases you may exhibit,” Wisdom posted on an HFHS web page. “The more you challenge yourself to raise awareness about your own tendencies, the more you’re able to be the change.”

 

According to Lassiter, the feedback from employees has been positive.

“They tell us it’s the right thing to do, and they are proud to work for an organization willing to say something about achieving racial equality and social justice,” Lassiter said.

 

Huntington Bank, Formerly TCF Bank

 

Gary Torgow, Chairman, Huntington Bank

Eric Dietz, Huntington Regional President of Southeastern Michigan

 

The following is based on an in-studio interview with Eric Dietz at the Chronicle’s new digital studio.  In addition, a written statement was submitted by Gary Torgow.

 

 

With the relatively recent merger of TCF Bank and Huntington Bank, there has been a significant uptick in the ways Huntington Bank will help empower underserved and underrepresented people of color and communities. After assessing TCF’s monetary commitment, which reached as much as $20 billion to empower underserved communities, Huntington decided that a bigger number to address bigger problems was necessary.

 

“Last summer, shortly after the pledge we made, TCF announced a $1 billion commitment over five years to invest in women- and minority-owned small businesses and small businesses in minority communities,” said Gary Torgow, now-Chairman of Huntington Bank. “Following the completion of the TCF-Huntington merger in June, Huntington chairman, president and CEO Steve Steinour and I held a news conference at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheater to announce a new strategic community plan for $40 billion over five years, which will open up doors for so many more people to pursue their American dream. I am proud of the combined banks’ work thus far to launch the plan and look forward to seeing the impact this investment will have on our communities in the years to come.”

 

Eric Dietz, Huntington Regional President of Southeastern Michigan, expounded on the reconfigured monetary pledge to help underserved populations and communities.

 

“In June of 2021, we have come out with a bigger and better plan, with a lot more specificity around supporting minorities, access to capital, small business plans, and an overall looking out for people that we feel have been left out and have not had access to banking and capital in the past,” Dietz told the Chronicle’s Digital Anchor Andre Ash during an in-person interview at the newspaper’s downtown digital studio. “We want to make sure that Detroit knows that we intend to be that corporate partner that will be supporting the marketplace. We feel that with great responsibility.”

 

Ilitch Holdings, Inc.

 

Chris Ilitch, President and Chief Executive Officer

 

The following is based on Ilitch Holdings’ written responses to the Chronicle’s inquiry.      In addition, an in-depth statement was submitted by the Ilitch family. 

 

According to the Ilitch Family of Companies, since 2000, the companies, ownership, and charitable affiliates have donated more than $230 million to worthy causes and implemented more than 100 community programs that have impacted over one million Detroit youth. The companies have supported more than 550 Detroit-based community organizations, including Detroit NAACP, Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries and various food insecurity community groups.  Yet, in addition to denouncing the murder of George Floyd, Ilitch Holdings’ president and CEO, Chris Ilitch, pledged to do more to address racial and social injustice – and he has.

 

In a written statement sent by the Ilitch family to the Michigan Chronicle, exclusively for this story, it said, in part, “The events of last summer moved us to take even greater action to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in our workforce, culture, and society. We have done so by creating new programs and expanding existing ones in areas that include access, equity, and inclusion for youth through sports, education, wellness programs, and economic development. Across our family-owned companies in Detroit and around the world, we have always sought to create inclusive and accessible opportunities that lift others up and make a lasting and positive impact on the communities in which we serve.”

 

Ilitch Holdings is proud of its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force aimed at enhancing  programs, policies, and procedures across all Ilitch companies.  In addition, there are regular reviews of recruitment, retention, and advancement opportunities for all employees; the implementation of unconscious bias training; and anti-harassment, discrimination, and training through all entities of the multiple companies.

 

The roots of the Ilitch family run deep in Detroit. And the family’s love for the city runs even deeper. “The strength of this city lies in the spirit of this city,” Chris Ilitch said at the June 3 press conference. “And in the grace and the goodwill of its people, it lies in our ability to rally, to rise, and to always demand better for its citizens.”

 

The Rocket Companies (Rocket Mortgage, formerly Quicken Loans)

 

Jay Farner, Chief Executive Officer

Trina Scott, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer

 

The following is based on a phone interview with Trina Scott and an op-ed written and submitted by Jay Farner, published by the Chronicle.

 

Jay Farner was passionate at the June 3, 2020, press conference when he made a personal and corporate commitment to address racial injustice and police brutality after first condemning the murder of George Floyd.

 

“I committed to our team members and the city of Detroit that the Rock Family of Companies would be an active leader in addressing racial inequality, police brutality, and inclusion,” Farner wrote in a Michigan Chronicle op-ed. “I was honored to join eight other CEOs from across the city, all of whom made similar commitments on behalf of their respective corporations and team members.”

 

Over the ensuing months, The Rock Companies, Detroit’s largest employers with more than 18,000 employees, have proven action speaks louder than words. According to Trina Scott, chief diversity officer, The Rock Companies have launched a comprehensive “Six-Point Diversity and Inclusion Plan.”  The plan focuses on Recruitment, Team Member Engagement, Leadership Development, External Affairs & Community Partnerships, Law Enforcement Engagement, and Communications.

 

Scott said The Rocket Companies will continue their commitment to hiring and cultivating diverse talent, creating open avenues for communicating with employees, and better serving underserved and underbanked communities.

 

“Our mission, through our philanthropic partner, The Rocket Community Fund, is to make sure that we not only support inclusive and thriving, and resilient companies, but we make those investments in both housing and public life,” said Scott. “And we are bridging the racial homeownership gap through our The Detroit Home Loan Plus Program, which includes a closing credit and all wrap-around resources that we have for those who want to buy a home in Detroit.”

 

The Rocket Companies are committed to addressing racial injustices in homeownership and the workplace for the long haul.

 

“Saying Black Lives Matter is simply not enough,” Farner said. “We need to hold one another accountable in this pursuit of racial equity and acknowledge that we will only succeed if we stand together.”

 

Stellantis North America, formerly Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA North America)

 

Mark Stewart, Chief Operating Officer

Lottie Holland, Director, Diversity, Inclusion, Engagement and EEO Compliance

 

The following is based on a phone interview with Lottie Holland and a written statement submitted by Mark Stewart.

 

Lottie Holland, who heads Stellantis North America’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement,

was personally shocked and deeply saddened by the ruthless murder of George Floyd. Yet, the

pledges made by the company’s top two executives, Michael Manley (Stellantis Head of Americas) and Mark Stewart (Chief Operating Officer, North America) gave Holland solace that Stellantis was adamant about addressing racial and social injustice in the workplace and beyond.

 

“Both of them made very passionate pleas for social justice and economic justice,” Holland told the Michigan Chronicle. “For employees at Stellantis, that was our call to action as a company.”

 

The company soon launched its “Courageous Conversations Platform,” a weekly framework for employees to engage in constructive conversations about race and social issues. Over the past 16 months, Holland has given leadership to the company’s four-year DEI (Diversity, Engagement, Inclusive) Strategy, supervised by Stellantis’ DEI Council and chaired by Holland and Mark Stewart. The strategy includes 15 workstreams that focus on a myriad of company objectives, including analyzing programs and policies connected to how Stellantis attracts, hires, develops and promotes talent.

 

In Detroit, Stellantis’ Mack Avenue Assembly Complex on the city’s east side is positively  impacting the local economy for many African Americans. The $1.6 billion complex is where the Jeep Grand Cherokee L, with the all-new third row, is being built by approximately 3,800 employees, of which 2,100 are Detroiters.  Next month, Stellantis and the National Business League will launch a ground-breaking Black Supplier Development Program.

 

“Stellantis has a long-standing enterprise-wide commitment to diversity and inclusion and strives to maintain a diverse work culture where all people are respected and fully engaged in the important work of meeting and exceeding the demands of our customers,” Mark Stewart said in a written statement, especially for the Chronicle. “Despite our successes, we took a good hard look  at ourselves and our diversity programs. This reflection has launched many strategies about addressing difficult racial and social issues and pursuing initiatives that create tangible and sustainable economic benefits to diverse communities.”

 

Fifteen months after collectively speaking up, speaking out, and standing in unity to address racial and social injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism, the nine top executives from Detroit-based companies continue to create, implement, facilitate, and evaluate their companies’ respective plans of action for real change, as pledged.

 

“There are no easy answers, and we aren’t interested in superficial actions,” Bill Ford said at the onset of the top executives’ collective push for racial and social change and justice. “This is our moment to lead and work together to effect real, lasting change and eliminate the fear that far too many African Americans face each day.”

 

 

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