Corey Smith of LVMH, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

By having diverse backgrounds, experiences, cultures, languages, and skill sets present in the decision-making process, you introduce cognitive diversity as well. With this diversity of thought, you inherently breed innovation because it eliminates homogeneous thinking, which can be a barrier to future relevancy.

As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Corey Smith, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion LVMH North America.

Corey Smith is Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion at LVMH North America. Prior to joining LVMH in September of 2020, Corey was Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Major League Baseball. With over 20 years in Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), Smith has worked in several industries including manufacturing, technology, education, consumer products, entertainment, media and sports.

He has served on several boards including Diversity Information Resources (DIR) and served as Board Chair for the NY/NJ Minority Supplier Development Council. Mr. Smith holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a MBA, both from Columbia University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?

My career in D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) really started before I even realized it was a path I was pursuing.

My career began at IBM working for one of their largest hardware repair facilities in the US, one created during the Civil Rights Era to provide jobs to minorities in an area that struggled economically. As my first job out of college, I worked in an environment that was predominantly Black, from the general manager to the executives. It was incredibly empowering to see people that looked like me in the decision-making positions, particularly within one of IBM’s most successful plants in the US. I was too young to recognize it as D&I, but the intentionality of a corporation to be so proactive around an inclusionary business action (such as job creation in a minority neighborhood) speaks to how impactful corporate America can be when it chooses inclusion.

Launching from that experience, I worked at Columbia University in procurement, where I was part of the team that launched the Supplier Diversity program, harnessing the University’s significant local spend with minority-owned businesses in the neighboring Harlem area. I also spent some time in the consumer goods industry at Altria Corporate Services, which at the time was the parent company of Kraft Foods and Philip Morris. Altria had a $1B annual Supplier Diversity program and was a world class leader in Supplier Diversity. After Altria I went into the entertainment/media industry, at NBC Universal (NBCU). There I increased the Supplier Diversity program from an annual spend of $80M to $500Min 5 years, as well as pursued my interest in more traditional, HR-focused D&I by becoming involved in the ERGs. From NBCU I joined Major League Baseball where I grew the Supplier Diversity program from $70Mto $400M annually. We created 9 ERGs (employee resource groups) and fostered programs to create business development for diverse businesses, from economic support to licensing and sponsorship partnerships. It was a fully integrated D&I program, strategically shifting corporate culture and enhancing the business bottom line simultaneously.

I joined LVMH in 2020 and am excited about the work ahead. We have already had incredible successes: raising donations for both BLM organizations and Stop AAAPI Hate organizations, creating a new 30% goal of POC representation at senior leadership levels, launching a formal Supplier Diversity program with 10 of our brands in 2021, hosting events for our employees around Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Mental Health Awareness, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and Pride Month, which shows our support for all dimensions of diversity in our workforce. In addition to the two existing ERGs EllesVMH (women) and ALL LVMH (LGBTQ+), we have launched a Black ERG in 2021, furthering inclusion in our community. There is a lot of work ahead, but our commitment to DE&I is unwavering.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I tell this story as the best case for “lead by example.” While working at IBM and managing the Shipping/Receiving team, I had calculated more efficient ways for us to load and unload trucks to save us time, energy and money. In trying to implement my new approach, none of the team on the dock would listen to me. The dock foreman told me my idea wouldn’t work but I was adamant, because I knew my math and calculations were right. To that he said “but you don’t know how to drive a fork truck and all these guys know it” they wouldn’t listen to me because I had never done the job. I had been sitting in the office with spreadsheets and formulas, but it was time to actually learn to drive a fork truck. And, in fact, my calculations were wrong because there was so much I wasn’t accounting for because I had never done the work. Once I did the work, not only did I have the support from my department, but then they helped to solve for inefficiencies. The takeaway is do the work and lead by example.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

My life lessons are plenty and come mostly from my parents who both emigrated to the US from Panama. My mother received a PhD, was a college professor, author, consultant, and entrepreneur. My father never finished college, and English wasn’t his first language, therefore the only jobs he could get were manual labor. Through hard work, he went on to become an entrepreneur and ran a successful business for 40 years. My parents, considering their humble beginnings, instilled in me that education is important, even from their “opposite-end-of-the-spectrum” perspectives. Life is about the options and opportunities you are afforded and most important, if you are not afforded them — make them yourself.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I have been fortunate that at every step of my journey, there has been diversity, either a woman or a person of color (or the intersection of both), that has made the decision to hire me. I also know that is a rarity. Diversity at the top breeds more inclusive work environments. A stand-out is Jonathan Mariner, who was CFO at MLB the first few years I was there. He was great at counseling me to temper my “diversity lens” against “business decisions” to drive long-lasting impact.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

There are quite a few short-term and long-term D&I projects underway currently. One of our most exciting deliverables we announced earlier this year was to increase POC representation in senior leadership positions to 30% within 5 years. We are replicating a successful model of increasing our gender representation that was a long-standing commitment made by the organization over 15 years ago. The success achieved in having more women in senior leadership across the organization prompted us to duplicate it across other dimensions of diversity. Representation at the top supports retention of talent and increases innovation, which then improves corporate culture and impacts profitability.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I think there is a business case for DE&I but then there also are the moral obligations and responsibilities to serve as a good citizen of this world. I believe my biggest contributions have been to diverse entrepreneurs. Through Supplier Diversity I have been afforded the ability to help so many diverse business owners start and grow their companies. They in turn get to employ others and help them live a better life. It is a personal passion of mine because I truly believe that entrepreneurship and ownership are what can help mitigate some of the historical disparities that have been caused by years of marginalization and disenfranchisement, especially of people of color.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)

It’s important to note that diversity on its own doesn’t impact the bottom line. It is the inclusion of diverse voices and ideas that help a company improve and increase profit.

  1. By having diverse backgrounds, experiences, cultures, languages, and skill sets present in the decision-making process, you introduce cognitive diversity as well. With this diversity of thought, you inherently breed innovation because it eliminates homogeneous thinking, which can be a barrier to future relevancy.
  2. When people feel valued as a welcomed contributor to an organization, they stay at that company which can lead to high retention rates contributing to efficiency and increased productivity.
  3. When people are allowed to bring their full and best selves to work, they perform better, again increasing productivity and innovative thinking.
  4. Diverse suppliers as a part of your supply chain actually help mitigate internal costs which also increases profit, either through supply chain competition which drives down cost or through innovation and efficiency in their processes.
  5. An organization’s ability to increase market share or create market differentiation from competitors is directly tied to the ability to speak authentically and resonate to that market. Having diversity internally helps achieve that.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive?

As a leader you have to be empathetic and culturally agile and must value diversity. You have to know that “difference” is a value-add, not “less than.” When employees feel as if their unique characteristics and skill sets are valued by the organization, they will perform better. That enhanced performance is what drives the business forward.

What advice would you give to other business leaders about how to manage a large team?

As a leader you must demonstrate inclusive behavior. You must create an environment of equity, meaning that you understand that people have different needs and that it is part of your job to provide them with the resources and tools they individually need to be better. You can manage your team “equally”, but you do not manage the individuals of the team the “same”.

Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.

Corey Smith of LVMH, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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