“Having the opportunity now, more than ever, to connect with people and with businesses to try and help communities move forward is needed —it’s required. There are so many businesses that are struggling, especially in the minority community and women-owned businesses,” Laura Hopson says.
Raised in Grand Rapids, Hopson always dreamed of becoming a business owner. With degrees in industrial engineering, marketing, and finance, and spending nearly 30 years in the office furniture and contract interiors industries, she brings a diverse background to her role as president and chief executive officer of EM Services, LLC
, an integrated procurement services company. Though her initial vision may have looked different, she welcomed the opportunity to leverage her skills, passion, and network to continue growing the business.
“When I started, one of the things I was focused on was using this as a platform to roll my sleeves up and identify those businesses and connect with those businesses that I could help move forward and develop.”
As she approaches her second anniversary in the role, in addition to navigating COVID-19, Hopson decided to relocate the company from Lansing to Grand Rapids.
She shares her company’s response to COVID-19, the importance of diversity within the supply chain, and her advice for fellow business owners.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I have an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in industrial engineering, [which] is all about process improvement. I initially started at General Motors, working on the floor, and at Steelcase in manufacturing. I’ve always had a vision of owning my own company and running my own business. It’s funny; I thought since I started working at Steelcase that [the] business I wanted to run was going to be an office furniture dealership. So I spent a lot of my career after [Steelcase] in engineering, quality, sales and marketing, [and then] marketing strategy.
For 30 years, I had been on track towards [an] office furniture dealership. The opportunity came about to run my own company. Sometimes there’s an opportunity that knocks on your door that, at first, doesn’t look like what you thought it would. The move over to EM Services was the right move. It’s been an interesting opportunity to pull all of [my experience] together.
What made you decide to move back to Grand Rapids? And why now?
When my [company’s] lease was set to expire this past August, I jumped at the opportunity to move back to my hometown. I grew up here, and I absolutely love having my company here.
For me, I felt that for our organization and the opportunities, the companies, and the networks that [are] here in the West Michigan area, it was an opportunity to move over and...allow our company to move forward. I know it had a large impact on my team. They are troopers. They saw the opportunities that I saw, and everybody continues to be excited about it.
How did you adjust your business model related to procuring personal protective equipment (PPE), and how has it impacted the community?
PPE has always been a core part of our portfolio of products and services, COVID is [just] helping us highlight the products. We offer MRO, which means Maintenance, Repair, and Operating Equipment. We were able to take our existing supply chain and expand that, not just domestically, but [to] find international resources and manufacturers, [and] use our network to supply, deliver, and provide opportunities to buy those products for healthcare providers here in Grand Rapids. When everyone was struggling [to try] to find N95 masks or surgical masks, we were able to use our resources internationally to provide those products. [We provided] 50,000 N95 masks, 100,000 3-ply surgical masks, and 320,000 nitrile gloves.
What steps are you taking to further engage within the minority business community?
One of the things we’re focused on is trying to find ways to bring the minority business community together and connect them with others in different corporate-type organizations. We plan on hosting a panel discussion where our target audience is those minority business enterprises (MBEs)
along with [other community members]. We’re also finding ways to create a directory of all the different minority business enterprises in the area so we can host networking events and connect the MBEs, [again with] corporate and community organizations.
The third thing...is utilizing the network that we have as it relates to the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council
. [We plan] to seek out organizations and companies that [can] supply specific products to our existing customers and help them build out their supplier diversity program, by being the ones that find, vet, and validate the different organizations that are out there.
In looking at your website, you are very intentional and up-front about EM Services’ focus on diversity and inclusion. Why do you put this front and center?
I chose to highlight it because I need to hold myself accountable. I need to hold my team accountable for being intentional. Sometimes when you have goals or objectives, it’s not out there for your team [or] the world to see, and therefore, you don’t have to be accountable for not achieving those goals. It’s more of a statement to me internally [to say], ‘are we striving towards those goals?’ I would love to say we’re done, but it’s something that we’re always striving for. [It’s a way] to lead by example.
Why do you feel that diversity is important within the supply chain?
We want to make sure we have thriving communities, not just in West Michigan, but all over. Making sure that the larger organizations are connecting with the minority business community is absolutely key to maintaining employment and growing those employment numbers, number one.
The second thing is that demographic numbers are changing. Organizations’ customer bases are changing and people want to buy from, and do business with, [more diverse] organizations. From a branding standpoint, it makes much more business sense to have these organizations expand their horizons and...leverage the networks...available to them.
The third thing would be innovation and ideas. They always say that when you bring a set of diverse people to the table, you get a diverse set of ideas. And it’s a proven fact that people become more creative and more innovative when they have different people sitting around the table.
What would you say to small businesses looking to become a part of the supply chain that may be reluctant to pursue MBE or WBE certification?
Don’t be hesitant or afraid to reach out to a variety of different people. We have to make sure that we find ways to connect and to partner with those where we can create relationships that are mutually beneficial. Make sure you’re networking with the buyers...and you’re having discussions and interactions with the business owners in the community [as well as] other minority business entities that may have gone through the [certification] process.
People need to not shy away from communicating and...developing different sets of networks and partnerships. I think it’s that collaboration and partnership that needs to happen...to move things forward. That’s not just for minority businesses, that’s for all organizations. We need to take a step back and say, ‘how can we expand our network and open the lines of communication in order to find common ground and find areas of opportunity that are mutually beneficial.’ If we can find ways to do that, then we’ll be able to find ways to survive and find profitable ways to move forward.
What call-to-action would you issue to fellow business owners as they assess their supply chain?
To think seriously about opening up opportunities to other businesses beyond your current supply chain. You might have to look [in] different places. You might have to connect with different people to find the minority-owned or women-owned businesses that can help you. So the call-to-action would be to really be active in doing that.
About Leandra Nisbet: Leandra Nisbet, Owner of Stingray Advisory Group LLC and Co-Owner of Brightwork Marine LLC, has over 15 years of experience in leadership, sales & marketing, and graphic design. She helps businesses grow and assists with: strategic planning, marketing concept development/implementation, risk management, and financial organization. She is actively involved in the community, sitting on several Boards and committees, and has been recognized as one of the 40 Under 40 Business Leaders in Grand Rapids.
Contact Leandra Nisbet by email at [email protected]!