Michael Garner, Chief Diversity Officer, MTA – Public Sector Spotlight – Nov. 2011


What motivated you to get into diversity and civil rights?

Diversity found me.  I’m originally from Harlem but grew up in Chicago.  One of my first positions out of college was at the NYC Housing Authority, where I was a senior procurement officer.   The Honorable Laura Blackburn became Chair of the NYC Housing Authority and I was challenged with creating opportunities for small minority and women-owned firms.  Then I had the opportunity to meet one of my heroes, the late great Harold Washington, Mayor of Chicago.  Mayor Washington gave me some great advice when he told me, “If you are not planning, you’re being planned”.  When Harold Washington became Mayor of the City of Chicago, within the first year of his administration, minority and women-owned businesses flourished and many millionaires were created within the City of Chicago.  Mayor Washington’s vision and initiatives has led to the emergence of firms like Loop Capital, M.R. Beal and Siebert, Branford and Shank, who are directing billion dollar of municipal bond deals.

Thus after creating opportunities for minority and women-owned firms at the NYC Housing Authority I received an offer from the NYC School Construction (SCA).  After a couple of years, we were well on our way in establishing innovative and aggressive small business development programs that led to billions of dollars in construction and construction related contracts being awarded to minority and women-owned firms.  In fact, the SCA’s Mentor Program became a national model.

After a great run at the SCA, the MTA created the position of Chief Diversity Officer reporting to the Chairman and CEO and offered me the position.

How are you using your position at the MTA to increase opportunities for minorities and women?

I was hired by the MTA to create the same small business development programs that we successfully created and implemented at the SCA.  These programs include the MTA’s Construction Mentor Program, Small Business Loan, Surety Bonding Assistance and Construction and Information Technology Programs.  However, unlike the SCA, where we only focused on construction and construction related opportunities, at the MTA, the focus is broader.  We are focused on professional services opportunities including the issuing of municipal bonds, asset management, legal services, and vendor and supplier opportunities.  In fact, during our most recent request for proposal for municipal underwriters, we were able to hire Siebert, Branford and Shank and Ramirez as senior underwriters, which represents 20% MWBE inclusion.  For the first time in history at the MTA, minority and women-owned firms are now able to run the books.

Under the directive of Governor Andrew Cuomo, we are going to increase contract spend with NYS Minority and Women-Owned firms from 10 to 20% in all categories.  In fact, we are currently creating a MTA Minority Supplier Development Program for all of our bus and subway manufacturers.  NYS certified Minority and Women-Owned vendor and suppliers will now have the opportunity to supply parts, supplies and services for the buses and subways that we procure.

What are some of the challenges facing the New York City workforce?

According to the lastest census, the New York City workforce is becoming more and more minority.  Therefore, government and the private sector’s hiring should reflect the market that it serves.  Part of my portfolio at the MTA is to ensure that our workforce is diverse.

Part of the challenge for government and the private sector is prioritizing workforce diversity and implementing programs that will ensure a diverse workforce. In a downward economy, costs may be an issue in creating and implementing programs and strategies.  However, the solution lies with executive management.  Effective change always occurs at the top.  If the CEO and government leadership prioritize supplier and workforce diversity and fund the initiatives, then it will happen.

How are you working to address those issues?

As you know, the MTA consists of  seven different distinct operating agencies, including New York City Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Railroad, Bridges & Tunnels, MTA Bus, Capital Construction and Long Island Bus.  We are developing one singular process for the recruitment of a diverse workforce as a way of ensuring workforce diversity.

What is the outlook on your five-year plan?

My five-year plan is to maximize contract opportunities for New York State Minority, Women-Owned and MTA certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, by creating innovative business development and inclusion programs.  The MTA procures billions of dollars annually in capital construction projects, goods and services.  It is our mission to procure in an inclusive manner.  Our diversity efforts are aligned with Governor Cuomo’s directive of doubling the amount of contract awards that we procure from minority and women-owned firms.  This mission is also supported by the MTA Board and executive management.