Being a strong advocate for entrepreneurs is one of my passions, and always has been. It’s a mindset I have and what I encourage those around me to adopt as well, because it opens up the mind to envisioning new possibilities.

An African American architect who owned his own firm in Los Angeles first introduced me to supplier diversity more than a decade ago. This introduction later manifested into an opportunity to become the business affairs manager at Los Angeles World Airport (LAWA), where I helped develop policy for small and diverse businesses for LAWA’s various capital projects and operational needs. In this position, I saw firsthand the influence and impact small and diverse firms can have on large firms and agencies.

My experience as a project facilitator has taught me that long-term partnerships are vital to business success. As the diverse business manager in the Los Angeles, California, office of Burns & McDonnell, I work with a variety of companies. An example of a great partnership we have is with veteran-owned firm DRMcNatty & Associates. The company has been a partner for 15 years and is critical to the work we do with one of our key clients, San Diego Gas and Electric. The DRMcNatty project management team consistently provides quality services, including offering documentation, reporting and scheduling support; implementing technology and software services; and managing processes, budgets and cost controls.

Having reliable partners like DRMcNatty is important, especially in large regions like ours here on the West Coast, where procurements hover around a 15% to 20% diverse spend. In some cases, project owners can demand a 40% diverse spend.

As Burns & McDonnell continues to grow, we recognize the firm cannot approach the ever-changing marketplace with a one-size-fits-all way of working with contractors. We must adapt to changing regional and client expectations.

When determining who to partner with — just like with all companies — we have to evaluate potential relationships individually. It’s important to assemble the most effective team to not only help meet the diverse spend goals of a project but to also set both companies up for future success with a given client and within a given market.

This means it sometimes makes sense for a larger firm to serve as a subcontractor to smaller diverse businesses in markets where the larger firm doesn’t have a presence or established relationships. No matter who is leading the charge, I’ve found that creating real and strategic connections can serve as a vital business development tool for growing any company’s bottom line.

When considering working with a company, I recommend getting to know the people behind the firms. Are the owners and employees truly compatible? Do your companies have similar goals? Spend time focusing on the value adds that each brings to the relationship, such as if a firm has strong government agency and business connections in a market or knows a potential client better than the competition.

The war for quality workers in a shrinking talent pool is an ongoing one that will continue to be challenging. To complete tasks that a firm might not have the staff to finish themselves, companies should take into account the value that partnering with another firm can offer.

Successful business collaborations aren’t created overnight, but finding the right partner is worth it. In the early stages of a partnership, I believe important questions for all parties to ask include: “What would you like to do outside of what you’re being asked to do now?” and “What is your long-term plan for growth?” Additionally, staff and leadership at both companies should be honest and authentic in their intentions, stay in constant communication, and clearly identify and manage expectations.

After partnerships are established, I recommend meeting a few times a year outside of ongoing project work. These meetings are a good time to discuss future goals for each company, how they would like to branch out and what relationships they have in other key areas that could be mutually beneficial.

As I look ahead to project opportunities here in California and across the U.S., I’m excited about strengthening the network of firms that partner with Burns & McDonnell. For any company interested in making diverse partnership connections, I suggest asking around about the best providers in your industry, hosting meet-the-prime networking events, and holding forums and symposiums that provide opportunities for diverse businesses to learn about current sourcing and subcontracting prospects. Remember, at the heart of any lasting partnership should be mutual respect and dedicated reciprocity.


This post is part of Together By Design, a quarterly business diversity newsletter published by Burns & McDonnell to advance a community of inclusion. This newsletter features stories of great opportunity, leaders who bring out the best in others, innovative approaches, and diverse perspectives that shape the business community and the world at large.

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Chamberlain Duru leads supplier diversity initiatives at Burns & McDonnell for business communities across California. He builds critical partnerships, advances government relations and supports the firm’s project execution, all with the intent of delivering client success. As a result of a collective effort, the Southern California team was recognized in summer 2022 as the Large Business of the Year by the Society of American Military Engineers and the United States Army Corps of Engineers for its work creating a successful small business program.