by Amy K. Lavender

On April 1, UWG welcomed Ken Willis as this semester’s speaker in the BB&T Lecture in Free Enterprise Series, hosted by the Richards College of Business. A crowd of students, faculty and community members packed the Townsend Center to learn how they can “Bridge the Gap” of diversity and become bridge builders in their community and workplaces.

Ken Willis “Bridges connect people, they connect ideas, cultures, and differences,” Willis said. “Bridges transform.”

Willis emphasized that by creating a culture of collaboration and empowerment from the bottom up – by building bridges – businesses grow and prosper.

“Successful people, with the right support structure, attract other successful folks,” he said.

The goal in encouraging new ideas and collaboration and proactive problem solving within a business, Willis said, is to draw a diverse talent pool. He advised getting started by either becoming a bridge builder or encouraging bridge builders within your company.

According to Willis, bridge builders have the ability to reach out to their co-workers, understand their concerns, value their differences, find a common goal and synergize to find a solution that is beneficial to everyone.

“If you build an organization with a few of these bridge-building people and expose them to training along the way, whether the organization is large or small, you’re going to attract and you’re going to sustain a diverse talent group.”

Willis advises including in your mission statement that you strive for a balanced workforce. However, he urges people to take the next step.

“It’s not enough to go recruit a balanced work force, what counts is the extent to which you execute the inclusion part. That is when you really maximize the effect of retaining a diverse workforce.”

A veteran of more than 35 years with Quaker/Pepsico and entrepreneurial ventures, Willis has driven growth turnarounds in virtually every organization he’s led by rethinking existing business models, building top-tier teams and vigilantly focusing on execution.

Willis’s notable accomplishments have included contributing to growing Quaker/Pepsico’s revenues by the billions; conceiving and implementing several major strategic redesigns that influenced corporate-wide Go-To-Market change and substantial profit growth; as well as the recruitment, mentoring and development of well over 50 former subordinates who have or are leading major divisions and organizations today – many of which include minorities. He is also founder and president of Anewda Consulting.

Posted on April 20, 2015