Chicago MSDC: University of Chicago Promotes Nadia Quarles to Assistant VP for Business Diversity

Long time business advocate Nadia Quarles has been promoted to Assistant Vice President for Business Diversity at the University of Chicago.  She ascends to the position after serving as Director of Business Diversity.

In the new role, she is responsible for providing leadership and direction throughout the University to promote consistency of business diversity processes, procedures and practices and for increasing relationships with minority and women-owned businesses that are capable of supporting the ongoing needs of the institution. In this capacity, Nadia collaborates with local and national business leaders, executives and organizations to ensure that the University has access to the most creative and innovative services and diverse talent in the marketplace.  She also advises University leadership on effective ways to partner with civic and business leaders, alumni, and elected officials in support of the University's role as a leader in business diversity and inclusion efforts.

In making the announcement, University officials lauded Nadia for the success she's achieved in improving inclusion and opportunity.  "Through the focused attention that she has brought to expanding our use of minority- and women-owned professional services firms, the University has engaged firms ranging from investments managers, to financial services, to audit, to executive search, to legal services.  This promotion is in recognition of her efforts to foster diversity at the University in a lasting meaningful way." read the statement by Nim Chinniah, Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer.

The promotion from Director to Assistant Vice President for Business Diversity reflects the priority being placed on advancing inclusion and opportunity as a core institutional value at the University and materially contributes to the growth, development and sustainability of the University's leadership in this important area.

Prior to joining the University in 2006, Nadia worked for Chicago Public Schools in their Office of Business Diversity, and for the City of Chicago Department of Procurement Services, where she was responsible for increasing the City's Target Market contract opportunities.  It was in this role with the City that she discovered that being in procurement allowed her to use her legal skills -- but for a different audience.

Nadia serves on the University of Chicago's Diversity Leadership Council and on the board of directors for Changing Worlds, a non-profit organization dedicated to building cross-cultural understanding through art and literacy programs in Chicago Public Schools.  She is a member of the Executives' Club of Chicago and Chicago United Leadership Council.  Nadia was featured in the 2007 edition of Who's Who in Black Chicago and was named to Diversity MBA Magazine's top 100 Under 50 Diverse Executives & Emerging Leaders list for 2009.

Nadia holds a Juris Doctor degree from Hamline University School of Law and has several years of legal experience with the Cook County State Attorney's Office and Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, preceding her roles in procurement and business diversity.  She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science and Public Policy from Northeastern University.

One of her main focuses is to promote professional services, including minority-owned investment firms.

Since joining the University of Chicago staff, Nadia Quarles has been on a mission to promote professional services.  In her new role as Assistant Vice President for Business Diversity at the University of Chicago, she is continuing to focus on this arena -- while making history in the process.

She says zoning in on professional services just makes business sense because of the area's impact on the economy. 

"Professional services is the segment that is really the driver of our economy as you have the greatest and highest payers in terms of wages," she explains.  To support this, she cites a 2009 report by the Chicago Urban League that confirms that the average monthly wages of those in professional services are 42% higher than the economy in general.

But, she acknowledge that this arena is the most difficult to penetrate for minorities because relationships are often made in social gatherings or through long-established contacts, to which many minorities do not have access.  As a lawyer, she knows full well the struggles and challenges minorities face in penetrating and trying to make inroads in these relationship-centric industries.

"There isn't a large focus on professional services by supplier diversity professionals," she says.  I think it's because they don't have the relationships with the senior leaders within their organizations and it's often the CEO, CFO or General Counsel who make those decisions."

Continuing, she says that legal, marketing and money management are services that don't go through normal purchasing channels.  And yet, she says, if you want to build wealth and capacity, you need to "go where the money is."  She admonishes supplier diversity advocates to start building those relationships with senior leaders so that they can start impacting professional services.

"I am a lawyer and I understand what they face," she declares.  "If you don't know about these minority-owned professional services firms, you won't use them."

John Rogers, Jr., chairman, CEO & Chief Investment Officer of Ariel Investments -- and a member of ChicagoMSDC and a member of the University of Chicago's Board of Trustees -- has played a pivotal role in advocating form minority-owned professional services firms.  He has nothing but praise for Quarles.

 "As a board member, it is good to have someone I respect who helps to accomplish the very important goals around diversity Nadia is one of a kind."

Committed to diversity, Quarles launched a campaign to create opportunities for minority-owned professional services firms.  She introduced large minority law firms to the University's general counsel so that such relationships could be forged.

Motivated by that same mission, she has been the conduit for creating opportunities for minority-owned firms in the money management industry- an arena that minorities have come late to the game and have not been privy to the relationships that helps create opportunities.  In her role, she knew that snaring the University of Chicago as a client would both propel these firms and provide marketing leverage.

With this uppermost in her strategy, the University retained Chicago-based Holland Capital Management and Earnest Partners of Atlanta to manage the University of Chicago's endowment, which has a market value of $5.67 billion.

She says the success of their efforts will be measured over time but the University is pleased with their performance thus far and she is delighted to have served as the facilitator.

Quarles believes this is the first -- or one of the first -- such contracts awarded to minority-owned money management firms by a large private University and says other institutions of higher learning should follow her lead.

As part of her outreach effort, she relies on ChicagoMSDC to identify qualified minority-owned firms.  She says the Council does a great job and is reservoir of resources. She says other private universities need to be involved with ChicagoMSDC because of the value they bring.  She also plans to rely on ChicagoMSDC to make national inroads for the University.

"The decision makers are not going to do anything unless we push and change the mindset of the diversity people.  To that same point, we have to change the mindset of the ChicagoMSDC and their board members and encourage them to push their corporate members to look at these other industries.  ChicagoMSDC can play a lead role in that."

She says that she is quite content in creating opportunities.

"I LOVE what I do because I'm an advocate for minority businesses and helping them get opportunities that they would not have gotten but for people like me.  I love to see the look of happiness on their faces when they win a contract because this makes me happy as well."