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Local Entrepreneur Builds His Business On Growing Need for Diversity Training--The Daily Record

Saturday, December 6, 1997
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Local Entrepreneur Builds His Business
On Growing Need for Diversity Training

Mauricio Velasquez Aims to End Bias in the Workplace
As the Face of Corporate America Continues Changing

By Alexis Ariano
Daily Record Business Writer

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he bottom line in business boils down to the customer and his choice. The best way to increase your client base is to make customers feel comfortable.

Sounds right?

It is this reasoning that Mauricio Velasquez based his business on. At age 30, the entrepreneur has made a business of ending bias, and his Diversity Training Group is in demand.

"Diversity training is about understanding how our personal differences influence our business and personal relations," Velasquez said. "I help people come to grips with with their biases, whether they know they have them or not."

Though on-site training methods preclude the need for large offices, this month Velasquez moved his operations into quarters on Fort Avenue in Federal Hill that are five times the size of his old office. He has also opened a second office in Virginia.

The new location resembles an apartment more than an office, with a fax machine in the kitchen area and a few desks strewn about.

"It’s bare bones, but no one comes to me," said Velasquez, with the smile of a man whose former close quarters were a houseboat. "I’m barely keeping my head above water- business has been so furious and busy."

Broad Reach

Started by Velasquez in a solo effort in May 1996, the company turned a profit in five months, required the addition of eight employees and attracted a 30-customer base in 20 states that includes the likes of Black & Decker, AlliedSignal Aerospace (NASA), Ryland and the Baltimore Sun.

Velasquez’s calendar carries so many appointments, a bare square can’t be seen for the next six months. At one stretch in September, Velasquez spent 17 straight days in 17 different cities, training companies to be sensitive to racial issues.

"I’m what I call a training boutique," said Velasquez, who charges $2,000 a day for his services, training a group of 30 people. For as long as he needs to, Velasquez will go back to the same firm, training group after group until finished.

Since the company’s inception, Diversity Training Group has trained more than 30,000 employees, managers and executives from more than 615 different companies.

"Don’t worry about the cost of training your employees and watching some of them leave," Velasquez advised. "Worry about training no one and watching them all stay."



Maurico Velasquez: President, Diversity Training Group
Mauricio Velásque's Diversity Training Group meets Corporate America's need to equip its employees with the understanding that personal differences influence business and personal relationships. "We always fear what we don't understand," he says.

In theory, such training could save corporations money in the long run. Texaco, for example, which had some executives caught using racial remarks on videotape, potentially could have saved the $176 million the company spent on a discrimination lawsuit.

The son of Colombian immigrants, Velasquez has had his own taste of racist incidents, including having his car confiscated and towed by police who assumed he stole it.

"We always fear what we don’t understand," he said. "We forget we are a society of strangers."

The industry, if you can call it that, is still in its infancy, with most diversity trainers acting as part of a larger consulting service as a whole. Velasquez estimates fewer than 50 exist nationally.

Despite the small numbers, the demand for his services shows there is a need for diversity training.

In helping companies to understanding the need, Velasquez asks his future clientele some pointed questions.

"Are you an American company doing business abroad or a global company that happens to be based in the United States?" Velasquez says he asks business owners.

As an example of smart marketing, he cited Saturn, a car dealership that has begun targeting the female buyer. Saturn aimed to make women feel comfortable in their stores by putting more females on their sales force and using "bottom line" price tags.

Velasquez called the car dealer’s display of sensitivity a very wise move in terms of business.

"Statistics today show that 60 cents of every dollar spent on cars in America comes out of a pocketbook and not a wallet," Velasquez said.

It is Velasquez’s goal to make more businesses reflect this kind of attitude through diversity training. The way he sees it, the move benefits more than just minorities.

"Most people want to ignore the diversity issue and say it will go away," he said. "But the birthrate of immigrants is much higher than natives, so the issue will not go away."