Alliances are important in corporate America, and nowhere may they be more important than for LGBTQ business owners.
Those alliances with companies inside and outside of a business owner’s industry can provide any number of meaningful connections, everything from sales to insight and mentoring and meaningful discussions about the state of the economy.
As the Valley, Arizona and national LGBTQ communities have grown in prominence as both consumers and business owners, more of these connections have formed, but local leaders say more are needed
But doing business in the region means reaching out beyond narrow borders, something the LGBTQ community says is vital to their businesses’ survival. Experts say it’s also vital for businesses outside the LGBTQ community to establish connections within that community, with its estimated $900 billion worth of U.S. consumer spending, while looking for places to buy products and services.
As part of the annual Business of Pride coverage focusing on LGBTQ issues in the business community, the Business Journal focused on those relationships and how they function.
A good example of that is how Jamison Manwaring and John Kobierowski are on a mission to democratize commercial real estate investment. In the process, they’ve created a diverse company as well.
Manwaring comes from the corporate world. He started at Goldman Sachs as an equity analyst before joining Tempe-based LifeLock Inc. after the company went through its initial public offering in 2012. Kobierowski is a longtime commercial real estate operator in the Valley, specializing in multifamily properties.
When Manwaring left LifeLock in 2017 and was looking at getting into real estate with a plan to develop a crowdfunding platform to allow small investors into the game, he connected with Kobierowski and the duo launched Neighborhood Ventures in 2017.
Manwaring is gay, Kobierowski is straight, and they’re an example of how alliances can work. The partnership works because neither man says he spends a lot of time thinking about it.
“Jamison brought a lot of things to the partnership that I’m not good at,” Kobierowski said. “It was a good mix. We definitely complement each other on skill sets.”
The two work in what is, at least in the Valley, a fairly homogeneous industry. Commercial real estate is predominantly filled with straight white men. Their partnership mirrors what their company wants to do: diversify the mix of who’s investing in the industry.
Manwaring said his experience in corporate America was what allowed him to come out. Working at Goldman Sachs even a decade ago meant working for a company that created an inclusive atmosphere for the LGBTQ community.
It was a complete departure from his years growing up in Idaho as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
That inclusiveness, and working in New York, left Manwaring comfortable to come out at work and to his family, a move spurred by a survey Goldman Sachs distributed to employees on attitudes regarding what they were doing to help their LGBTQ community.
“I decided I wanted them to know that they were having a big impact on my life,” he said.
That impact was cultural, and it was affirming as a person, Manwaring said. It’s a culture that has carried over into Neighborhood Ventures. Manwaring said he was aware when he came to the Valley from Goldman Sachs that Arizona is not New York and that some in the business community may not be as accepting.
When Manwaring first met Kobierowski during a lunch, he told him he was gay. Kobierowski had done some background on Manwaring prior to the meeting and seen a video of him discussing coming out to his family.
“To me, it was such a nonissue,” Kobierowski said. “It just proved that he was who he wanted to be.”
“I think that’s what you want to get to as a professional, is that it’s not an issue,” Manwaring said.
As the two have grown Neighborhood Ventures as an investment platform, that diversity has grown so much that both had to stop and think about just how many different communities are represented within their company. So far they have raised $2.4 million that has been invested in the company’s first four projects.
“I think it is important, and I do it appropriately,” he said.
Kobierowski said it all represents what the company is trying to accomplish in bringing more people to the game.
“We started Neighborhood Ventures to give people the opportunity to invest,” he said. “It’s the democratization of money.”
Creating key connections
This week’s Business Journal list focuses on LGBTQ-owned businesses. We asked those owners how important it was to have alliances within the LGBTQ community and with the straight community. Here’s what some of them had to say:
“Regardless of sexuality, I believe having relationships with business owners that understand the challenges and opportunities of running a business is so important because we can each learn from each other. It’s important because we can share ideas and help each other avoid some of the pitfalls and mistakes that others have made already. We don’t all have to go through the same process. We can skip ahead with our shared knowledge.”
Calvin Goetz, founder and president, Strategy Financial Group
“It is incredibly important for LGBTQ businesses to have strong connections within our community but also with the allied community. The gay community has a long history of contributing to the economic vitality of a region, see ‘Rise of the Creative Class,’ by Dr. Richard Florida. By working together with the allied community, we form lasting and enduring relationships that go beyond our individual identities to create a rich and vibrant community.”
Tony Felice, owner, The Felice Agency
“[It’s] Incredibly important. Without these alliances and connections we cannot grow the community itself. We need to look as viable community supporters and suppliers. We need to look to those alliances, otherwise we stay stagnant and limit ourselves, our businesses and our community. “
David Twigger, creative director and founder, Vermilion Events
“[It’s] very important, we have sponsored over $2 million for our community and work with not only our Arizona LGBTQ communities but also allies to ensure that our community voice is heard through the stories and news that we tell and our advertisers’ messages that are delivered. The Media Audit in 2018 told us that the Phoenix Market had 9.5% of the population that identified as LGBTQ, so we know our community is growing and it is important to work collectively to reach the ever growing community.”
Bill Gemmill, associate publisher and general manager, Echo Magazine
“It’s critical. We need to find the best talent and find ways to engage and retain that talent. Younger generations don’t see any differences and would want to work with inclusive organizations that believe in equality, justice and equity.”
Katharine Halpin, founder, Halpin Cos.
“I am a strong believer in collaborations and networking. We grow and evolve from our connection with others, and the more extensive that network is the better. I’ve always been a leader or management wherever I have worked, and have always chosen to highlight the hard work others put forth in their own growth. I’d rather bring others with me than go at it alone. Whether it’s another chef, a corporation looking to host a demo or a nutritionist or trainer, I welcome collaborations that will enhance both of our goals equally.”