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Stronger Together Takes a Village

Larry Brinker, Sr., knew the importance of giving everyone a chance. After all, that's how he parlayed a strong work ethic, motivation and willingness to learn into his rise from an initial position as a truck driver to starting what today is Brinker, a Detroit-based family of five companies that provides the complete range of commercial construction services.

That dedication to providing a hand up continues to be a cornerstone of Brinker today, explains Larry Brinker, Jr., who now serves as President and CEO. "Our values stem from my father's experience," he says. "Every person should have the opportunity for gainful employment and a career." That commitment is just one of the reasons that Brinker is well-aligned as a client of Old National Bank. 

Brinker Jr. revels in fulfilling his sense of responsibility to pay it forward, which has led to creative programs helping ignite the next generation of workers.

Breaking ground for diversity

Brinker Jr. realizes the value of diversity, equity and inclusion in fostering change for workers and the communities they serve. He also knows firsthand that there's no skipping the hard work of on-the-job exposure to the tangible expertise and business acumen that can lead to a thriving organization. He estimates that he's held about 80% of the job roles in Brinker, which he believes was the only way to prepare for his current leadership role adequately.

That's why, in 2017, he launched the Minority Business Mentor and Protégé Program, which gives small subcontracting businesses in Detroit the chance to work side-by-side with Brinker professionals. By offering training and guidance, his team can nurture talent by helping them learn the skills they need and, even more importantly, provide access to substantial construction projects often only awarded to larger, established firms. For example, Brinker recently engaged a number of subcontractors as part of its work on the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center.

By selecting companies to mentor that express an interest in long-term growth, Brinker can be instrumental in these firms' long-term success as they strive to create a meaningful impact within the community of Detroit and the state of Michigan.

They learn the practical skills and critical aspects of running a business, such as project management, estimating and how to mitigate risk. "We aim to strengthen these firms' portfolios, which will give them the ability to successfully compete for business on future projects.

"We integrate these workers with our team in the field to ensure they have a truly meaningful role on projects and can then take that expertise to the next opportunity," Brinker says. "The long-term goal is to provide the opportunity and in-the-trenches experience that will ultimately strengthen these firms' portfolio and ability to compete for business on other iconic construction projects.

Ideally, he notes, the benefits of the protégé program will ripple around the community as mentees ultimately become role models for others.

Many workforce development efforts stumble because they fail to bridge gaps in resources that small businesses or individual workers need, in addition to active job skills. A comprehensive approach acts as a safety net, addressing fundamental areas and fostering additional support to thrive.  

In that way, they walk the talk, putting into action daily their company motto of "Stronger Together" through their efforts to provide their neighbors with the tools and resources they need to build a stable and fulfilling career.

Raising the bar: ONB and Brinker strive to create better communities

These community-focused efforts are just one of the reasons that Brinker and ONB have enjoyed a fruitful relationship. For its part, ONB prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion in its own company, focusing on myriad ways that it can provide mentorship to all team members, with particular attention to historically underrepresented or marginalized populations.

Because ONB realizes small businesses are the cornerstone of the community, it has launched a Small Business Empowerment Program, which creates access to capital to help stabilize and/or expand entrepreneurial businesses in underrepresented communities. This program evaluates these small businesses using a model less dependent on consumer credit scores than more traditional approaches. To date, this successful program has approved 60 loans and has disbursed close to $17 million in loans to women- and minority-owned businesses across the bank's footprint. To further help bolster service to these communities, ONB created a Community Lending Market executive position for Northwest Indiana and the Southwest suburbs of Chicago, which works closely with ONB's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team and allows the bank to further drive business development opportunities for underserved communities. 

DEI will remain a foundation of both company's efforts going forward. As Brinker, Jr. points out, "Different perspectives and experiences make our business better, but more than that, it makes the developments we're working on and the community as a whole better as well."

Would you like to learn more about how ONB can help your business thrive? Visit ONB's "Insights" page here


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