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In a new initiative called “Making It… With Lowe’s,” the home improvement retailer teams up with FUBU founder and Shark Tank star Daymond John to offer hundreds of small-business owners from underrepresented communities the chance to sell their products on Lowes.com and in store.
“This is just our way as a large company to allow everyday small businesses, who we all agree are the cornerstone of our economy, to get a chance to put products on the shelf of a major company,” Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison says on the latest episode of Leadership Next.
The search will cast a wide net and winnow the applicants down in a one-day, virtual pitch challenge hosted by John. The top 10 entrepreneurs will then pitch their products to a panel of Lowe’s executives.
This isn’t the first way that Lowe’s has prioritized helping minority business-owners since the coronavirus pandemic began. In partnership with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Lowe’s granted $55 million to support minority- and women-owned businesses, as well as enterprises in rural communities.
As one of only four Black CEOs to run a Fortune 500 company, Ellison says it didn’t take police violence or protests for him to see the racism rampant in America. That’s why he has been prioritizing this work and internal diversity and inclusion efforts at Lowe’s since he began his tenure there in 2018. He says he prefers to focus his efforts where they can drive the most change: at home with his college-aged children and at work with his 300,000 employees.
He said he wants to create a “workplace of choice,” with policies that allow anyone who desires to be successful within the company to find their path. And so far, it seems like he’s doing a good job of that, according to Fortune senior writer Phil Wahba. At around the 8:30 mark, retail reporter Wahba joins host Ellen McGirt to explain that Ellison is beloved by the rank and file at Lowe’s. “They really rally behind him,” Wahba says.
That’s a necessity if Lowe’s wants to make up ground against Home Depot, to which it has ceded quite a bit of business over the years. Lowe’s is currently on a hot streak, but the gap is wide, and closing it requires a leader like Ellison with devoted employees, according to Wahba.
“There’s a lot of work left to do,” Wahba says. “Home Depot are no shrinking violets. They’re an astounding retailer, so they’re not going to give market share up that easily.”
To hear more about Ellison’s leadership at Lowe’s, what went wrong at JCPenney (where he was CEO until 2018), and why he’s proud of his work there, listen to the episode of Leadership Next below.