CEO Joan Waters Discusses COFCO’s WBE Certification

In a recent interview, COFCO CEO Joan Waters discussed her thoughts on WBE certification and what it means for the organization:


Alan.Harold Epps. Joan Waters

Joan Waters with Alan Einstein (left) and Harold Epps (middle) during a recent visit to COFCO by Director Epps and his team from the Commerce Department and PIDC

Question: COFCO has recently received WBE certification. What is the major significance / advantage of this certification?

Answer: I believe that supporting minority owned enterprises is important for our economy and our society. The WBE and MBE certification opens the door for these enterprises to compete in arenas they would normally not have access to.

More and more large organizations are recognizing the need to support diversity in business and this certification gives them the opportunity to do so. Having said this, I believe that the certification should provide the WBE / MBE with initial opportunities, but that it’s up to the enterprise, as it is with all businesses, to earn repeat business by virtue of their performance.

Question: What prompted COFCO to apply for this certification?

Answer: We are known as a company who believes in ‘doing the right thing’ and for our uncompromising desire to help our clients achieve their objectives. COFCO has a long history of serving our clients and community to the very best of our ability and to the highest standards.

I am very proud to be majority owner at COFCO. I have worked here for a long time and feel that it’s an incredible honor to become the majority shareholder of such a well run organization with its strong culture and history.

I am honored at the opportunity purchase and own a company with these characteristics. I’m thrilled that my ownership has opened the opportunity for COFCO to receive WBE certification which, I believe, supports our core values and all that has been accomplished since COFCO was established by David Einstein and thereafter nurtured by Alan Einstein and the COFCO team.

Another important consideration in seeking WBE certification was to help our clients effectively meet their objectives as they work to support diversified organizations.

Question: Will this change the way COFCO does business and if so, how?

Answer: WBE certification will not change the way we do business. We will continue to adhere to our core values and, if anything, strive for even higher standards of performance that ensure long term client relationships.

The certification simply underscores the fact that I am the owner of COFCO. COFCO will continue on the direction and trajectory we have chosen. We are focused on growth and winning market share. We believe we will be successful in this as we are extremely good at what we do. We bring great value to our clients as well as to others we interface with throughout the market including design firms, brokers and manufacturers.

If I had to sum up our significant advantage in the marketplace, I would say that we are extremely good at helping our clients create their vision. This factor has won us contracts where we were not the lowest bidder, but were the client’s first choice in the belief that we would be able to deliver and truly help them realize their vision.

Question: How do you see COFCO evolving under the WBE banner over the next decade?

Answer: We do believe that this classification is an important factor for a growing number of clients throughout region and the country. This means that the WBE certification opens doors to opportunities with many organizations who are actively supporting diversified companies. It’s a win-win situation for COFCO and our clients.

Question: Would you encourage other majority women owned businesses to get WBE certified and if so why?

Answer: Yes I would. I believe that supporting WBE and MBE is the right thing to do. It not only helps and encourages these diversified enterprises to compete in the market, but it also helps to grow our economy.

Applying for the certification is a somewhat long and cumbersome process, however it is well worth the effort, especially in light of the growing importance placed on supporting diversity by an increasing number of large organizations.

Question: Did you begin your career with COFCO believing that you would become majority owner when Alan was ready to retire?

Answer: You might be surprised to learn that I did not. My father struggled with his own business and the last thing I wanted was to be a business owner. However, working with David and Alan instilled the confidence in me and opened my mind to the prospect. It’s as a direct result of their mentoring that I came to understand that I could follow in their incredible footsteps and be the owner of a thriving and successful business.

Question: What other insights can you offer regarding the concept of supporting diversification in business?

Answer: In a perfect world, all organizations would be given access to opportunity based on their merits and performance. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and the fact is that women and minority owned businesses often don’t have access to many opportunities.

Supporting diversification opens the door to many otherwise inaccessible opportunities. As I mentioned earlier, I believe that once access is gained, it’s crucial that these enterprises demonstrate their ability to deliver what they promise and by virtue of their performance, earn the right to come back to the table based on their merits as a business, irrespective of gender or race. Once they gain access to an opportunity, they should demonstrate that they are not only qualified, but can also be relied upon to do an outstanding job.

As more diversified businesses are able to enter the market, it is my hope that the need for this type of certification will eventually be eliminated.

As far as COFCO’s certification is concerned, I will do everything I possibly can to ensure that we do not take the status for granted. We certainly don’t expect to be handed a job just because of our WBE certification. This status is not going to change our desire to perform to a very high level.