In Sixth Year, UC’s Diverse Suppliers Program with CVS Health Draws Execs from Across the Country

The Center for Workforce and Professional Development at University College recently launched its sixth year of the CVS Health Executive Learning Series for Diverse Suppliers, a five-month program on management skills for diverse business owners

By Anna Cohen
Headshots of Executive Learning Series Participants
Left to Right: George Fernandez, CEO of Latino Connection, Mish and Nick Lunn, Owners of Cornerstone Construction Group, Amy Fazackerley, CEO/Co-Founder of Lay-n-Go

RWU’s University College (UC,) in partnership with CVS Health, launched the sixth year of the CVS Health Executive Learning Series for Diverse Suppliers this summer. This professional development program teaches diverse business owners management skills to grow their companies. 

The five-month Executive Learning Series, offered by the Center for Workforce and Professional Development (CWPD,) helps diverse business owners prepare for expanded retail distribution of their products and services. The Executive Learning Series is part of CVS Health’s commitment to increasing the success of diversity-based businesses.  Applicants have the opportunity to receive their tuition fully sponsored by CVS Health.

“We train participants in leadership, human resources, social media, content marketing, and other skills. I hire a lot of Roger Williams faculty and staff as instructors to do the training,” said Dawne Pezzuco, Director of the CWPD. “We check in on past participants, and they have all said they are now able to get more work, and work with bigger organizations. Their businesses thrive.”

In addition to lessons in business and networking opportunities, participants receive individualized executive coaching from RWU instructors and with a member of the CVS Health procurement team. 

Due to the pandemic, this year’s Executive Learning Series is offered entirely via distance learning. The 2020 application process was twice as competitive as it's been in previous years, with 15 business owners chosen from more than 350 applicants to receive sponsored tuition. 

We recently talked with some of the participants in the 2020 CVS Health Executive Learning Series for Diverse Suppliers about their experiences. 

George Fernandez

George FernandezCEO, Latino Connection, Harrisburg, Pa. 

George Fernandez founded Latino Connection, a marketing and communications firm, to help companies understand and develop strategies to meet the needs of the growing demographic of Latino Americans.  

“The backbone of the services that my company offers today are for challenges that I lived firsthand,” he said. “Many of us are blessed with much more than what we need, but there are still thousands of families out there that need resources. It is my passion to help other Hispanic American families close that gap.” 

Latino Connection supports a wide range of clients, including health and wellness  organizations that address health conditions disproportionately affecting Latino communities. Recently, Latino Connection supported the launch of a mobile health and wellness engagement unit, which travels into neighborhoods, bringing much needed access to healthcare. 

Fernandez is participating in the Executive Learning Series to help his business reach more people.  

“For me, it’s not about the money. It is my own community that is disproportionately affected by COVID-19, so now more than ever our services are critical. Understanding what corporate companies like CVS look for in a supplier teaches me what needs to change internally at Latino Connection to build capacity.” 

Nathaniel Peete

Nathaniel PeeteCOO, Black Sheep’s Society, Nashville, Tenn. 

In August 2019, Nathaniel Peete bought half of Black Sheep’s Society, a full-service management, branding, marketing, and consulting company. “I’ve always been a black sheep as well,” he said. “I feel purpose with every day now.”

Originally focused on musician management, Black Sheep’s Society has grown to serve creatives of all types, public figures, and companies. Peete is proud of Black Sheep’s Society’s diverse team and clients, and wants to take his company to the next level through the Executive Learning Series. 

“There is so much I can learn from the group itself,” he said. “We are learning how to be in the corporate environment, so this is a great opportunity to learn from a great corporation. With the lessons we will be learning, the advisement, the coaching, it’s amazing.”

Disability:IN, a nonprofit resource for disability inclusion, helped Peete achieve acceptance into the competitive Executive Learning Series. 

“I really appreciate Disability:IN and because they helped us a lot by believing in us, especially myself. They have done everything they could do for our firm,” he said. 

Sonya Allen-Roeth 

Principal, Shhh!’s a secret!, Meriden, Conn. 

Skincare products by Shh!'s a secret!
Skincare products by Shhh!'s a secret!

After running a successful stationary business, Sonya Allen-Roeth was inspired to go into the skincare field while making face creams in her kitchen. She founded Shhh!’s a secret!, an emerging skincare company that sells facial skincare glitter gel pads. 

“I wanted to make sure the product was something people could relate to. I wanted it to be fun. I landed on individual facial gel pads you apply to areas of concern,” she said. 

Allen-Roeth looks forward to the financial education she will receive in the Executive Learning Series. She plans to combine her background as an account executive with the instruction on the RFP process included in the Learning Series to understand the full scope of the process from the procurement and supplier sides. 

“I am so very grateful for the CVS opportunity,” she said. “Having my corporate background, I understand the value of relationships and mentorships. Like any business, it’s about who you know. It’s about building those relationships where you can say, ‘Hey, I know this person.’ Or, just being in front of somebody. Being able to ask, ‘Can you take a look at this? Can you put me in front of the right person?’ To have that initial contact with CVS is priceless.” 

Ira Kaganovsky Green

Ira Kaganovsky Green holds Freedom Deodorant CEO/Founder, Free Brands Inc., Las Vegas, Nev.

When three of Ira Kaganovsky Green's friends were diagnosed with breast cancer in three months, she was motivated to create a natural alternative to antiperspirant. 

“What I didn’t know is that each year, one in eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer. That is a huge number. We all know at least eight women, right?” she said. “I couldn’t believe I was putting on antiperspirant every single day, next to my breasts. I thought, ‘I’m not wearing this, I’m not putting this on my kids.’”

Once she found a natural deodorant formula that worked, and was receiving positive feedback from her friends, Kaganovsky Green was ready to turn her project into a business. Her brand is now growing beyond deodorant into a full line, and Kaganovsky Green is excited to work with other entrepreneurs in the Executive Learning Series to help her business through its growth. 

“Starting a business is hard. A lot of people don’t realize that. You don’t just put something on Amazon and let it sell. There are so many other aspects to it. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a village to build a business, and that village comes from programs like this,” she said.  

Nick Lunn

President & CEO, Cornerstone Construction Group, Indianapolis, Ind. 

Portrait of Mish and Nick Lunn
President and CEO Nick Lunn, right, co-owns Cornerstone Construction Group with his spouse, Mish Lunn, the firm’s Executive Vice President.

With over 20 years of experience in civil constructing, Nick Lunn founded the Cornerstone Construction Group in 2013. This full-service civil construction management, asphalt, and concrete firm serves government and commercial clients in Indiana. Lunn is eager to receive support from the Executive Learning Series as he guides his business through drastic growth. 

“My mentor said to me when I started my business, ‘Nick, every time you grow in revenue, you’re a brand-new business,” Lunn said. “Today, I truly understand that statement. Having the education from RWU and CVS only enhances what we already have and helps us get to our next level in our business and in our personal development as well as leaders.” 

Lunn is grateful to have been selected for the Learning Series, and is already connecting teachings to his career. He says that his goal is to get as much as possible from the experience, especially by connecting with others. 

“Even though the program has just started, one of the things I always like is the synergy of a group coming together for a particular goal,” he said. 

Ken Johnson 

Headshot of Ken JohnsonManaging Partner, Johnson, Blumberg & Associates, Chicago Ill. 

“I’ve always had the itch to build my own thing,” said Ken Johnson. In 2003, he co-founded Johnson, Blumberg & Associates, a lawn firm that represents Fortune 500 companies. As his business grew and evolved, Johnson looked for ways to grow his professional skills along with it. 

“As a business owner, it’s a marathon. You have to be able to adapt as you go. One example is technology, which is accelerating faster than we all can imagine. If you aren’t up on it, you find yourself behind, or obsolete. You have to continuously educate yourself in those areas,” he said.  

Johnson was drawn to the Executive Learning Series to gain support in his firm’s adaptation to distance work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to stay up to date with technological advances. Just as important – if not more so – to Johnson was the commitment to diversity he saw in the Learning Series. 

“I am a strong believer in diversity: 95% of my staff is diverse,” he said. “I noticed that CVS and RWU already understand that diversity means excellence, and that made me excited. It made me want to get involved.” 

Amy Fazackerley 

CEO/Co-Founder, Lay-n-Go, Alexandra, Va. 

Amy Fazackerley and her three sons lay on a pile of legos Amy Fazackerley and her husband, Adam, needed a solution for a problem. Their three sons loved to dump bins and baskets of Legos onto the floor for their play, spreading the pieces to find the best fits for their creations. From this chaos, Amy and Adam created the Lay-n-Go, combining a mat with a draw-string bag to create a container that made play and cleanup easy. 

Ten years later, Fazackerley’s business has expanded beyond toy solutions, applying her design to cosmetics, pets, nail care, technology, and more. She applied for the Executive Learning Series hoping to grow her practical business skills, and is open to all that may emerge from the experience. 

“Any time you participate in this kind of program it opens doors that you won’t expect. You go in for one reason and come out with 10 other reasons,” she said. “Working with the executive coaching and the procurement advisors is amazing. Being able to share my growth plan and receive critical feedback from advisors and peers is huge.”

Fazackerley is excited by the program’s focus on supplier diversity, and is learning about the resources available to diverse businesses. 

“Already, I’ve enjoyed listening to diverse panelists and learning about the processes they go through. I didn’t realize how many opportunities are out there for women-owned businesses, and how many corporations like CVS want to support these kinds of businesses,” she said. 

The 2020 CVS Health Executive Learning Series for Diverse Suppliers launched in June and will conclude in October.