Harold D. Williams Trailblazer: Mission Driven and Focused on Helping Others Succeed

By Sharon Moore Jackson

Harold D. Williams is a trailblazer who has paved the way for others to follow. Whether in the Air Force as a Dental Laboratory Technician, a Policeman in the Baltimore City Police Department Canine Division, Marketing/Sales, and Amtrak Police Department and Procurement Department, the Purchasing Department at Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) or as the Commissioner of Maryland’s Public Service Commission, each career path has resulted in Harold being the first African American making both history and affecting positive change.

When I think about my life and the many opportunities I’ve had over the years, reflects Harold, I knew I always wanted to make a difference in the lives of people who were underserved.  So, in 1982, Harold received a job offer from Baltimore Gas &Electric (BGE)Purchasing Department and he enthusiastically accepted. This is where Harold’s advocacy for minority vendors took root.    Once again, Harold was the first African American hired in that position.  It was 166 years before the first African American was hired.  He was determined to include diversity within the supply chain and did not hesitate to solicit management support to develop a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Program at BGE.   Whenever the opportunity to include the underserved presented itself, Harold would include Minority, Women and Disabled Service Veterans in that arena. 

Getting management buy-in and acceptance was extremely difficult, Harold recalls.  “It was like rolling a snowball up a hill in the summertime because they never had that and never thought about doing anything for the underserved”.  According to Harold, the only minorities we were dealing with at that time, were African Americans, Hispanics and Asians.

In 1989, BGE’s MBE Program was established and consisted of Harold, he did not have any staff. The lack of staff did not deter Harold from meeting his goal of diversity and inclusion.  With his established involvement in the public, Harold met with several of his counterparts within the State of Maryland, the Maryland/District of Columbia Minority Supplier Development Council (renamed the Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council (CRMSDC), and individuals from other corporations with existing diversity programs, all sharing best practices and information that proved beneficial for maintaining and sustaining the MBE Program at BGE.

According to Harold, prior to establishing BGE’s MBE Program, reported spending with minorities was approximately $400K.   However, by the end of the MBE Program’s run under Harold’s leadership, BGE’s procurement total spend with diverse vendors was reported at $80M.  “I saw tremendous growth at BGE, Harold proudly states, and I also saw growth and utilization within the State of Maryland’s MBE Program.   With that growth and visibility came honors and recognitions from Baltimore City, the State of Maryland, the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NSMDC) and the Federal Government.   BGE’s MBE Program was also being recognized nationally and soon expanded beyond the Purchasing Office, but throughout the organization and was elevated up to the Office of the President requiring each Division to achieve.

Subsequently, in 1993, thanks to former Delegate Elijah Cummings (current Congressman Elijah Cummings), and the late Delegate Howard “Pete” Rawlings, the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was created that required the utility companies to report to the Public Service Commission (PSC) on their buying with minorities each year from 1993 up to the present. 

After retiring from BGE in 2002, Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning appointed Harold to the Public Service Commission.  Harold graciously accepted, assumed his position as Commissioner and began making an assessment of the MOU between the Utilities and the PSC.  After checking the files to determine if the utility companies were complying with the MOU reporting requirements, Harold quickly learned, that “the utilities were sending in their reports, but the Public Service Commission, which had oversight, placed the reports in a file cabinet, nothing was being done, explained Harold”.   To remedy this obstruction, Harold devised a plan in hope of getting the current members on the Commission’s support.  Unfortunately, it took 6 years before Harold could persuade 4 commissioners to agree to convene the first Public Service Hearing PC 16 (Public Conference 16), which resulted in putting a 25% goal on utilities within Maryland.  This was due in part to their spending patterns with minorities, women and disabled veterans, by the utilities, says Harold.

Likewise, I saw the various Secretaries that were appointed by the Governor of Maryland making significant strides in advancing the State’s MBE Program with legislation that mandated goals for the MBE Program, recounts Harold and I am proud to have been a part of that history.

During Harold’s stent at the PSC, he had the opportunity to Chair the Utility Market Access Partnership Program (UMAP), a subcommittee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners presently known as Supplier and Workforce Diversity Subcommittee.  Harold chaired the subcommittee from 2004-2012.  The purpose of UMAP was to familiarize the utilities in the U.S. of the value in utilizing MBE’s in their procurement programs, as well as establishing MBE Programs.  He was also instrumental, along with Commissioner Michael Peevy, President of the California Public Service Commission, in starting the National Utilities Diversity Council (NUDC). This organization is responsible for the following: a compilation of aggregated spend data and publicly available information concerning supplier diversity and population in each state; best practices across the spectrum of supplier diversity operation; tools for encouraging supplier diversity and; resources to help diverse suppliers identify opportunity.

What makes an effective supplier delivery program?   Assessing the impact and program metrics.  Understanding the numbers of the supplier diversity program, and an advocate who can articulate the message and influence policy and decision makers that yield results.  Harold Williams proved to be the right person to champion the call for diversity and inclusion and he continues to blaze the trail and leave his mark.  My thing is being able to assist the underserved, Harold’s says.  I heard Marc Morial, President, National Urban League say this recently when discussing the State of Black America in 2018, “we are like a caboose in the back of the train, we are moving along, but we’re always in the back”.  For me, says Harold, being able to assist the underserved is my passion.  I appreciate BGE providing me with a platform to establish an MBE Program locally and then it became national.  When I think about the individuals that shaped and impacted my life, they include Congressman Parren J., Mitchell, Congressman Kwesi Mfume, Congressman Elijah Cummings, State Senator Nathaniel McFadden, Delegate Adrienne Jones, all these individuals were instrumental in furthering the cause dealing with minority and women and disabled service veterans.

Harold continues to lend his voice and talents to helping others through The Harold D. Williams Energy and Sustainability Resource Center, a 501C (3) nonprofit organization, created in 2017 to bring both his vision and legacy to fruition. 

His commitment to service is the impetus for starting the Center and it will function as a catalyst to help ensure that the nation’s Energy and Sustainability industries are more available to minorities, women, disabled service veterans, historically black colleges and the underserved populations.

The Center will support its activities through generous contributions from donor agencies, businesses and community for specific programs, through general fund-raising recognizing patrons, through contributions in kind of expertise, space, etc., and through grants.

The Center’s activities will be managed by a core staff of an Executive Director, Program Manager, Development Director, and Accounts Manager. Day to day functions will be performed by staff in positions offered as internships, work-study positions, or part-time jobs to students in partner universities and colleges.

The Center will perform end of the program and annual evaluations to assess its programs’ goals and outcomes, to be able to fulfill its long-term vision. The Center will make its annual report available to all donor agencies.

The industry will recognize the Center for the ability to the move its business relationship to sustainable capacity building Partnerships.

To learn more about Commissioner Emeritus Harold D. Williams and the Harold D. Williams National Energy and Sustainability Resource Center, LLC, please visit the website at www.hdw-energycenter.org.