Bazzani Group takes inclusive action
Builder partners with Skot and Barbara Welch to lead development of a more diverse community.
Bazzani Building Group is taking a deliberate — but natural — step toward inclusion in Grand Rapids.
Last month, the construction and development firm announced a strategic partnership with Skot and Barbara Welch that will make the Grand Rapids entrepreneurs the company’s director and assistant director of business development, respectively. The partnership has some projects in the pipeline yet to be announced but also signifies a potentially deeper meaning for the community.
The hiring holds a dual purpose: To help recently appointed Bazzani President Peter Skornia with business development and to further Bazzani’s connection to a more diverse Grand Rapids community.
“They knew (Guy Bazzani) before I took over as the president, and I had some big shoes to fill because I have background in construction but needed help on business development,” Skornia said. “Opportunity came up to form this strategic alliance to leverage all of the connections and skills they have in the community.”
The relationship goes back to Skot Welch and Bazzani forming a relationship years ago, which then transitioned into a friendship between Skornia and the couple. Skornia said the company could have set out to fill the development role with an African American, but a move that simple might have fizzled because it wasn’t natural.
Barbara Welch said the partnership is the perfect marriage of skill sets between all parties, and their values align.
“Their reputation stands for itself about impact on the planet as a leader in LEED and they’ve been profitable, so they can sit at the table and do things like this,” she said. “The people piece, this is a demonstration of that, when you’re willing to do something different and not so commonplace. They’re investing in the people aspect.”
A bond like the one between the Welches and the Bazzani team fits nicely into Skot Welch’s belief decisions generally fall into the first concentric circle around friendships and social circles.
The first question normally asked when a spot needs to be filled is, “Who knows someone?” Skot Welch said if all the employees and friends look the same, it’s like fishing in the same pond and expecting a different catch time after time.
A broader perspective and more diverse relationships will create a more sustainable company, Skornia said.
“West Michigan can’t change unless we do something different,” Skot Welch said. “If we want to see something different, we have to do something different, that’s the triple bottom line philosophy. You have the profitability and the planet, but the people part — that’s where we fall toward our closest friends.
“If our friends don’t look different from us, we’ll keep getting the same results. Sometimes, we pat ourselves on the back because we announce we want to do something different, but we don’t actually do it. This is doing something different. It’s where we want to take it from theory to application.”
Skornia knows moving outside the normal business relationships within the company can be beneficial.
“The trust that Skot and Barb have with the community, they can bring in, and for them to know there’s an organization that they can work with is amazing,” Skornia said. “We want to work with everyone and any potential construction projects that fit our model.”
The Welches said there’s a definitive difference between diversity and inclusion in business. Grand Rapids is a diverse city, but there’s a relative lack of inclusion in business, Skot Welch said.
There are some companies making a positive impact, but Skornia said with Bazzani’s small size, the impact on the company and the projects it touches will be more substantive.
Skot Welch said sometimes the inclusion can be made too complex, when in reality it’s just furthering and fostering more relationships. He said there have been a lot of good pieces in Grand Rapids, from economic and wage studies to hiring the first chamber of commerce vice president of diversity and inclusion, Sonya Hughes, in the United States.
Skot Welch has been studying, consulting and writing on diversity and inclusion for more than 20 years and said organic — rather than forced — business relationships bear the most fruit.
“The final frontier is taking all the stats and what we’ve learned (and) to actualize it, and that’s what we’re doing,” Skot Welch said. “I can tell you about chocolate and chocolate theory all day, but until you taste it, that takes you from here to here, that’s what it tastes like. I can explain Marie Catrib’s and what they do, but until you sit down and have those potatoes, then it’s like, ‘OK, now I get it.’
“You have to go there. We’re just going there. This conversation, we hope people hear about it and raise the level for everyone.”