Kimberly Marcus Director Supplier Diversity AARP

By Janelle E. Taylor

Business Development Columnist

Mrs. Kimberly Marcus is a leader that trailblazes excellence by example. She is a champion of aligning outcomes with values and extraordinary results. Her long-standing, high career performance paves a clear path forward that aligns her continued passion to equal the playing field for diverse people and companies. As a former small and minority business owner herself, she knows first- hand, the barriers to entry, the obstacles that prevent small and minority companies from reaching their full potential and she is committed to disrupting the status quo by redefining the Supplier Diversity Program at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).  

AARP made a conscious decision to revitalize their supplier diversity program with the hiring of Kimberly Marcus in August of 2015. Kimberly Marcus is the Director of Supplier Diversity at AARP. The AARP supplier diversity program resides at the intersection of “who we are, what we do, and how we do it”. AARP’s supplier diversity program is directly linked to their mission and why they exist. AARP not only works with diverse suppliers, but also serve them by helping them grow their businesses and by promoting them in the marketplace.  

Mrs. Marcus is armed with over 20 years of combined experience in both the corporate and non-profit worlds. Prior to AARP, Mrs. Marcus was a presidential appointee for the Department of Commerce. She was appointed in July 2012 to serve as Associate Director for the Office of Legislative, Education & Intergovernmental Affairs (OLEIA) at the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). 

One of her career highpoints before her appointment was when she was the National African American Outreach Director for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). In this high-profile role, Mrs. Marcus worked closely with the African American community to emphasize the importance of the African American vote. 

Mrs. Marcus also worked for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, serving as Executive Director of its Public Policy Institute’s Government Relations office. Mrs. Marcus advocated on behalf of urban communities and minorities. She considered her position as Director of Economic Development for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to be an exciting turning point in her career, as it gave her the chance to tackle issues of immediate relevance to equal opportunity for people of color. 

Because Kimberly owned her own company and qualified as a small minority-owned business, she is a sound leader and business professional that can relate to diverse-owned businesses. She holds advocating for this business group close to her heart.     

“During this unprecedented time where America has seemingly shut down overnight with the spreading coronavirus pandemic, our local, small and diverse business community has severely felt the loss of its customers and its community. AARP is being even more intentional with a strong show of support for our local, small and diverse businesses. These business owners need us more than ever. Many local, small and diverse-owned businesses are owned by members of the 50+ community. Small and diverse-owned businesses often offer niche products or services that bring different perspectives and backgrounds. Innovation creates competition, generating efficiencies, therefore decreasing costs. Small and diverse-owned businesses have the ability to build custom solutions for larger corporate clients.”

AARP’s Supplier Diversity department adjusted its operations to the COVID-19 pandemic by offering the following measurable solutions: 

* Partnered with Women’s Business Enterprise Council (WBENC) to host “Marketing Your Business During Crisis” webinar

* Participated in the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Pitch Competition as a judge 

* Opportunity to coach & mentor suppliers

* Partnered with Disability: IN to host webinar during National Conference entitled, “First Steps to Scaling Your Business”

* Refreshed AARP’s Supplier Diversity Registration Portal: more user friendly, increased reporting functionality, and easier to identify diverse suppliers

* Sponsored WBE’s for the WBENC WeThrive Program

* WBE’s were provided the opportunity to enroll in a University Executive Program, in order to enhance their knowledge and skills as entrepreneurs

* Participated in the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) “In This Together Campaign”: – a portfolio of initiatives and programs to help expedite recovery efforts within the Black business community

u The Minority Business Advocacy Initiative | NMSDC established an inter-organization coalition focused on eradicating the racial wealth gap and startup capital gap to build and scale minority businesses

u NMSDC Academy: AARP Sponsored MBE’s for the University of Washington Executive Management Program 

Marcus states that “AARP is aware that the small and diverse business community is hurting and they are making themselves available to help meet their needs via conference calls, workshops, webinars, financing, coaching and so much more.”

As noted on their website, AARP historically spends greater than 16% with small and diverse vendors. Mrs. Marcus plans to increase internal spending to promote suppliers in the marketplace by:

* Hosting: Virtual Supplier Diversity Brown Bag Lunch & Learns 

* Advocacy: Facilitate meetings between Business Units & Diverse Suppliers

* AARP Wide Staff Meeting Educational Monthly Webinars: Importance of Supplier Diversity, why we do Supplier Diversity, and how it ties to AARP’s mission

* Supplier Diversity Awards and Recognition Program: Recognize diverse suppliers that have done outstanding work with AARP as well as acknowledge internal departments, business units, team members and strategic partners that have demonstrated an organizational commitment to support, engage and sustain diverse suppliers. This is an event that takes place annually.

* Spotlight Videos: These one-of-a-kind videos highlight the work, culture, and innovation, of small and diverse businesses. Spotlight videos give viewers a chance to hear directly from the business owner and the AARP client. 

Mrs. Marcus, plans to use her prior relationships and advocacy outreach with Fortune 500 organizations and government agencies to enhance the supplier diversity programs at AARP.  When asked in December of 2020 women in America lost over 140,000 jobs, (Aspan, 2021), how do you think this will impact the number of women-owned small businesses? 

Mrs. Marcus replied that “AARP has a focus on women-owned small businesses especially during this time of crisis by: 

• Participation in WBENC’s quarterly Supplier Diversity Professional Series

• Participation in WBENC’s industry specific programming and Advisory Councils

• Participation as an attendee, exhibitor, and sponsor of WBENC National Events

• WBENC National Conference & Business Fair

• WBENC Summit & Salute to Women’s Business Enterprise

• Participation in WBENC’s We Thrive Program:

• AARP sponsored WBE’s for Executive Development Program: An executive education program focused on developing a flexible and nimble organization in times of uncertainty and crisis. This virtual executive development program is tailored to meet WBEs where they are, and support them through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. 

With a continuous commitment to advocate on the behalf of small and diverse-owned businesses both internally at AARP and externally in the marketplace, Mrs. Marcus understands the nuances on a personal level that small and diverse businesses face. Often times when speaking with these businesses, she shares her own personal story of being a business owner as well as a business professional in Corporate America. Mrs. Marcus ensures that the AARP supplier diversity team is intentional about discovering opportunities for small and diverse-owned businesses. 

“AARP’s strong and visible financial and physical support of leading diversity organizations is important not only to demonstrate our commitment to diversity, but also to help fund organizations who develop diverse suppliers that AARP can one day leverage in the market.” Kimberly confirms that “inclusion strengthens our supply chain, membership, and employee base.” 

Mrs. Marcus emphasizes that in addition to filling out the inquiry form on the AARP website, companies may connect with AARP outside of the traditional conferences and matchmakers by visiting AARP via webpage (, and may access their corporate networks by following on twitter and LinkedIn media platforms. AARP’s magazine is the world’s largest-circulation magazine, with about 35 million readers. Interested parties may participate in such initiatives as “AARP Make Your Move Entrepreneurship Contest” which is a pitch competition for entrepreneurs looking for additional support with their businesses. Further, businesses may connect with the AARP Innovation Lab which is focused on helping start-up businesses scale and accelerate their core business. 

Through determination of innovative processes, best practices, policy and programs, Mrs. Marcus intends to increase the roles of women leaders and will not rest until supplier diversity is embedded with the procurement strategy and when diverse suppliers no longer face obstacles that other suppliers do not experience such as access to capital, access to information, and access to networking.

She continues to be empowered in her journey as she considers it an honor to have an African American woman, Jo Ann Jenkins, as the CEO of AARP. Jo Ann Jenkins joined AARP in 2010 as president of AARP Foundation, the organization’s affiliated charity. In this role, she focused the foundation on four areas of work affecting Americans age 50 and up: income insecurity, housing, isolation and hunger. Following one year as Chief Operating Officer, Jenkins was appointed to her current role as CEO of AARP in 2014. Mrs. Marcus is to be celebrated for her previous leadership roles and as she welcomes the new challenges ahead, she states with conviction that “we have to continue to break these glass ceilings. As women continue to climb the corporate ladder, we must remember (to each one teach one) and make time to mentor those who one day can stand on our shoulders and reach the CEO seat. We must remain intentional and purpose driven leaders that will ensure measurable results.”  

Kimberly Marcus has the proven experience of strategic vision, resource alignment, team engagement and measurable sustainability to execute her core ideology with the team at AARP.  Through her purpose driven mission, and commitment, she will lead the masses of minority and diverse-owned businesses, to an expanded reality of opportunities, scalable economic growth and more seats at the table.  

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