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This is Diversity in Action: Leonard McLaughlin, President of Aon Cornerstone Innovative Solutions

Employers are learning the true value of diversity inclusion.

Aon senior level executive Leonard McLaughlin walks the talk about diversity and inclusion, and he’s etched a stellar career through his activism.

While attending a senior manager meeting, a team of executives lauded Aon for being compliant with its diversity initiatives.

McLaughlin felt that more could be done, and he said so: “I raised my hand,” McLaughlin recalls. “I said, ‘we had a tremendous amount of women in senior-level positions, we just didn’t have a lot of people of color.’ I voiced my opinion about the true value of diversity and from that I was offered the position of Director of Diversity.”

Two-and-a-half years later, McLaughlin is the President of Aon Cornerstone Innovative Solutions.

Under the umbrella of Aon Corporation (the leading global provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human resource consulting and outsourcing), Cornerstone develops relationships between its corporate clients and minority-owned businesses, if there is synergy between them.

Last year, Cornerstone’s business soared 300 percent.

McLaughlin tells rolling out how he did it, and gives advice to up-and-coming minority business executives.

Leonard McLaughlin, Pres., Aon Cornerstone Innovative Solutions

What do you feel is going right with diversity initiatives in Corporate America today?
There’s a much higher awareness of diversity inclusion which is a plus. You have a lot of companies that are now becoming aware of the importance of diversity inclusion. The awareness is the biggest thing that’s going well, and the fact that you’ve got a lot of committed individuals who are put in charge of creating that awareness.

What will be the diversity landscape of your firm in five years?
We look at diversity a little differently,–for us, it’s a combination of supply chain, our philanthropic opportunities, the Human Resources side, the understanding of the ethnicity makeup of the company, and Cornerstone —which is what I run.

We’re going to continue to be a leader and a trendsetter. We believe no other financial services firm has a division like Cornerstone that is totally committed to minority businesses and seeing them grow. We’re proud to be game-changers — on such an important initiative, with the ultimate objective of having tremendous results for our clients and partners as well as a marked impact on diversity inclusion.

What is the biggest challenge you face when growing a company like Aon Cornerstone Innovative Solutions that has a dual mission of profitability and minority participation?

The biggest challenge is finding the right minority business partner that fits the solution we’re trying to present for our clients. Aon is a big company, with a vast amount of knowledge and expertise and a complex client portfolio.

In addition, we must sell the value proposition of Cornerstone internally so our colleagues appreciate the overall mission and understand it may translate in the short term to giving up some revenue.

They must understand this isn’t a one-time deal, that we’re creating a program. I often ask, would you take a chance of getting 100 percent of nothing on one deal? Or, would you take a chance on getting 80 percent of ten deals? We want to do eight, nine, ten deals together and if we close three or four of them, that’s a win-win for everybody.

Have things improved with Cornerstone since you’ve taken this position?

Absolutely, last year, we grew our business by 300 percent.

How do you account for Cornerstone’s growth?

The right minority partners and the right opportunity. We’re very strategic in how we engage our clients, and the market is ripe for creative solutions to allow additional supplier diversity opportunities that people haven’t thought of before. It’s the combination of the right client, the right MBE partner, and the power of Aon in terms of the credibility we bring to every deal.

What deal are you most proud of?

It would be the deal that we closed last year with a call center out of Atlanta.
Call centers are not our primary or core business, but everything worked because the client was very adamant that we have minority participation.

While Aon was capable of doing a lion’s share of the work desired, we found this call center out of Atlanta with expertise that we didn’t have to fill that remaining niche, and generated one of the largest deals for our company.

What is your advice for executives in the MBE field?

Try not to be everything to everyone. Make sure your house is in order, make sure your finances are in order, make sure that you’ve got solid, audited, financial statements because that’s going to give your firm instant credibility. Trust your people. Hire the best and hire the folks you know that are going to have your back and will support you 100 percent.

Always over-deliver. There’s no better feeling as a big Fortune 200 company than to know that the partners you have are over-delivering to our mutual clients on a consistent basis.

To learn more about Aon Cornerstone Innovative Solutions, visit

Video: Leonard McLaughlin, President of Aon Cornerstone Innovative Solutions