Houston Independent School District Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby pledged more outreach and assistance to small business owners seeking to do business with the district in his first public appearance since being named to lead the district’s business operations division and its 7,000 employees.
“This is not a job for me, but a lifeblood,” Busby told the Greater Houston Black Chamber on Thursday. “I didn’t take this job to get to the next job. I took this job to make a difference in the lives of our students.”
Busby also told the room of business owners that he saw their increased involvement with the district as critical to his success, adding: “It’s going to take all of us.”
Chamber member and President of TLC Engineering Tony Council pointed to Busby’s background as evidence of his commitment. Busby began his career with HISD 18 years ago when he started working as a custodian two years after graduating from high school. He went on to work in the district’s payroll and accounting offices before re-joining the operations divisions, where he most recently served as the district’s Officer of Facilities Services.
“He started from the bottom and now he’s here,” said Council, who co-chair’s the Chamber’s Construction, Infrastructure, Transportation, Technology & Engineering Committee with Samuel Eaton. “He knows the importance of engaging with small businesses and people who look like you and me.”
In this role as COO, Busby administers an annual operating budget of over $260 million. He also oversees the district’s bond construction programs, and a real estate portfolio with over 30 million square feet of facilities space in more than 600 buildings. Other areas of responsibility include Transportation, Nutrition Services, Business Assistance, Risk Management, Insurance, and Warehousing.
On Thursday, most of the questions from the Greater Houston Black Chamber centered on how minority- and women-owned business enterprises — more commonly known as M/WBE — can win a bigger share of district contracts.
Joining Busby was HISD General Manager Alexis Licata, who leads the district’s Office of Business Assistance and oversees a team of five people charged with helping firms navigate M /WBE certification and procurement issues.
“We can take you through the process,” Licata said. “Our goal truly is to incorporate as many M/WBE firms in our business as possible.”
HISD has long been recognized as having one of the most robust M/WBE programs in the state. Earlier this month, the Office of Business Assistance was named the City of Houston’s Community Partner of the Year for its role in overseeing the Interagency Mentor-Protégé Program, which pairs established companies and agencies with emerging historically underutilized businesses.
In addition to providing direct assistance to small businesses, the department also holds monthly workshops and other events to engage with M/WBE firms.
‘We’re going to have more community outreach,” Busby told the group, outlining specific strategies, such as bringing in M/WBE firms before bids are advertised to discuss what’s on the horizon and working with general contractors to ensure they know the district’s commitment to using local firms.
He also encouraged business owners in the audience to get their M/WBE certification and get on the Office of Business Assistance email list to get notifications of upcoming workshops and bids.
Blake Simon, a young author and motivational speaker, said he appreciated hearing from Busby and felt encouraged to look into getting his M/WBE certification.
“It was very informative,” Simon said. “It’s information that everyone in the community needs to know.”