Transcript of Interview with Torin Ellis and Jeffrey Hawting on SiriusXM

Torin Ellis (00:07):
It's time to get back in the mix. So that still is actually easy, surprisingly

Torin Ellis (00:31):
Easy and fast too. We're going to have a fast conversation with dr. Jeffrey hotting in just a moment, but 90% of customers say that switching to Gusto is really absolutely easy. 85% of customers say running payroll is easier now than using their previous provider. Three out of four customers. Take 10 minutes or less to run payroll with Gusto. Visit forward slash show that's G U S T forward slash show. And once you, you run your first payroll, you'll get three months free. Now listen, the link is especially for listeners of career mix. So absolutely use forward slash show. You run your first payroll and you'll be able to enjoy three complimentary months. I'm excited because I told her it was national disability employment awareness month. And while I have not dedicated as much to the month as I historically have done, it's not absent on me. And so I'm in conversation with Jeffrey haunting special thanks to one of my dear listeners. [inaudible] absolutely appreciate knowing that my listeners are out there and in tune frequency with how we love to do what we do here at career mix. So Jeffrey Hawting is with LCI. It's a manufacturing distribution, wholesale retail and technology services provider. And one of the largest employers of Americans who are blind or visually impaired special conversation. We're going to talk about LCI and ability one right now. Let's welcome. And mr. Jeffrey harden, how are you?

Jeffrey Hawting (02:20):
Torin and I am absolutely wonderful. And I just am very appreciative of the opportunity to speak with you, such an employee.

Torin Ellis (02:27):
Absolutely. And so I know in your background, we have some fortune 500, certainly some fortune 1000 experience. You have non-profit experience. You've been a leader for some time. I'm curious if you can kind of paint in some of that. Uh, some of those gaps, if you will maybe add some texture, some contexts to that brief introduction who is Jeffrey and why did you land where you are right now?

Jeffrey Hawting (02:55):
Great question. Torin, you know, it's very, it's really a very story.

Jeffrey Hawting (03:00):
I many, many years ago, I worked in a, in the faith community and I was involved in, in, in for me helping people from a faith perspective. I completely changed careers in the mid nineties and went into sales and sales took me into the whole government sales area. And when I started selling to the government, I found out about this program called ability one. And I said, what on earth? Is that an ability? One became very familiar to me cause I was out there, uh, selling many products that were made by people who are blind or who had other disabilities. So I started getting familiar with the program and before I knew it, I, um, was recruited to come work for one of the companies themselves. And here I am now the president of LCI and it's an amazing opportunity, the best job I've ever had.

Torin Ellis (03:52):
Yeah. So originally founded in 1936. Now, am I correct? In my research, was that David Epstein,

Jeffrey Hawting (04:00):
David Epstein was the, was the, um, the head doctor at the Duke Eye Center ,actually. Yes, but he, um, Dr. Epstein was, was a very, very close friend of LCI. Um, the company itself back in 1936 was founded by a civic group in Durham who was, you know, in that post depression, really wanting to do something to help people who were blind to get employment.

Torin Ellis (04:25):
So I love the fact that you all are spread out in a variety of ways. You have distribution centers, it looks like two of them. Uh, you have a number of e-commerce sites. I'm curious as to why there are four different e-commerce sites. Hopefully you can add some context to that six incredible manufacturing facilities and you support a number of military installations. Why the number of different e-commerce sites and how did you all get aligned with the ability one program?

Jeffrey Hawting (04:55):
Uh, so back, um, when the program started, sorry, when LCI started in 1936, shortly after then was when the ability one program was founded in 1938. And so companies like that, like us around the country started to get affiliated under national industries for the blind. And then we started getting the opportunity to make products for federal government customers. And so that's, that's that whole affiliation with the military and the government started way back then in 38. Um, our, our, our e-commerce sites is simply a function of the diversity of our business. Our mission drives our diversity. So we started as a manufacturing company. We, um, ended up moving into retail stores, supporting the, the us department of defense. And then we got into distribution contracts, all of these different businesses needed their own e-commerce platform. And so we have three different that we use depending on the customers that we're selling to. So it's, it's very simple, really.

Torin Ellis (06:03):
So, you know, what's interesting for me is that you have the distribution centers that you all have done well, not even done. It's primarily employees that have a hearing, uh, I'm sorry, a visual impairment, or there may be totally blind. Let's talk about that a little bit, because for so many of these organizations, they find it a bit of a struggle to find the bandwidth, to be curious enough, to explore relationships with the population, talk about the success that you all have had maybe even talk about some of the challenges and how you, you were in the organization, your leadership team, your staff, how you've overcome some of those challenges, because I don't want to paint a picture as if it's all rosy as with all businesses, we have challenges, but let's talk about the employee base and the successes and some of the challenges that exist.

Jeffrey Hawting (06:54):
Yes, indeed. So the, the biggest challenge we have quite frankly, is around software. Any business runs on software programs and like all companies, we have a variety of programs. The biggest challenge is always making sure that we deploy a software program that is accessible for someone with a, uh, who might have visual impairment. So the biggest challenge there is just working with these pro these large companies who may not be focused on accessibility. And so convincing them to do that or doing it ourselves in the end, we've created our own digital accessibility practice because we knew that the only way we could really tackle this issue was to do it ourselves. In our distribution center, we use a thing called Vocollect, which is really a pick to voice, um, technology where someone who is blind can wear a headset, have a scanning device on their arm, and they can use that very effectively to pick and pack orders.

Jeffrey Hawting (07:58):
So it's all a matter of looking at every job and you're right. It isn't necessarily, it is a challenge even for us and we specialize in it, but we really do focus on just looking at every job and saying, can someone who is blind do that job. And if we hear ourselves say no, then we really do challenge ourselves and say, okay, have we really been creative enough? Have we thought this through? Have we asked the actual person who is blind? How would they do it? So it's all a matter of communication. And I think I use a word, a lot intentionality Torin. Uh, I think we, there is a need to be intentional around trying to make a difference. And so I think that's what sort of guides our thinking all the time when it comes to finding new opportunities.

Torin Ellis (08:47):
When you mentioned digital accessibility practice, I hear that through the lens of, um, let's say solutions that that will work internally. We, we sometimes refer to them as homegrown solutions versus purchasing something or a solution off of the shelf. Is that what you mean? Do you have a special team of individuals that are solely focused on, let's just say research and development of how the, to deliver and operate better or, or does digital accessibility practice mean something different?

Jeffrey Hawting (09:21):
Um, there's a significant focus on digital accessibility in the workplace today, mainly as a result, unfortunately, of lawsuits where companies are sued because people with a disability may not be able to access information. So there's a lot of investment out there in software programs that will, um, evaluate a particular website, put out a, it would be an automated program. They would spit out a report that shows the deficiencies in the website and then companies like ours would then take that information and then help the customer's website, get it remediated and get it fully accessible. So it's a combination of both the software program that we run in addition to the, the testers that we have onsite here at LCI that can do for the additional work.

Torin Ellis (10:13):
So let's use this as an accountability moment. So what you're saying is, if in fact, you all, uh, were to go to Torin and look at my site and determined that it is not accessible to a person who has a visual impairment. I run the risk of being sued and your organization could come in and help me to evaluate how do we make the site a little bit better? Am I hearing you correctly?

Jeffrey Hawting (10:42):
You are absolutely correct. I mean, that's, that's what our, so our LCI Tech, we call it LCI Tech. And just this very week, we launched a new brand, a brand new company called Ablr, A B L R. And if anyone's interested in checking it out, they can go to And that new company is 100% focused on accessibility consulting and disability consulting. And so again, we have the expertise, the software and the people to take your website or anyone's website, evaluate it, and then make it accessible for someone who's differently abled.

Torin Ellis (11:20):
Which brings me to a point because I remember last year when I had guests on, you know, every single guest, I think without fear of contradiction, every guest that was on did not from, from the corporate perspective, did not have a Twitter page or their Twitter page was the least used social channel, uh, in the organization. Is that for particular reason, is it because the Twitter pages and many of the social media sites are not accessible to this population? Or for some maybe just happenstance?

Jeffrey Hawting (11:59):
I think it's probably happenstance. I, I'm not an expert to know whether Twitter is or is not more or less accessible. I think one of the, one of the explanations could be, I think with Twitter, you'd really do have to commit to it and commit to putting posts up to be relevant and to stay in the game. So I don't know whether that has something to do with it, but I don't believe it's to do with accessibility.

Torin Ellis (12:23):
Okay. That's good to hear. So I know that there are a number of individuals that are happy. You all have changed their life. I look at the ability one program. It says that there are approximately 45,000 people who are blind that are, I should say a part of that particular program. How many employees are inside of LCI?

Jeffrey Hawting (12:43):
We have a total of just over 800 employees and almost half of those are legally blind or visually impaired.

Torin Ellis (12:53):
Incredible. Yes.

Jeffrey Hawting (12:54):
And, um, and the Ability One program covers people who have visual impairments and who are blind, but also who have other significant disabilities. So it could be, there are two sides to the program and both do amazing work every day, um, to drive employment opportunities. It's, it's a major employment program.

Torin Ellis (13:16):
So how does that work in, you know, suss itself out when you consider someone like myself? So for instance, I'm a pretty good communicator. I love to inspire individuals. I have a strong footprint. And so could I work inside of LCI and perhaps be able to teach those individuals how to do business development, demand, generation sales, or as a hiring manager, or let's just say a supervisor, do I need to myself have some disability or declared disability? What does that scenario look like?

Jeffrey Hawting (13:53):
So I think one of the, one of the areas that we are always focused on Torin and is making sure that people understand that in the ability one program in particular, uh, for those companies like us, that employ people who are blind, we are very much competitive, integrated employment. And that's, uh, that's something that's very important to us. So to answer your question, we have, as you, as you heard me say, almost half of our employees are blind or visually impaired, but they are working side by side every day with other employees who do not have a visual impairment who are fully sighted. So we have people at all spectrums of our company who are blind or low vision, and also who are fully sighted. And so, um, people like you every day are working in our company. And also we have people at every level of the company who are blind are president of business development, has a visual impairment. Um, you know, we have people running, uh, based supply stores. We have people in distribution, people in our manufacturing plant people in customer service, finance, human resources who are blind and have low vision that they're working side by side every day with people who are not,

Torin Ellis (15:12):
I love the fact that they are represented not just in LCI in the manufacturing and distribution centers, but that they are actually customer facing that proximity to the general public, if you will exist. And I think that that's extremely strong. I always say, you know, part of the reason why, uh, organizations, individuals struggle with diversity and inclusion is because they don't have that emotional intelligence. They are lacking that empathy. They are lacking in proximity. Like there's no connection. There's more awareness of what that scenario is like for other people. So it's easy to discount when black and Brown men are being shot in the street. It's easy to absolutely ignore the 1 billion people across the planet that have disabilities. Oh, why do we need to hire them? Like, it's easy to, to, to, to not pay attention to that particular audience. I love that you all have the arrangement where it's not just internal facing, but they are external facing with the general public. That's beautiful. Yeah.

Jeffrey Hawting (16:15):
Yes. And I think one of the things that sort of motivates me is the whole word disability just gets to me and irks me a little bit. Tell me why. Well, I think, I think about let's think of three words. Let's think of disappointment, uh, disintegration disillusion, any word that has this in front of it. Did you ever sound, do you ever feel positive about those words? I don't, there's always some negative connotation to them. So my fear is that when someone, even he is let's talk about the American disabilities act, we immediately think of it in a negative or pejorative way. And I would just love to drop that dis altogether, just get rid of it and, and focus on ability because that's really what it's all about is focusing on the ability of every unique human individual that comes to work with us and who, or who wants to work with us. And if we can stay focused on that. And if other employers can really stop thinking about this as a, Oh, is this a burden for me to even think about employing someone who is differently abled, if they think about it from my, from an ability perspective, then I think it's so much easier. I think we approach it with a much more positive attitude.

Torin Ellis (17:36):
Absolutely. You know, I say that often that talking about D&I does not have to be punitive. It absolutely can be of promise. And I love the thoughtful position that you have around that disability word. I'm going to be even more thoughtful myself as I'm referring to it, trying to be in the moment and say something that has more of an aspirational, tone and direction in the narrative. So thank you ever so much Jeffrey for that. Wow.

Jeffrey Hawting (18:03):
Um, I'm correcting myself all the time as well because it's part of the lexicon and, um, it's just easy to, to keep using it when we don't have to.

Torin Ellis (18:13):
Well, absolutely. And again, I always tell people that even those of us who are the most ardent of supporters, of these various audiences that are committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, that even we make mistakes, but that we own up to our mistakes, our growth, our development, we own up to that. And, and we submit to that with a smile. Like I'm absolutely smiling on my side. Like, yeah, I could do that. And he's absolutely right. So thank you ever so much. What's next for LCI? Well,

Jeffrey Hawting (18:44):
You know, this coming week, um, we have a really exciting event on Wednesday. We have a live stream here around noon on Wednesday the 21st, because it is the 25th anniversary of the place of the Base Supply Center program. And these are the retail stores that we operate on many military bases that are about over 150 based supply centers around the country. And, um, it's the 25th anniversary that we're celebrating. And it's an important program for ability. One, it's an important program for our, our U S military because we provide incredible support. And one of the, one of the, our employees who work in our base supply centers, and even our employers, employees who had manufacturing products that go into these base retail stores, you know, most of them, if they were blind were not able to serve in the military. So this is a tremendous, as you say, customer facing opportunity where they can feel part of supporting the country, supporting the, the rights and the freedoms that we have. So, um, we're, we're excited about the live stream event. We're going to, um, uh, do it from our, uh, office here in our manufacturing plant here in Durham, North Carolina, like on to bring in some, um, great forage from out, uh, Fort Bragg based supply center. And we're also going to interview, uh, John Samuel and Mike Iannelli from the newly formed abler company to talk about accessibility. So we're, we're excited about the

Torin Ellis (20:16):
Okay. Jeffrey Hawting president of LCI. He mentioned Ablr, it's AB L That's A, B L R three six Of course you can find LCI on the web at again, L C I Jeffrey, thank you ever so much for joining me on this Sunday afternoon.

Jeffrey Hawting (20:43):
Torin, thank you so much.

Torin Ellis (20:45):
Absolutely. And so last week I down in Charlotte, North Carolina had an opportunity to meet with the most diverse pit crew in NASCAR and those individuals, mr. Mike met Catherine, Sean, Pete. They wrote an incredible book titled 12 second culture. And inside of the book, one of the chapters is vertical thinking and how so apropos because of what Jeffrey just said. Jeffrey said even internally, they challenged themselves to stretch. And in the vertical thinking chapter, it says vertical thinking is about seeing the potential in everything it's new set of glasses in the workplace, a new lens for reality, it's about adopting a North and South posture unleashing the fullness of your mind, your heart and energy, not just the standard Eastern West posture, focusing on where you're going. I love the fact that those individuals, along with Jeffrey and every single individual inside of LCI, they're pushing the boundary. They are absolutely pushing the boundary of expectations, not mediocrity expectations. You can copy or grab a copy of the

Torin Ellis (22:01):
Again, that we'll be right back after this quick break. We'll be right back with more of the Career Mix with Torin Ellis.


Back To Top