Diversity Is 'a Distinctive Characteristic of Columbus'

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Alex Shumate was a child visiting family in his birthplace of Mississippi when he first realized how much his life differed from that of his southern relatives.

It was the year before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Shumate, whose family had moved to Sandusky from the Magnolia State, was both angered and scared by the open racism and signs that mandated "whites only" water fountains and restrooms.

As he grew up, Shumate vowed to do something to make the world more equitable to all. That quest led him to become a civil rights lawyer in the Ohio attorney general's office before carving out one of the most accomplished private law careers in Columbus. At every stop, Shumate has made diversity part of his mission, working to weave people from all backgrounds and philosophies into the environment.

Shumate earned his bachelor's degree at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1972 and his law degree from the University of Akron in 1975. He then headed to Columbus to work for the attorney general, advancing civil rights issues amid the ever-changing cultural and racial landscape. He moved on to serve as chief counsel and deputy chief of staff to Gov. Richard F. Celeste before joining Squire Sanders, where he is now managing partner of North America and leads the firm's diversity efforts.

His success in that area, he says, comes from recognizing that diversity revolves not just around race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation. Rather, it is diversity of thoughts, experiences and perspectives. "Diversity makes a community stronger and adds a vibrancy to a community; it's about establishing a culture," Shumate says. "A number of businesses have strategies, programs and initiatives, but it's where there is a cultural change that diversity is the most successful."

Shumate says one of the reasons Columbus has been so successful lies in its evolution from a community focused on diversity to one focused on inclusion. "Diversity is the mix," he says, citing a concept recently articulated at a Squire Sanders partners meeting. "Inclusion is getting the mix to work well together."

Shumate is sought out not only for his legal acumen, but also his business savvy. He was reappointed in June to the board of trustees of Ohio State University and is a corporate board member for the J.M. Smucker Company and Cincinnati Bell Inc. He is president of the Limited Brands Foundation board, secretary of the Columbus Partnership and sits on the board of advisors for OSU's John Glenn School of Public Affairs and the board of the Ohio Business Roundtable. He also co-chairs the Columbus Bar Association Managing Partners' Diversity Initiative to promote diversity among area law firms.

"I've seen and experienced the advantages of diversity," Shumate says. "I have watched organizations become much more successful and profitable as a result of really embracing a culture of diversity.

"Success breeds success. As we've experienced success in our law firm and various organizations and our community, we have embraced it more and emphasized it more. It is a distinctive characteristic of Columbus."

The biggest challenge Columbus faces, Shumate says, is broadcasting its story of acceptance and inclusion, to help those seeking diversity realize they need look no further than Ohio's capital.

"This is a great place to work and raise a family-for everyone," he says. "We must effectively communicate that. We need to encourage people to come here who are looking for talented young people-this is a community where they can make a difference, live successful lives, grow and develop, and be appreciated."

Nicole Kraft is a freelance writer.

Reprinted from the September 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.