- Jon Henes served as the national finance chair for Kamala Harris’ presidential bid.
- The experience changed his worldview and opened his eyes to the importance of diversity.
- Henes launched C Street Advisory Group to help CEOs advance diversity and inclusion.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
For most people, serving as the national finance chair for Kamala Harris’ presidential bid would be considered an opportunity of a lifetime. But for Jon Henes, it meant a lot more.
On Harris’ campaign trail, Henes, who is white, built rapport with hundreds of people from a multitude of backgrounds, specifically in Black and Hispanic communities. He spent day after day listening to Harris deliver speeches on reducing income inequality and reforming education. But he distinctly remembers being particularly moved at a private event in early 2019 when Harris told him, “The vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us.”
After that conversation, he felt inspired to do more meaningful work with his career. Now, after almost three years of reflection, Henes has launched C Street Advisory Group, a consulting firm focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. C Street, whose name is a nod to C-suite, employs 15 people and is financed by Antara Capital, a hedge fund backed by Blackstone.
Henes said he “saw the strength and the power of diversity” while volunteering for Harris. He added, “Her words led me to look for commonality, to fight each day to do better personally, and to make the world a better, more just place.”
C Street Advisory Group has four key pillars: corporate advisory, talent advisory, DEI strategy, and social-justice-issues consultation. The firm is set to compete with other top consultancies such as Teneo.
“I think what makes us different is we designed C Street for this era in corporate history,” Henes said. “To get DEI right, you’re going to need to bring in talent, and you’re going to need to have the communications. You’re going to need the governance advice. You may need executive comp advice to actually incentivize certain people who may not believe in your mission.”
George Floyd’s murder in the summer of 2020 shook CEOs to their core. Along with billion-dollar investments in racial equity, they rushed to hire DEI consultants and executives. But in Henes’ eyes, there is still more work to be done. And to do that work, he’s hired a team consisting of race-relations specialists, research scientists, executive consultants, and lawyers.
Alvin Tillery, a DEI and race-relations consultant who has more than two decades of experience advising Fortune 500 companies, is leading DEI at C Street. Also on that team is Thomas Ogorzalek, a research scientist with more than 15 years of experience analyzing public policy, public opinion, and race in the US.
“Whether it’s the young employees or the big investors that are pushing for change, what companies need to realize is, they’ve got to do more than window dressing,” Henes said. “They’ve got to make it systemic.”
Henes spent 25 years as a legal-restructuring, crisis, and corporate-governance advisor to CEOs. His goal for the next year is to build a roster of high-profile clients. Over the next five years, he wants to change the way corporate America talks about diversity.
“In all candor, we want to make systemic diversity, equity, and inclusion the norm,” he said. “We want the country to celebrate our unique and amazing diversity and understand that if we stand together as one, there is no limit to what we can achieve.”