TNJ spoke with Ron Shinault, president of the National Minority Medical Suppliers Association (NMMSA), as his organization prepared for the 2004 MedSurg Conference and Expo, October 7-9, in Chicago, presented annually by the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA). Shinault spoke from his offices at COSH Healthcare Ltd., a distributor of medical diagnostic equipment supplies in Atlanta.
TNJ: What role does NMMSA play in the medical industry?
RON SHINAULT: NMSSA is an educational and advocacy organization that focuses on creating fair and equitable business opportunities for ethnic minority-owned businesses in the medical industry. We also have members who are, or have been, medical product manufacturers.
TNJ: How does NMMSA carry out its advocacy and educational mandates?
SHINAULT: In advocacy we focus on the public sector, working with agencies to develop their economic procurement plans as well as assisting them in meeting the goals they set in terms of diversity business utilization. Critically, we work with the government agencies in addressing the adverse impact of some of their policies on the viability of minority businesses. In the private sector, we have worked closely with group purchasing organizations and health-care provider organizations to make them aware that there are viable minority-owned businesses in the medical distribution arena that can help them meet some of their supplier diversity goals and objectives.
TNJ: What is NMMSA’s relationship with HIDA?
SHINAULT: NMMSA has an affiliate relationship with HIDA, since a majority of its members are medical supplies distributors. NMMSA’s educational programs usually are conducted during HIDA’s national trade show in concert with the HIDA programs. NMMSA also puts on educational programs independent of HIDA during midyear meetings.
TNJ: What is the environment like for minority medical suppliers?
SHINAULT: What we’re finding is that the health-care industry in aggregate gets about 16 percent of its revenue from the federal government. Of that 16 percent, probably a third of that is coming from ethnic minorities. Yet, when we look at the business that hospitals do with minority-owned companies, it tends to be one-tenth of 1 percent, whereas minorities are contributing 25 percent to a third of their revenues to the federal government. The health-care industry is just now [realizing] that there is a benefit to working with minority-owned companies. They’re very much behind other industries because the dollars are so huge and the companies that share in those dollars are so reluctant to see their portion decrease to go toward minorities.
TNJ: What do you advise your members to do in such an environment?
SHINAULT: We encourage our members to become 8(a)-certified with the federal government because 8(a) is the only remaining program that creates federal contracting opportunities for companies that qualify. It gives you the opportunity to compete in a manner where you can develop sole-source contracts with agencies.
TNJ: How can supplier diversity executives be most effective?
SHINAULT: One of the most important criteria is that they must have the ability to talk directly with the senior-most executives of their organization . . . the CEO, the CFO, the executive VP of sales. They must have visibility and support within that level. They have to be knowledgeable about the hurdles that exist within their organization. They are in a position to communicate those hurdles to small companies that are trying to do business with the organization so they know up front what they can expect to encounter. A lot of diverse businesses tend to view the supplier diversity directors as an inroad to the organization. That’s not the case. The supplier diversity officer is an advocate, not a facilitator, because they are not given that type of power. Organizations that are serious about supplier diversity, that realize that, with the growth of the minority population, this is the future gold mine of sales growth, those are the organizations that put people in [supplier diversity positions] who know how to work with others and can make the people in their own organization understand that supplier diversity is not a set-aside, not a quota, but a good business-growth strategy.