Securing bids to do business with major corporations hasn’t always taken place on an even playing field for minority- and women-owned companies. Over the last decade, however, big business has begun to recognize that these underutilized vendors offer competitive products and services. In reaction, they have implemented programs to ensure that such vendors are in the running for procurement contracts.
Thanks to Dan Robinson, Xerox Corp. has become a leader in this diversity effort. As manager of Global Purchasing Global Access since 1993, Robinson sets policies and procedures on the total diversity process for Xerox. This involves developing goals and processes, and understanding legislature and outreach in the community as it relates to opportunities with women, minorities and other economic groups. Robinson has worked at Xerox’s Rochester, N.Y., headquarters for 35 years. Prior to 1993, he ran a global purchasing commodity chain for the company and had worldwide responsibilities for sensors and electromechanical assemblies.
Robinson says he has been instrumental in setting Xerox’s diversity supplier program apart from others. How? “By advancing the existing domestic concept and using that as a model and networking with various councils. [Then,] taking information from the various network sources and establishing a relationship with these groups. It’s a part of my ongoing [strategy],” he says. Supplier groups have been established in Canada and Brazil. Another is in the works in the United Kingdom.
Xerox currently buys a range of products and services from 500 minority and 800 women vendors. Purchases include manufacturing parts, IT, human resources, administrative and engineering services, facilities, production factors (electromechanical), plastics and rubber. Robinson finds suppliers through the National Minority Supplier Development Council, the Women Business Enterprise National Council and other national minority and women’s business groups. He also uses professional consultants like Diversity Information Resources and even attends trade fairs.
Robinson likes to be hands-on with suppliers. “I’m there from concept to end of life,” he says. He was named “Supplier Diversity Advocate of the Year” in 1997 and 1998 by the Upstate New York Regional Minority Purchasing Council. “My major challenge has been maintaining a level of spend and percentage amount of business with the minority companies,” he says. Adds Robinson, the ailing economy is a key factor in this challenge. Corporations have to keep customers happy while showing a solid bottom line. “They have to maintain a lower cost price for the product. In doing so, they have found that [going] offshore helps create that,” he says. Often, this means turning away suppliers. “It happens frequently. You have to bring something to the table where the customer thinks you have the added value. That positions you into the possibility of looking into opportunities to bid, and then you may be successful or sometimes not so successful. It’s a natural process of elimination,” he says.
He adds: “The name of the game today is rationalizing the data base. That means understanding what you need in order to get the job done. There is no specific number, but whatever is needed, that’s how you right-size it, rationalize it, downsize it.”
Notwithstanding the challenges, Robinson feels the supplier diversity program is making decent strides. “[It’s about] delivering results to the corporation, helping them meet their goals and assuring that we have the right processes in place. Just the idea that I can help contribute to the growth of our company and the growth in our community is personally rewarding,” he says.