Great progress made on Supplier Diversity Initiative

The Supplier Diversity Initiative annual report for fiscal year 2004 shows the University is continuing to make great strides in incorporating minority-and women-owned businesses into the mainstream of procurement activity.

At the same time, many involved recognize that there is still a long way to go and that the University still has room for improvement.

The 2004 report shows that the University spent $11.2 million with minority-owned firms and $17 million with women-owned firms, for a total of $28.2 million.

Construction spending continues to represent the majority of the total dollars spent directly with minority- and women-owned firms (78 percent of the total dollars spent with minorities and 68 percent of the total dollars spent with women).

This is the third of a three-part series on the University’s Supplier Diversity Initiative.

Additionally, spending with joint-venture contracts (those that are at least 25 percent minority-owned) came in at $8.8 million in fiscal year 2004.

In 1999, the University started to build new relationships with women-and minority-owned firms and businesses, and those relationships are continually being built. Sandra Marks, director of the Supplier Diversity Initiative, pointed out that the original goal was to cultivate and nurture these relationships.

The approach is working.

“Initially, the community needed validation that Washington University was serious about its commitment to change,” Marks said. “As an established institution for 150 years, WUSTL had a past that did not often reflect our commitment.

“After the visible changes of new relationships and new programs offered by the University, the community began to take a more serious look. We serve as a model now for others who are looking at best practices for supplier diversity.

“Although we continue to recognize the challenges and pitfalls we still have to overcome, we welcome the opportunity to share what we have accomplished.”

There are always more — and better — ways to incorporate minority- and women-owned businesses into the University’s goals. And to help get those businesses headed in the right direction, the University has several programs in place.

“We have indeed made some progress and have new systems and procedures in place to build involvement with women-owned and minority-owned businesses,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “But we still have not yet achieved the extent of engagement that would seemingly be possible.

“We must continue our efforts to build capacity and sustain our proactive efforts to work with existing and new companies.”

One of those efforts, a “Business of Construction” series for emerging contractors, is a joint effort between the University and the Associated General Contractors of St. Louis. To date, more than 80 individuals representing 42 firms have participated in the course.

“The program of Business of Construction is a great snapshot of what some of these contractors need to know because a lot of them are very small,” said Marion Hayes III, a University alum and owner of BRK Electric. “Some of them might only work in residential areas, but have not been exposed to the major construction process. So if they just dropped into a WashU job, they wouldn’t know the process of running the business.”

Marks and some of her colleagues are working on a development plan to address other nonconstruction spending opportunities.

“Without a plan, one doesn’t know what progress has been made,” said Alan Kuebler, executive director for resource management and one of the people working on the plan. “The plan that we have developed serves to be a constant reminder of the importance of this Supplier Diversity Initiative.

“This is necessary as we work to provide meaningful business opportunities at the University for minority-owned firms. We are working toward that day in the future when special effort to seek MBEs (Minority Business Enterprise suppliers) to do business with is no longer necessary. On that day, doing business with MBEs will be the norm; the economic playing field will have been leveled.”

And when all is said and done, the minority-and women-owned firms won’t be the only beneficiaries of the University’s effort.

Nor will the University be the lone beneficiary.

“We anticipate continuing to invest time and resources in these efforts to better reflect the face of our region on our capital projects and in the firms from whom we purchase products and services,” Wrighton said. “I am encouraged that so many from the University are actively participating in these efforts. These efforts are good for the University and bring benefit to many in our region as well.

“Much progress has been made, and yet we know there is more we can do. The entire University team involved in this effort is making a big difference, and I am grateful for its efforts.”