Supplier Diversity Initiative flourishes with Marks’ aid

First of a three-part series

It wasn’t necessarily a case of things being in disarray, but in 1998, the University definitely needed Sandra Marks.

While the University had a directive with the clear objective of increasing the use of minority-owned firms in both construction and non-construction categories, there was not a formal program with key roles and responsibilities identified.

The University also lacked formal tracking systems to begin to document where it was in spending vs. potential.

So in 1998, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and Executive Vice Chancellor Richard A. Roloff placed a call to Marks, owner of Marks and Associates, a business-development firm specializing in minority-business development, training and supplier diversity program management.

The University contracted with Marks in November that year to establish the Office of Supplier Diversity at the University and to manage its functions as director of supplier diversity.

“Executive Vice Chancellor Roloff played a vital role in launching our effort to engage the minority community and women in capital projects as well as in the purchasing of products and services,” Wrighton said. “Mr. Roloff identified Sandra Marks as a valuable resource and recruited her to lead the development of our Supplier Diversity Initiative.”

This was nothing new to Marks. After earning a master of business administration degree from the University in 1983, she worked steadily to promote minority- and women-owned firms in the public sector.

“I worked briefly as a marketing analyst before launching my firm,” Marks said. “I have been in business since 1985, working with various local organizations on the issue of economic development of small, minority and disadvantaged businesses.”

And she was intimately familiar with the University. Her firm had a contractual relationship with the Olin School of Business since 1988.

Through her relationship with the Olin School, Marks was introduced to Ralph H. Thaman, associate vice chancellor and director of facilities and management, to assist in the development of a course on “The Business of Construction.”

“Working with Ralph on this project in conjunction with the Associated General Contractors of St. Louis led to a meeting with Executive Vice Chancellor Roloff and my ultimate role as director of supplier diversity for the University,” Marks said.

As soon as Marks assumed this role, things began moving at a rapid pace. The first time her firm reported on the University’s spending was fiscal year 1999, when she reported that direct spending with minority- and women-owned firms was $9.3 million.

Since then, the University has spent more than $100 million with minority- and women-owned firms (including the minority portion of its joint venture contracts).

“Washington University does a great deal of business with the St. Louis business community,” Wrighton said. “With the large-dollar volume and the many goods and services, I felt that the University could do more with the minority- and women-owned businesses with a focused effort.

“This effort is just one component of our overall effort to be a more inclusive University.”

The numbers continue to grow.

The fiscal year 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. Construction comprised 78 percent of the total dollars spent with minorities and 68 percent of the total dollars spent with women.

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.

“The University’s ongoing commitment to the Supplier Diversity Initiative is the reason for its success,” Marks said. “To achieve the type of increase we have in our spending requires an intentional, continuous focus on the relationships we have fostered.

“Our objective remains to assist in the creation of wealth and jobs in the St. Louis minority community. Toward this goal, we’ve only just begun.”