Supplier diversity program goes beyond construction

Second of a three-part series

The University’s Supplier Diversity Initiative, under the direction of Sandra Marks, has made many great strides and realized many successes in the past five years regarding the contracting of services to minority- and women-owned businesses.

But no one is content with the status quo, which is why the University is always striving to make more connections and improve relationships with those businesses.

One of those ways is for the University to expand its direct spending in non-construction areas, through the Preferred Supplier Program.

“The Preferred Supplier Program at the University affords firms the opportunity to build long-term relationships and a consistent revenue base,” said Marks, a consultant to the University and owner of Marks and Associates. “Working closely with resource management, the minority vendors participating in this program receive marketing assistance and are encouraged to build relationships with those key departments that would utilize their services.”

There are many areas outside of construction in which minority- and women-owned firms can contribute. Buildings need the support of many areas of expertise, and that is where another University endeavor comes into play.

Maintenance projects on the campuses are now being used more often to train and develop minority specialty contractors. And one of the most successful areas has been in the area of electrical work.

Marion Hayes III owns BRK Electric and spent the past summer working with people from Helmkamp Construction on several maintenance projects.

“When I decided to open my own business, Steve Rackers (manager of capital projects and records in facilities) gave me an opportunity to work on a continuing-services basis on campus my first year,” said Hayes, a WUSTL alum and a graduate of the “Business of Construction” course offered by Marks, “and that was really tremendous because they utilized us during the summer, which is the season to get work done around campus.

“Although it has its peaks and valleys, we have been able to keep two or three electricians busy on campus since the start of summer, which has been tremendous. We run into some lulls, but (being there) has definitely been helpful to us. And it has allowed us to do some smaller jobs on the Hilltop Campus because we are here and they know us.”

While Hayes has been plying his trade mostly on the Hilltop Campus, Sam Hutchinson has worked on several projects for the School of Medicine.

Hutchinson, owner of Interface Construction, has been involved with more than 70 projects, big and small, in the past couple of years. All but five or six have come at the medical school.

His experiences here have Hutchinson anticipating other corporations and businesses following the University’s lead.

“Without a shred of doubt, Washington University, especially the School of Medicine, is the single most enlightened owner in St. Louis,” he said.

“Analyzing the influence of the University on St. Louis leads me to believe that many other owners would create real access to diverse businesses if WashU initiated a ‘follow the leader and prove it’ program.”

Hayes and Hutchinson are just two of the several minority vendors who have contracted with the University. The entire process was made somewhat easier because of Marks’ previous job running her own independent firm.

“To attract local minority vendors, I initially focused on my past relationships,” Marks said. “Several of the minority-owned firms we began working with have been in business in St. Louis for several years, but had not established a relationship with the University. My office served as a catalyst for making proper introductions and educating both the firms and the University.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the firms focus solely on construction, though. There are several other areas for which the University needs contractors: janitorial services, paper products, bottled water, and the list goes on.

So Marks set about looking for firms from all areas in which the University could benefit.

“On the construction side, we immediately began working with established minority general contractors (Interface, Mosley, Kwame, etc.) as well as our majority contracting partners (McCarthy, Tarlton, BSI, etc.) to foster relationships,” Marks said. “On the non-construction side, we began evaluating local firms for preferred supplier relationships.

“The first established contracts with Minority Business Enterprise suppliers were general distribution for janitorial and industrial paper products, United Technologies for printing, and Unlimited Water Processing for bottled water.

Since then, several other firms have begun preferred supplier relationships, and the University continues to search for new categories of spending.

In addition to the three mentioned above, the categories of spending are represented by the following firms: Brown-Kortkamp Moving and Storage (moving services for on-campus relocations); Catering Plus (catering); Champion Couriers (courier services in metro St. Louis area);

Minority Business Enterprise Inc. (remanufactured printer and toner cartridges); O J Photo Supply (photography equipment, supplies and services); Shurn Group (temporary staffing); Specialties International (event equipment rental); Staff Link (temporary staffing); and World Wide Technology (reseller for Cisco-branded products).

“The preferred supplier program has proven a great way to build long-term relationships with minority-owned suppliers,” Marks said. “The challenge remains to identify MBE firms in the supply categories representing substantial spending by the University.

“Working along with the resource management team, the Office of Supplier Diversity continues to monitor and support our existing preferred supplier relationships as well as promote new business opportunities to the current and future entrepreneurs in our community.”

Hayes said, “(The program has) provided the opportunity for minority and women contractors to be involved, but the thing that I really like more than anything else is that it’s not just ‘OK’ for a company to be minority- or women-owned, the University likes to see diversity in the work force, too.

“In my opinion, in the St. Louis community, we have a problem getting minorities involved in the construction process. We aren’t going to be able to create these minority-owned contractors without minorities working in the field.”

For contact information on any of these preferred suppliers, go online to