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Supplier Diversity

AstraZeneca offers creative solutions for diverse suppliers

It meets challenges that include worthy suppliers that don't fit its needs, diverse suppliers that outgrow eligibility as SDBs, and community health issues


The supplier diversity program at pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca (Wilmington, DE) was started in the mid-1990s by Zeneca Pharmaceuticals prior to its merger with Astra. The program began as the result of contracts awarded to the company to supply prescription medication to the federal government.

"Since that time we've maintained a fully compliant program," says Charles Gillean, supplier diversity program leader. Because AstraZeneca is a global firm, Gillean also monitors the development of its supplier diversity programs around the world. "We have done work with the supplier diversity office of the European Union, and most recently worked with MSD-UK and WeConnect Canada."

Gillean has spent his entire career in procurement and supply chain work. He interned for the Naval Education and Training Command, Atlantic, and his first job after graduation was as a buyer for a large utility.

"Responsibility for supplier diversity there was passed around to junior staff to administer in addition to their commodity responsibilities. By the time I left, I was knowledgeable on both supplier diversity and coal handling equipment. The former I use every day; the latter hasn't come up much," he says wryly.

Just before joining AstraZeneca, he oversaw the supplier diversity program at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority, the fourth-largest transit authority in the nation. "As a result, I am well grounded in both public and corporate supplier diversity programs."

Since taking his current position in 2001, Gillean has restructured the internal reporting system at AstraZeneca to improve the accuracy and timeliness of reporting. He's also established relationships with advocacy organizations such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the National Association of Women Business Owners, and small business groups of several regional Chambers of Commerce. He also speaks at local conferences on topics of interest to the small business community.

Gillean notes that the company finds diverse suppliers through memberships in groups such as NMSDC and WBENC, as well as through industry contacts. It also participates in the supplier diversity pharmaceutical forum of the Institute of Supply Management (ISM). "That group is very active in developing and mentoring high-potential companies to become suppliers to the industry," he says. "I have found that a big part of my job is to work with firms to develop their value proposition. You can be the absolute best at what you do, but you have to be able to communicate your abilities to potential clients."

The supplier diversity team works to expand the company's relationship with qualified diverse firms. "As a result, four of our diverse firms have 'graduated' from the small business category," Gillean says.

Another way to help diverse businesses
In Gillean's line of work, he often comes across diverse firms that offer products or services that AstraZeneca would not be likely to purchase.

"But many of these firms are in some form of retail that I know would be of interest to our employees. Rather than say 'thank you' and go our separate ways, we developed a 'virtual mall' within our intranet. The companies can advertise for free directly to our U.S.-based employees. This has been a win-win situation for us and for the diverse firms," he says.

A prime example is Lock-n-Load Java, a veteran-owned business that sells premium coffee over the intranet at AstraZeneca and on the Internet. Five percent of every dollar spent by AstraZeneca employees goes toward providing coffee to the troops.

Mentoring at AstraZeneca
The supplier diversity program at AstraZeneca includes both formal and informal mentoring. It has supported the Athena Foundation PowerLink Program, which provided a high-potential woman-owned business enterprise (WBE) with a pro bono advisory board for a year. Gillean works with colleagues from ISM's supplier diversity pharmaceutical forum and the Diversity Alliance for Science to establish mentoring relationships with diverse science companies. "This has helped firms get experience and exposure to the life sciences industry," he says.

Informal mentoring occurs every day. "Just a few weeks ago, we worked with a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) owner who was interested in establishing a contract sales organization. All he had was an idea. My internal subject matter expert worked with him on what he had to do to make this happen. We are working with him to get his paperwork in line to obtain his VA verification as a SDVOSB."

Outgrowing the program: blessing and curse
Gillean knows that a successful supplier diversity program keeps the company eligible for federal contract awards. But he sees the traditional metrics and approaches to supplier diversity becoming increasingly inadequate. The success of the program can sometimes be a problem.

"We are regularly faced with companies growing beyond the government's definition of 'small business.' We then have to find other avenues for our diverse supplier spend. But I am happy to see the graduating companies employing more workers, paying taxes, and generating money, which circulates within their own communities. And ultimately, these people will have health plans through which they will be able to afford to pay for their prescription medications," Gillean says.

Advancing Strategic Innovations, LLC
Will Henry is senior partner and managing director of Advancing Strategic Innovations, LLC (Wilmington, DE), a small, community-oriented management consulting firm. Henry started this SDVOSB with a colleague from nonprofit Nemours Foundation (Jacksonville, FL), Marihelen Barrett. Both Barrett and Henry took early retirement from Nemours in 2010.

"We created this organization to help bridge the gap between for-profit and nonprofit companies and public sector organizations. Our focus is on improving people's health and providing solutions that eliminate or reduce inefficiencies. We provide technical assistance, strategic planning, performance management, balanced scorecard tracking and health program design and implementation," Henry explains.

Advancing Strategic Innovations received a contract to work with AstraZeneca on implementing the U.S. Young Health Program in Delaware through a grant given to the United Way of Delaware by the pharmaceutical company. The program is being initiated in three target communities in Delaware to address the health risk factors that create obstacles to academic performance for adolescents ages twelve to fifteen in seventh through ninth grades.

"If you are going to bring about social change, you have to get the message out, so we are helping them with that. If the program is successful in Delaware, it will be replicated throughout the country," Henry says.

Henry, who is African American and grew up in the Tidewater Virginia area, was in the ROTC during college and served as an officer during the Vietnam era. He received a BS in business management from Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond), then worked for Xerox (Rochester, NY) in document management and business process re-engineering for twenty-one years. He went on to receive an MBA from Wilmington University (Wilmington, DE) and was a Simon Fellow at the University of Rochester (Rochester, NY). Henry also served as Commonwealth of Virginia executive director for employment and training for five years, and worked for five years as Nemours Foundation's senior manager, designing and implementing a Delaware healthy communities strategy.

Henry's experience in corporate and nonprofit arenas has given him a broad set of skills, and his long-term relationships with a wide range of leaders across different sectors provide him with a strong network of contacts. Although he and his partner are the company's only permanent staff members at the moment, Advancing Strategic Innovations contracts other experts based on client needs. "We look to bring expertise to our engagements. We're not focused on growth right now. You have to demonstrate value first. We provide cost savings for our clients by outsourcing where necessary," Henry says.

The Affordable Care Act is turning out to be a business opportunity for Henry and the company. "We're getting ready for that, what the change will mean and not mean. My partner is working with the Delaware Department of Public Health here, helping them strategize about how to get ready for implementation of the act."

Henry says AstraZeneca is a particularly important client because of the impact and scope of its work. Being one of their preferred vendors gives his company an opportunity to compete for additional business. "AstraZeneca is on everyone's list in the Delaware Valley. They speak highly of our contributions. We are a good fit and complement their culture."

Henry acknowledges that what he does now is more than just work. "After Nemours, I decided that if I wanted to continue to work, it would have to be something I was passionate about. I care about what we do, and we are making an impact."

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