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Supplier Diversity

Dell gives diverse suppliers the resources to flourish

What began as a compliance-driven program for Dell has grown into a model of inclusion. Recognitions include a seat at the Billion Dollar Roundtable


'When we launched our supplier diversity program in 1997, we assigned resources and established infrastructure for target settings and metrics to measure our progress," says Cyndi Hopkins, director of global supplier diversity at Dell Inc (Round Rock, TX), global computer technology firm.

Although the Dell supplier diversity program was compliance-driven at first, it quickly transformed into a more robust program. Today the program covers minority business enterprises (MBEs), women's business enterprises (WBEs), historically underutilized business (HUB) zone businesses, small disadvantaged businesses, veteran-owned businesses and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

Hopkins, who has a BA in economics from the University of Texas (Austin, TX), has been leading the team for the past year and a half. Over her fourteen-year career at Dell she has held a variety of roles, including ones in corporate finance, product development and engineering, procurement and supplier diversity. The breadth of her experience gives her a good understanding of the overall company and its business needs.

In June, she received an "Applause" award from the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) for her work to expand opportunities for WBEs.

A marathon, not a sprint
The Dell team takes a proactive approach to supplier diversity, particularly in the case of new suppliers. "We initially pair internal business partners with potential suppliers, making introductions via email, and then set up conference calls. If we can, we arrange for face-to-face meetings. We have really strong relationships internally," she notes. "For instance, we have one diverse supplier, a software application developer, that provides healthcare and financial services software that we've been able to introduce to our internal partners."

However, she cautions that it is a long road from the initial contact to winning contracts. "It's a marathon, not a sprint," Hopkins emphasizes. "We tell our supplier base to be pleasantly persistent, and to understand where they fit in the supply chain and the importance of timing. We want to ensure our diverse suppliers are identified for the right opportunities."

Elements of the program
The current program has four key components: driving supply base diversity, enabling and developing diverse suppliers, expanding the program's reach and relevance internally and externally, and driving tier 2 adoption by primary suppliers.

Last year, the Dell supplier diversity team completed a complex project, using census data to identify category and commodity-specific opportunities so that they could be more targeted in identifying goals and opportunities for diverse suppliers. They also identified and benchmarked their diverse spend with MBEs and WBEs.

"We found that while there were still opportunities to increase our diverse spend, we often performed up to, or surpassed, industry averages."

They also conducted a supply chain analysis to expand the tier 2 component of the program. "We wanted to understand the share of diverse spend by our tier 1 suppliers. We asked if they had supplier diversity programs of their own, and what their involvement was with NMSDC and WBENC," Hopkins says.

Last year Dell spent nearly $3 billion with diverse suppliers; the company is a member of the Billion Dollar Roundtable. "We were inducted in 2009. There are only eighteen corporations in that group," Hopkins points out.

The supplier diversity team is passionate about what they do. Their work is augmented by an extended team of twenty diversity champions within procurement. The champions have their own metrics and targets, and Dell is continually expanding the team of champions. The company does both formal and informal mentoring of suppliers, and the champions regularly take part in mentoring relationships.

Dell supplier offerings
All diverse suppliers may take advantage of Dell's supplier diversity programs, whether they are active suppliers or not. The company offers several programs for innovators and entrepreneurs, including the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN), part of the company's Women Powering Business program. DWEN brings together women business owners from around the world to share best practices, build business opportunities and access resources.

Dell inaugurated Ingrid Vanderveldt as its first Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) this past year. Vanderveldt, CEO of Green Girl Energy Inc and Vanderveldt Energy Inc, and a leading entrepreneur in green IT, was brought in to identify, assess, and potentially adopt new business and technology solutions for Dell's small and medium business (SMB) customers. During her tenure as EIR, she will serve as a representative and media correspondent for Dell at key SMB events, including Inc 500, while developing her next business venture.

The Dell Innovators Credit Fund is a $100 million technology initiative that gives qualified angel and venture-backed companies access to financing to help them purchase technology solutions for their business. And the Office of the EIR creates a community for entrepreneurs at various stages of growth by offering access to Dell experts, industry experts, videos, case studies and details on Dell programs and solutions for businesses at dell.com/eir.

Helping drive tier 2 supplier diversity
Dell has an additional mentoring program for tier 1 suppliers. "We work with those suppliers to help them establish or expand their own supplier diversity programs. There are three different levels, based on the level of maturity of their program. We look to help establish a program when they don't have one, and to drive the less-mature programs toward understanding what steps they need to take next. For the mature suppliers, we work to increase inclusion and give them feedback on performance," says Hopkins.

In return, diverse suppliers benefit Dell. "The Dell supplier diversity program is a multidimensional value proposition. Our diverse partners are critical. They offer us a competitive advantage and they're critical to the technology we deliver. The program also demonstrates our commitment to corporate social responsibility," says Hopkins. Ultimately, diverse suppliers offer large companies like Dell the tools and innovation that are key to their continued growth and success.

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