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Supplier Diversity

BMW Manufacturing: creative networking for diverse suppliers

Tier 1 suppliers join in the effort to tap a diverse supplier pool. “Our supplier base should reflect our diverse customer base,” says the supplier diversity program head


In 2012, the South Carolina Women’s Business Center (scwbc.net), an affiliate of the Charleston-based Center for Women, received a significant grant from the Small Business Administration. One stipulation was that some of the money be used to host a networking event that also had a charitable purpose. So the group teamed up with BMW Manufacturing Co (Spartanburg, SC) to help local victims of domestic abuse.

In December 2012, area women’s business enterprises (WBEs) and BMW tier 1 suppliers received invitations to attend a holiday PJ party. They collected more than 180 new pairs of pajamas for women who often arrive at local refuge centers with only the clothes on their backs. Along with helping a great cause, the partiers also made some great business connections.

“One of the exciting parts of this job is to watch how many different ways there are to network,” says Louise Connell, BMW supplier diversity program coordinator.

A diverse supplier pool adds value
Leaders at BMW believe that having a diverse pool of suppliers adds value to the company.

“We rely heavily on diversity within the company’s recruiting and talent management, as well as in our suppliers,” Connell says. “We really try to enable a culture of inclusiveness here. We also have a very diverse customer base, and we would like to reflect that in our diverse supplier base.”

In 2012 the company launched a tier 1 supplier matchmaking conference as part of an effort to take its longtime supplier diversity program to the next level. The conference connects invited current and potential diverse suppliers with BMW buying executives and the company’s tier 1 suppliers. “The conference has allowed us to really expand on our supplier diversity program,” Connell says. “Now we are able to touch so many more MBEs and WBEs through our tier 1 suppliers.”

The next matchmaking conference takes place on April 11, 2013. The free, full-day event will feature guest speakers and breakout sessions in the morning, then lunch followed by a business opportunity fair in the afternoon. Registration began on February 1; more information is available on the BMW supplier diversity website. Go to www.bmwusfactory.com and click on “Minority Spotlight.”

Tier 1 suppliers are part of the effort
BMW sees its tier 1 suppliers as partners in the company’s diversity initiative. All tier 1 vendors provide BMW with quarterly reports on their spending with MBE and WBE suppliers in the second tier.

“We have a target for each of our suppliers, and that’s based on their BMW sales turnover with us,” says Connell. She adds that suppliers also report on their participation in events with MBE and WBE organizations and share information about the company’s requests for proposals.

As of the third quarter of 2012, BMW had already increased its spending with diverse tier 1 suppliers by 64 percent over the total amount spent in 2011, Connell notes. Tier 2 spending increased 76 percent.

Vendors help with outreach
BMW suppliers have been part of BMW’s support for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

“We recently had a female engineer for one of our tier 1 suppliers go to one of the at-risk middle schools in the area to talk about STEM programs, to get young women involved in the math and science fields,” Connell says. “We also have a BMW scholars program that encourages students, including minorities and women, to further their education and come onboard with BMW.”

Network Cabling is a longstanding BMW partner
Since December 1995, MBE Network Cabling Systems (NCS), headquartered in Charlotte, NC, has been supplying BMW with onsite cabling support and closed-circuit TV services.

“We started out doing the small, onesie-twosie cable installations, but now we do the whole plant’s cabling maintenance. We’ve been doing that for the last few years,” says NCS president and CEO Louis Romero. “We get involved with large and small cabling structure projects. It could be a matter of an expansion or just getting a cable pulled to one office.”

Depending on the workload, NCS has eight to twenty technicians onsite at the BMW facility. The NCS team works closely with Alonzo Seaborne, BMW Group Americas region network operation manager, who arrived at the South Carolina plant in 2002.

“One of the responsibilities that I had was for our data center and wiring closets,” says Seaborne. “I met with NCS as well as some other vendors to look at how we could improve.”

When BMW undertook the addition of a new assembly hall where its X3 sports activity vehicle is produced, NCS devoted significant manpower installing more than a million feet of cable in the 1.2-million-square-foot space.

Getting started with new technologies
Romero founded NCS in 1990 after spending several years at IBM. He saw the new venture as an opportunity to get in on the ground level of some of the emerging technologies at the time, like fiber optics and local area networks.

“I had this idea and a $200 tax refund,” Romero says. “We have grown from a one-man operation to thirty-five employees here in Charlotte, NC, and about twenty-two employees in South Carolina.”

NCS designs and implements cabling infrastructure to support data networks, VoIP networks and CCTV systems, as well as paging systems and wireless networks. Before partnering with BMW, the firm had worked with some members of the BMW plant’s IT staff when they were with another company.

“Part of our salesmanship is to go after companies that come into the area, because we know that at some point there’s going to be an opportunity,” Romero says. He credits his firm’s success in landing the BMW contract to “a combination of knowing somebody that we had worked for before and knocking on the door of opportunity.”

NCS is certified as a minority business enterprise by the Carolina Minority Supplier Development Council, an affiliate of the National Minority Supplier Development Council. It was a move that BMW encouraged. “We were already listed with the state, but this certification seemed to carry a little more weight,” Romero says. NCS, he reports, has been certified since 2005.

Other potential clients view NCS’s work with BMW as an impressive credential, according to Romero. Through many projects over the seventeen-year relationship, NCS has expanded its capabilities, often with BMW’s help.

“There’s no question that BMW has helped NCS grow,” he says.

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