Pitney Bowes values and champions diverse suppliers
Pitney Bowes leaders say that small diverse suppliers like CIeNET can, in fact, deliver cost-effective, customer-centric products and services in the big leagues
The supplier diversity program at Pitney Bowes (Stamford, CT) was already firmly established when Lawrence Wooten, the company’s current manager of supplier diversity, came on board in 2009.
“I joined Pitney Bowes to re-invigorate the supplier diversity program,” Wooten says. “My goal was to heighten awareness around the program and build on what had been established.”
Wooten’s three-year strategic plan aimed to increase Pitney Bowes’ subcontracting and supplier development with diverse business, and enhance the company’s identity as a champion of inclusion. One of the first steps was to break down its sourcing efforts into categories: marketing, human resources and manufacturing.
“Each category is given an annual goal in support of supplier diversity,” Wooten says. “I work closely with the category managers and stakeholders to identify areas of opportunity.”
Pitney Bowes challenged its team to grow the share of business with diverse suppliers by 15 percent each year, and Wooten says the company has met or exceeded that goal each year since he arrived. “In 2012, our spend with diverse suppliers was 6.3 percent, and that’s a fifteen percent year-over-year improvement,” he says.
CIeNET Technologies grows with its big client
Pitney Bowes connected with CIeNET Technologies, a supplier since 2000, through a friend of CIeNET’s owner, who alerted the company to potential opportunities at Pitney Bowes.
Based in Oak Brook, IL, CIeNET is an international technical consulting and software outsourcing company with clients in North America, Asia, Europe,and the Middle East, and more than 1,800 full-time employees. It has an additional U.S. office in San Francisco and several locations in China.
Nearly fifty CIeNET employees work under contract for Pitney Bowes on a wide range of product development and testing projects.
“We are working in the heart of Pitney Bowes’ mailing system; a lot of their embedded technology, a lot of the software and human interaction work inside their mailing product,” says Michael Yuan, VP for corporate and market development at CIeNET. “Pitney Bowes is growing and getting more into a web-based solution with mailstream systems. We have a lot of these web-based technologies, so our programmers and testers are able to support them and grow with them.”
Yuan, who has an MS in computer science from Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago, IL) and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Evanston, IL), began his career as an engineer at what was then AT&T Bell Laboratories. Later he and his Bell Labs boss would start a staffing company called Utek, which provided major corporations with engineers and product testers. They sold that company in 1999 and launched CIeNET the following year.
“Based on our past technology experience, we started providing more full-fledged technical solutions in addition to staffing: systems integration, development, testing,” Yuan says.
Mentoring and networking add value
Yuan recently participated in a business mentoring program sponsored by another Pitney Bowes business partner, Accenture, a global management consulting, technical services and outsourcing company headquartered in Dublin, Ireland. For eighteen months, Yuan was paired with two Accenture mentors, one in sales and marketing, the other in telecommunications.
“The whole program is designed to help us prepare as a small minority company to grow into a bigger and more structured company,” he says.
Pitney Bowes also offers a program for mentoring key suppliers, either in-house with company executives like Wooten or through links with other organizations like the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Service Core of Retired Executives. In 2011, Pitney Bowes inaugurated a one-day annual supplier diversity summit at its world headquarters.
“We invited current and prospective suppliers and gave them an opportunity to meet with a number of the key stakeholders and procurement professionals to discuss business opportunities,” says Wooten. The 2012 event drew more than 150 participants.
CIeNET participated in both Pitney Bowes summits held to date. Yuan says his firm’s executives not only learned about opportunities to expand its services to Pitney Bowes but also got to network with some of the corporation’s other suppliers.
Opportunities for diverse suppliers
Pitney Bowes maintains a website portal dedicated to supplier diversity, where interested companies can submit a profile with information about their capabilities, recent sales figures and number of employees. They can also contact Wooten directly through email on the portal.
Pitney Bowes finds many diverse suppliers through its involvement in organizations like the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Wooten is chairman of the board for the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council, an NMSDC affiliate. His manager, Laura Taylor, VP of enterprise procurement at Pitney Bowes, is national board chair of WBENC. “I believe it’s very important that I get an opportunity to meet with suppliers face-to-face,” Wooten says.
According to Wooten, Pitney Bowes considers WBENC and NMSDC “the gold standard” for women and minority business enterprise certification, and encourages all its diverse suppliers to seek certification by one of those groups or their local affiliates. “Certified suppliers are vetted, and get business development and educational opportunities. These suppliers are some of the best in the country,” Wooten says.
CIeNET is certified by the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council.
“We’ve never won any business simply because of our minority status, but our minority status got us to the opportunity and got us in front of the right buyers,” Yuan says. “And the networks allowed us to present our capabilities and expertise.”
Connecting with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency brought CIeNET additional networking opportunities. In 2010, the company received a Global Technology of the Year award from the Commerce Department. At the White House awards ceremony, Yuan and other company execs made some introductions that led to contracts with Dell and GM, he says.
Wooten says companies like CIeNET make it easy for him to build a business case for supplier diversity.
“Many times the perception of diverse suppliers is ‘it’s going to cost me more, they’re too small and they can’t provide me with what I need,’” Wooten says. “But when I’m able to highlight a company like CIeNET that is doing great work for Pitney Bowes, I can demonstrate that they’re cost-competitive and delivering on our requirements with a customer-focused approach. It’s a win all around: for Pitney Bowes, CIeNet, and our customers.”