Ameren builds a comprehensive supplier diversity program
Using a recognized model to bring its SD program to the highest level, Ameren now provides outreach, mentoring, scholarships, resources for growth and more
With approximately 8,500 employees, Ameren Corporation (St. Louis, MO) provides energy services to nearly 2.4 million electric customers and 900,000 natural gas customers across 64,000 square miles in Illinois and Missouri.
“Supplier diversity is a core business initiative for Ameren,” says Byron Witherspoon, manager of supplier diversity. “Our commitment to supplier diversity reflects our belief that diverse supplier partnerships are vital to the success of Ameren and the economic success of our region.”
Ameren diversity categories include minorities, women, veterans/ disabled veterans and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) owned businesses.
Following a recognized model
“In 2006, we increased our intensity around supplier diversity to make it more strategic. We performed a self-assessment to determine exactly where we were,” Witherspoon reports.
Ameren used an industry recognized model for supplier diversity success as outlined by Ralph G. Moore and Associates. The model identifies five levels of high-performing supplier diversity programs. Level-one programs have, at best, a part-time supplier diversity manager who may also have unrelated duties within the company and who does minimal outreach to diverse suppliers. At level two, the supplier diversity manager may have some marketing information and may perform some outreach. “In 2006 we saw ourselves as being on the level-one/level-two stage, with opportunity to grow and develop,” Witherspoon says.
At level three, the company has a fulltime supplier diversity person, and the program has established goals and a metric for success. At level four, the supplier diversity manager has a staff, there is outreach to regional and local organizations, and the program is fully integrated into the company’s core initiatives.
“At level five, you’re talking about additional things like second tier and other special programs for diverse suppliers,” Witherspoon says. “That’s where we are now. Our strategies and activities are designed to provide increased access, development opportunities and long-term sustainability for our diverse suppliers.”
Ameren has been tracking its diverse supplier spend since 2006. “In 2013 we did 11.8 percent, or $226 million, in diverse supplier spend,” he says. “In 2006, before we had a strategy in place, diverse supplier spend was at four percent. We saw the trajectory of our spend increase significantly as we became better at performing supplier diversity.”
Creating and strengthening the supplier base
Ameren subscribes to a supplier locating tool that identifies certified diverse suppliers across the U.S., says Witherspoon. In addition, the company uses local, city and state databases. “We’re also involved with the Edison Electrical Institute. Through that organization, we’re able to share information and exchange best practices,” he says. Suppliers can register their businesses at www.ameren.com.
“Generally, if a supplier reaches out to us offering a product or service, we will ask them where they see their sweet spot,” Witherspoon says. “We want our suppliers to be familiar with who we are, what we provide, and, of course, what value they can provide us.”
To that end, Ameren hosts a series of workshops that educate suppliers on what the company needs. The workshops cover not only actual goods and services the company buys, but also its safety and insurance requirements and other details of doing business with Ameren, Witherspoon notes.
Ameren offers two scholarships a year to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth (Hanover, NH) to established suppliers who work with the company directly or with a prime contractor currently performing work for Ameren.
“The program is one week of intense training around finance, marketing, advertising, balance sheets, and other business strategies,” Witherspoon explains. “The curriculum helps create long-term sustainability for our suppliers.”
Ameren also requires its prime suppliers who are working on Ameren property or bidding on work to provide subcontracting opportunities to diverse supplies.
“We believe a healthy, robust diverse supply chain is vital for the communities in which we live and work,” Witherspoon declares.
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