The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ, Newark, NJ) started a pilot program for supplier diversity in 1985, says Ernestine Watson, assistant VP for supplier diversity and vendor development at the school.
The program was designed to answer a concern about how the university was spending its procurement dollars. Were local, small and minority vendors and contractors being adequately considered and represented?
"We analyzed our spending and saw that there was a lot of inconsistency. So the president asked me to put together a pilot, including percentage goals for spending with these businesses, which would go on to become a live program," Watson explains.
As it turned out, UMDNJ's goals were set for it. In 1986 the state legislature declared that all state agencies, including state universities, must dedicate 25 percent of their total spend to small businesses. That included 7 percent with MBEs and 3 percent with WBEs.
The specific rules have changed over the years, Watson notes. "The current set-aside law just says we must spend 25 percent with small businesses. But this is being challenged and studied, and we may have new goals for minorities and women in the future."
UMDNJ also requires its primary contractors to spend a percentage with small and diverse businesses through second tier opportunities. Ellen M. Casey, the university's exec director for materials management, has been instrumental in promoting that program, Watson says.
Certification and encouragement
The New Jersey Department of Commerce has its own certification program for suppliers to state agencies. "It can be a culture shock when new people see the requirements New Jersey has for procurement and vendors," Watson notes with a smile.
Watson's supplier diversity office also works with NMSDC, WBENC and their local affiliates. "We have lots of contacts with those groups, but all vendors require the state certification," she notes.
To further encourage supplier diversity, UMDNJ's office of supplier diversity and vendor development hosts an annual procurement fair, complete with workshops and an awards luncheon. Charlie Jernigan, manager of the office, organizes the fair, as well as arranging for representation and staffing at other appropriate matchmakers.
TCGI is a UMDNJ M/WBETechnology Concepts Group Inc (TCGI, Somerset, NJ) is an M/WBE that supplies the university with IT solutions, infrastructure, networking, helpdesk and more. Avis Yates Rivers, president and CEO, explains that TCGI is a successor to PC Pros, her original business.
"PC Pros was an 8(a) company and eventually did mostly federal government work," she explains. "We graduated from 8(a) in 1995, and I elected not to continue to concentrate on federal business. With TCGI I was aiming to go back to corporate America, where I started."
She launched TCGI in 1996 with two new contracts, one with Bell Atlantic and the other with PSE&G;, a major gas and electric utility based in Newark, NJ. UMDNJ, of course, was a continuing client.
Overview with Exxon
After graduating from City College of New York in 1970, Rivers worked for Exxon Corp (now ExxonMobil) for eleven years. She was in HR, public affairs, tax and the Exxon Education Foundation, "getting a real corporate overview," she says.
In 1981 Exxon bought several of its technology ventures together into Exxon Office Systems (Stamford, CT). "I joined the sales team and sold pre-PC technology, like word processing systems, high-end electronic typewriters and first-generation faxes," Rivers explains.
"It was corporate sales, and not too many minorities or women did that then. I was selling to big companies on Wall Street."
In 1985 Exxon sold the business and Yates went out on her own to service the Office Systems client list. "I worked by myself for a year, doing training mostly, since the Exxon word processing equipment was so new then. I trained the entire clerical staff of Hoffmann LaRoche and worked for the New York Times and AT&T.;"
After a year she hired some people and started up PC Pros, which was essentially an outsourced word processing department. "I just followed the technology wherever it went," she says.
By 1995 PC Pros was 90 percent federal, which Rivers thought was too much. She decided to go back to corporate work with TCGI.
"Now we are in the infrastructure business," she says. "Voice/data/telecom convergence is here, and we can be a real IT department for companies that don't have their own, dealing with VoIP, T-1 lines, their internal networks and so on. We are still focused on user-oriented services."
Before the shift in business model, TCGI had about seventy-five employees. Now there are about fifteen in admin, sales and technical areas. "I don't hire directly unless I have a project that will last a year or more," Rivers notes. "Otherwise I call on a group of contractors, or I may partner with another company or even an individual.
"I have a big network of partners," she explains. "I've been a sole owner for twenty years, so I like to work with partners to get perspective."
Eighteen years with UMDNJ
Rivers has been supplying UMDNJ off and on for eighteen of the twenty years she's been an entrepreneur. Her first job there was putting on a seven-week training course for the admin staff. Later PC Pros had a computer maintenance contract with the university.
"Avis Rivers has always been out in the community," Watson recalls. "As we started our supplier diversity program, we were looking for M/WBEs like her that could supply services the university needed."
TCGI has two current projects with UMDNJ. "Last May we took over for a contractor who underbid a computer support contract and couldn't sustain it. People were waiting three months to get a printer fixed!
"We got an urgent call and came in over the weekend to fix the worst problems, and we've been there ever since. The contract will be re-bid soon, and we'll bid on it again," Rivers says.
"The people I work with know I won't take on anything I can't sustain," she adds. "They know if I say I will do it I will do it."
TCGI is also working on HIPPA-compliant application deployment for one of the UMDNJ hospitals.
Dual certifications and more
Rivers' two companies were certified by NMSDC almost from the beginning, she says. This year she's chair of the 2006 NMSDC corporation of the year award committee at the national level; she's previously chaired committees at the local and regional levels.
TCGI is also WBENC certified, and Rivers has been vice-chair of WPEO, the regional WBENC group.
Right now Rivers is especially excited about the National Center for Women in IT (NCWIT, www.ncwit.org), a group formed just a few years ago. She's on its board of directors. "We're trying to bring together all the organizations working to get women into the IT field," Rivers explains.
"We want to be a change agent and provide infrastructure. We have challenged ourselves to achieve parity in the field in twenty years!"