New York Power Authority (NYPA, White Plains, NY) is the largest
state-owned electric utility in the U.S. It operates under article 15A, a law
governing all New York State's agencies and authorities.
And that, says Debra White, NYPA's manager of supplier diversity, makes
the difference between the approach the authority takes to supplier
diversity, and the approach sometimes taken by commercial businesses and
industries. "It gives us a few more teeth in getting things done because
we have state law on our side, as opposed to a 'best practice.'"
Sure, bringing in and supporting diverse suppliers is good business for
both private industry and the power authority, and of course for the
authority's larger vendors and contractors as well. "But sometimes it
just helps to have the law behind us," White notes. "It gives us a little
more clout with the prime contractors as well as our own purchasing
"We say, 'We're not asking you to do this because it's nice; we're
telling you to do it because it's the law!' It doesn't give them a lot of
"We try to work with the M/WBEs to provide maximum contracting
opportunities for them," White affirms. "To date we've contracted more than
$426 million in business with the M/WBE community both directly and
The purchasing exchange
You don't need to be located in New York State to do business with the
NYPA. White has firms from across the country in her M/WBE directory.
The authority's annual purchasing exchange is a good place for them all
to get together.
This is the sixteenth year for the exchange, which NYPA sponsors each
June at its White Plains office just north of New York City. An upstate
venue is added every second year. The most recent upstate event was in
Syracuse, NY this April.
The exchange is not just about contracting opportunities with NYPA. "We
go the gamut of city, state, corporate and federal," White says. There
are reps from other utilities like ConEd and Keyspan, the Port
Authority, the Office of General Services, NYC agencies, the Metropolitan
Transit Authority, the NYC Department of Small Business Services, and from
corporate firms like IBM, Colgate and Pepsi. "My counterparts at those
organizations are there looking for opportunities with M/WBEs right
along with us," White says.
The Empire State Economic Development Agency, which is the state's
certifying body, is also part of the conference. "They're there providing
information on state certification and how to go about getting it."
The exchange started as a one-time deal done in conjunction with the
National Minority Business Council (www.nmbc.org). "When we saw how
successful it was we just went on with the effort, and each year it
continues to grow. It's evolved into something that the public sector, private
firms and M/WBEs look forward to every year."
Winning by losing?
NYPA's contracting opportunities are listed on its website,
www.nypa.gov, under "doing business with us," White explains. "We can direct
likely vendors to the website where they can download current opportunities,
supplier diversity information or general information about the power
Both encouragement and learning by example can be important to a
prospective supplier, White notes. "Sometimes not getting the contract can be
a more valuable learning experience then getting it because you can
learn where you went wrong.
"We try to make it a win/win even when they lose. We talk about the
pricing, the proposal and the way the company markets itself. Sometimes
they're just not ready to compete but they'll be better prepared for the
next go-round and their odds of being successful can be significantly
"All this is done by a staff of two, myself and Yves Rose Valbrun,"
White adds with a smile. "We're making it happen nonetheless."
The supplier diversity program is housed in NYPA's procurement business
unit. "We have various facilities around the state that have their own
purchasing departments, but the head of purchasing is in the White
Plains office and I report directly to him. We work together, and we use
the same NYPA supplier diversity policies and procedures here and at the
Doing business with UCI
UCI (Unique Computers Inc, Long Island City, NY), a sophisticated IT
firm, has been working with NYPA for about three years. The first meeting
occurred at one of the NYPA purchasing exchanges, White notes. "That's
how we met Kalpana Patel, UCI's president. She's a valuable asset. At
the time we were looking for an IT vendor with a specific skill set in
SAP, and she was the perfect fit."
Launching the startupKalpana Patel, owner and president of UCI, was born in India, where she
earned a BS in management and an MS in personnel management from the
University of Baroda. She came to the U.S. on a Rotary International
scholarship in 1980, studying business and CS at Adelphi University (Garden
City, NY). She graduated with an MBA in 1982.
Patel worked in the trading rooms of several Wall Street firms between
1982 and 1997. "Basically I was handling their foreign exchange and
treasury operations. I was an executive directing and managing my group
that helped the traders manage their risk and portfolios," she says. "I
also dealt with their systems and evaluated new technology products."
In 1997 she was approached by a group of entrepreneurs to join them in
the acquisition and management of an established IT firm. Patel
welcomed the idea as an opportunity to work closer to home and spend more time
looking after her son.
But the acquisition never materialized, and the other members of the
group thought developing a startup business would take more time than
they were able to spend. Patel decided to go ahead and launch UCI herself.
"After a while I got the hang of running the business. An entrepreneur
has to be an accountant, lawyer, sales manager, human resource admin
and general manager at the same time!" she says.
While working on Wall Street she met Gary Rado, a technical expert
who handled complicated system integration projects. When UCI needed to
add new technology solutions to its offerings, Rado joined UCI as its
chief technology officer.
The company currently has about thirty employees.
At first the startup worked mainly with Wall Street firms, using
Patel's existing contacts. "They are still important clients," Patel says.
"They are comfortable with our subject matter expertise and IT skills.
"But after 9/11 the financial market was tough. When we went to local
supplier diversity events we recognized a huge potential in state and
local government agencies.
"Over the past two years we've reengineered and refocused the
organization, become very solution-driven, and aligned ourselves with major IT
solution providers. Now we're involved in security areas like
infrastructure virtualization, unified threat management and consolidation of IT
"We offer our clients a suite of products that work together and can
solve their problems. These are the enterprise-level solutions that
Certification opens the door
When Patel went to her first NYPA business exchange she was armed with
SBA and WBE certifications from the City of New York, had applied for
the SBA's 8a certification, and had done some work for the Long Island
Power Authority (LIPA). Now her firm has also received its WBENC certification.
The LIPA contract, "Gave us a head start with NYPA's technology needs,"
notes Gautam Tooley, director of business development. "We were also
aware that NYPA is a small-business friendly agency, because we'd heard
Ms White speak at several small business conferences."
UCI responded to an NYPA RFP for IT consulting services and was asked
to demonstrate its ability to support NYPA's technology environment. "We
presented our technical approach, capabilities and past performance
with private and public sector clients, including LIPA. Our technical
capability and our experience with a utility client helped us win the
contract with NYPA," Tooley says.
UCI received 8a certification in 2001. That has helped the company win
contracts with federal agencies like the U.S. Peace Corps and the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development, and subcontract work from
Work for NYPA and its colleagues
At NYPA, Patel's firm has been involved with multiple projects: an SAP
upgrade, a time and attendance management system upgrade from VB to the
.net framework, enhancement of NYPA's energy portal and Oracle Portal
development. "The heterogeneous environment at NYPA helped us broaden
our capabilities," Tooley notes.
Recently NYPA asked UCI to bid on developing an upgraded fuel
management system involving fuel distribution all over New York State. "It's
opening new doors for us within NYPA," Tooley says.
He notes that NYPA's experience, support and references have helped UCI
win contracts with the Hudson River Park Trust, the Metropolitan
Transit Authority and, most recently, a subcontract with global tax and audit
firm KPMG for quality assurance services for the New York State
Needs and capabilities
Part of UCI's excellent relationship with NYPA, Rado says, stems from
its periodic updating meetings with technical staff. "They tell us the
kinds of things they might be looking at, and we tell them the kinds of
things we're developing capabilities in."
A major new capability is VMWare which, Rado explains, "basically
virtualizes an organization's technology infrastructure." At a meeting
toward the end of 2005, Rado learned that NYPA was thinking about
reengineering and redeveloping its disaster-recovery plan and building the
platform on VMWare. UCI was quick to point out that it was already a VMWare
partner and had a successful implementation with the Hudson River Park
Trust. "The timing was great," Rado notes happily.
Mentoring and partnering
Patel is pleased with her company's mentor/prot�g� relationship with
KPMG. "KPMG has mentored us by providing us opportunities to work with
their New York State customers," Patel explains. And recently Lockheed
Martin selected UCI as its WBE subcontractor under an MTA contract. Patel
sees this relationship becoming a valuable one.
This is a time of growth and recognition for UCI. Diversity.com named
UCI the fastest-growing business in New York State, World Business Forum
Inc gave Patel a woman entrepreneur of the year award, and the National
Association of Women Business Owners named her its top WBE of 2006.
"Teamwork is the key to our success," Patel says with pride.