Opportunity knocks for WBE suppliers
of technical products & services
“As more WBEs develop skills in the utility work we require, we expect their percentage with us to increase.” – Hamid Habibi, BPA
“WBEs and MBEs are good for our business. We find our diversity program is as much of an equalizer in the proposal process as price and delivery.”
– Jamie Crump, United Rentals
By Dan Margherita
Opportunities abound for woman-owned business enterprises that provide technical products and services. Companies are eager to add technical WBEs to their supplier diversity programs. Plenty of companies offer the work, but more WBEs are needed to take it up. The challenge is finding enough woman-owned businesses able to satisfy high-tech requirements.
“Only 15 percent of women-owned businesses are in the category of professional, scientific and technical services,” reports Dr Gwen Martin. Martin is interim exec director and director of research for the Center for Women’s Business Research (www.womensbusinessresearch.org).
gets your ticket punched
“WBEs in technical fields have room for growth right now,” admits Linda Denny, president of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC, www.wbenc.org). She’s optimistic, though. “Technology is so dynamic and just the word itself is so inclusive that you know it’s the place to prepare for the future,” she says.
Environmental engineering is an example of a growing industry that will continue to offer important incentives. “There are thousands of opportunities and many WBEs are such brilliant businesspeople that I know they will figure them out and migrate to them,” declares Denny.
Denny always encourages women business owners to get certified by WBENC. “Certification is getting your ticket punched,” she explains. “It makes it easier for WBEs to access the marketplace.”
Of course, “Certification does not guarantee that a specific WBE, or any WBE, will get the business, but it does increase the opportunity,” she notes. “Many companies’ supplier diversity people are true advocates for WBEs. WBENC certification can help solidify the connection, assuring that they get RFPs and have their opportunity to shine.”
Skill and creativity
are needed, NAWBO notes
At the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO, www.nawbo.org), president-elect Wendy Lopez is a case in point. Lopez started her own engineering firm in Dallas, TX in 1988 and grew it from a one-woman operation to a multimillion dollar organization with more than 200 employees. Last year her business was acquired by URS Corp (San Francisco, CA), a firm that offers planning, engineering, environmental and other services.
“Challenging economic times like these require entrepreneurial skill and creativity,” Lopez says. “When you’re responsible not only for yourself but for your employees, you can get really creative because you have lots of impact on how the needle moves.”
She feels strongly that more women are needed in the field of engineering. “There’s a national crisis when it comes to engineering, especially with women,” she says. Encouragement is needed while the women are in high school and even middle school. “If it doesn’t start early it won’t happen,” she warns.
“The new business climate being ushered in by the new administration should bring plenty of work,” Lopez believes. “But large firms are better positioned to get in early. It will be up to the large firms to use their resources to open the door for MBEs and WBEs.”
Bonneville: encouraging WBEs
to consider utility work
Bonneville Power Administration (Portland, OR) is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). It markets wholesale electrical power to the Pacific Northwest. “The DOE is our parent agency,” explains Hamid Habibi, BPA’s small business program manager. “But as a self-funding agency, BPA operates like a business.
“Although the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA, Washington, DC) negotiated a WBE goal of .07 percent with DOE, BPA expects our 2009 WBE numbers to be above 2 percent,” says Habibi. “We expect that number to improve as we encourage more WBEs to develop skills in the utility work we require. As more WBEs venture into the utility field, their percentage with us will increase.”
BPA reaches out to WBEs and MBEs at trade shows and other venues, encouraging them to take up lines of work that BPA needs. Applicants are invited to check out www.bpa.gov/corporate/business/contacts, a link on the BPA website.
The work BPA has to offer isn’t entirely technical, Habibi adds. “We move a lot of people around to encourage job growth and provide new opportunities, so we use space management and design firms. We have WBE programmers who handle IT support. And a WBE is very involved in our employee development and management training programs.”
Rudman Wink Associates:
WBE/DVE with Bonneville
Rudman Wink Associates, LLC (Alexandria, VA) is a trainer for BPA and the DOE. “I’ve never really thought of our company as a WBE; I focus on our expertise in our field,” reflects Robin Wink, principal and owner. The firm is both a WBE and a disabled-veteran-owned business: Wink graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1984 with military distinction and is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves.
“Our service is a niche product and, to me, expertise outweighs gender,” she says. “We’re gender-neutral.”
Pitney Bowes: WBEs can compete
Mailstream technology company Pitney Bowes, Inc (Stamford, CT) is eager to bring in capable WBEs. Lawrence Wooten, manager of supplier diversity, believes “There are WBEs with the capabilities and management to compete for large segments of our business. This could be in facilities management, print management, communications and more. It’s the responsibility of our supplier diversity program and the procurement group to find the appropriate WBE sources and develop them for current and future opportunity.”
But development is a two-way street, he warns. “It’s also the responsibility of the WBE to be ready. If the opportunity is too large to handle, look for a partner to help. If you are not equipped to respond to all aspects of the RFP, look to partner!”
Pitney Bowes is a member of, and recognizes certification from, both WBENC and the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC). “These organizations provide our sourcing teams with access to more than 8,000 certified WBEs and 16,000 MBEs,” Wooten notes. Pitney Bowes also accepts Federal SBA and state certifications and participates in trade fairs.
Gregor Technologies manufactures
to Pitney Bowes’ specs
“Gregor Technologies LLC (Torrington, CT) provides a very high level of customer service, superior workmanship and high quality,” says its president, Janice Gregorich. “We are structured to customize manufacturing and production plans to meet any customer’s needs.”
For example, the company manufactures parts to Pitney Bowes’ specifications and, “When required, we provide assembly and testing services as well.”
In 2002, as a result of its marketing efforts, Gregor Technologies was asked to participate in a Pitney Bowes ‘strategic sourcing project,’ Gregorich recalls.
Gregor Technologies was founded in 1989 as a WBE specializing in full-service manufacturing for OEM companies in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Today it offers a range of services including computer numerical control (CNC) machining, CNC turning, sheet-metal fabrication, and design and engineering support at all levels of contract manufacturing. “Through organic growth and business acquisitions, Gregor Technologies has evolved into a full-service contract manufacturing company,” says Gregorich.
Born in Connecticut and a graduate of Eastern High School (Bristol, CT), Gregorich spent twenty years at the Hartford Insurance Group. “In 1996 I left Hartford to join Gregor Technologies as director of administration. In 1999 I was appointed president,” she explains.
Gregor Technologies’ greatest strength, Gregorich believes, is its “talented and motivated workforce” of engineers and manufacturing process experts. It secures new clients based on references, past business experiences and target marketing.
“Pitney Bowes’ consistent focus on excellence and attention to quality has given us the opportunity to expand our services and expertise to a challenging global market,” Gregorich says. “Pitney Bowes is and will continue to be a valued business mentor.”
Icon Information Consultants
works with Pitney Bowes and more
As president and CEO, Pamela O’Rourke oversees daily operations of Icon Information Consultants LP (Houston, TX). “A key component of my role,” she says, “is to be sure our clients get the highest possible level of customer service. From creating the strategic plan to implementing a marketing strategy, I’m deeply involved in it all.”
Icon is currently supplying Pitney Bowes with contract workers in IT, as well as accounting and finance, supply chain and more. “I first met Pitney Bowes at a WBENC event in 2004,” O’Rourke recalls. “After a lengthy conversation they asked me to bid on an opportunity. They thought my dedication to customer service and my technical background would be a good fit for what they were trying to accomplish, and they were right. Pitney Bowes is a great partner and we are thankful that we met them!”
A native of Houston, TX, O’Rourke completed her MIS degree at the University of Houston as a single mother while working a contract IT job. As she does now, she made it her business to take good care of her clients’ needs, so when the contractor who employed her told her to “stop spoiling the clients,” she knew it was time to move on.
In 1998 O’Rourke founded Icon. The organization now has more than 750 employees in forty-eight states and 2008 revenue exceeding $82 million. Its clients include many top-ranked companies in addition to Pitney Bowes.
O’Rourke herself received a prestigious “star award” in 2008 from WBENC and the Women’s Business Enterprise Alliance (WBEA), the Houston WBENC partner. The award recognized her business success, community involvement and leadership.
United Rentals relies on
WBENC for due diligence
“Our criterion for defining WBEs is that they are certified through WBENC or through a government agency like the SBA,” says Jamie Crump, director of indirect strategic sourcing and supplier diversity at United Rentals (Greenwich, CT). “We need the due diligence that WBENC provides.”
United Rentals is a corporate member of WBENC. The company also belongs to the National Veteran-Owned Business Association and other diversity-serving organizations, and works with small business concerns. “We attend events and conferences every year and actively solicit relationships. Companies can come to our website, register online and present their certificates,” Crump notes.
United Rentals has been at the WBENC national conference for each of the last three years. “Last year I broke my leg the day before the conference started and attended in a wheelchair,” Crump says. “That’s how important it is to me.”
United Rentals finds WBEs valuable to its technical supply chain “because we want our supplier base to look like our customer base, and because we find that our diversity program is as much of an equalizer in the proposal process as price and delivery. It’s good for the community and good for business.”
Plus, of course, the fact that “Most U.S. General Service Administration (GSA) contracts have specific requirements for minority business representation,” she notes.
“You have to cross that line”
“United Rentals is transparent in how they deal with their vendors. They walk their talk,” says Sandra Ruiz-Desai, founder and CEO of Desai Communications (Stamford, CT).
Desai Communications is a WBE and MBE founded in 1979 to provide enhanced graphic capabilities for clients of a company started by Bharat Desai, Sandra’s husband. Over the years the company moved from traditional to cutting-edge graphics technology. From a three-woman typesetting and graphics company, Desai has evolved into a full-service branding and communications house. “We have jumped through a lot of technological and economic hoops to grow and service our clients’ needs,” says Sandra Desai.
For the last two years the company has been recognized by Fortune as one of the 5,000 fastest-growing small businesses. In 2007 it enjoyed a 60 percent growth.
Today Desai Communications is an international firm providing large-format graphics for interiors and exteriors, plus promotional products and marketing services, to a client base that includes PepsiCo, Diageo, General Electric, Xerox and Heineken as well as United Rentals.
Desai is optimistic about the future of small businesses, including WBEs. “Small businesses are the backbone of the economy and a large percentage of them are women-owned, so how can you ignore WBEs?” she asks. She believes WBEs are successful because “Women are intuitive and have a different way of doing things.”
Desai encourages WBEs to keep knocking on the door. “If you follow through you have a chance to reap incredible rewards. You have to cross that line!”
Ahold USA: bringing
players to the table
“The main criterion for being on our list as a WBE is certification by WBENC,” says James Sturgis, director of supplier diversity for Ahold USA (Quincy, MA). The supermarket giant also accepts certifications from city and state governments.
In addition to products, Ahold purchases technical and other services. “We try to lower costs by bringing more players to the table. Not all WBEs and MBEs will get business but many do, especially smaller, more efficient companies.”
WBEs are invited to attend trade fairs that Ahold sponsors. Sturgis also works with WBE organizations including the Center for Women & Enterprise (CWE) and the Women Presidents Organization (WPO).
ITT: WBEs supply components,
tech service writing and more
ITT Corp (White Plains, NY) is a diversified, high-tech engineering and manufacturing company that plays an important role in vital markets like global defense and security. Shari Hampton, small business liaison officer, believes WBEs “present tremendous opportunities. ITT Corp is working to bring more of them into our supplier chain.”
Hampton is a strong proponent of outreach efforts. She has encouraged the company to host trade fairs, shows and events for M/WBEs; prospective vendors can go to the ITT Corp website for complete information about opportunities.
ITT Corp is currently a member of Women In Defense (WID, wid.ndia.org), an affiliate of the National Defense Industrial Association with the mission of supporting women in all aspects of national security.
The company is in the process of teaming with WBENC, NAWBO and the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC). “We are always on the lookout for growth,” explains Hampton.
ITT Corp is already using WBEs in a number of areas: supply of batteries, transformers and coils; technical service writing and photography.
“WBEs bring creativity and flexibility to our program,” Hampton declares. “We find they bring different ideas to the table. And as smaller companies they can react more quickly in responding to our demands.”
In selecting vendors, ITT Corp follows federal procurement regulations identified by the Central Contractor Registration (CCR).
Briljent supplies ITT with test
engineers and proposal writing
Briljent (Fort Wayne, IN) is a WBE that provides technical writing and documentation, employee augmentation, training and outsourcing services. Its president and CEO is Kathy Carrier, an Indiana native and graduate of Indiana University. The firm’s name is a Czechoslovakian word meaning “brilliant,” in homage to Carrier’s Czech grandparents.
Briljent enjoys a strong professional relationship with ITT Corp. “Given the size of ITT’s contracts with the Department of Defense, it’s a perfect match for us,” Carrier says. Briljent provides staff augmentation, including test engineers, and also assists with proposal writing.
Carrier founded Briljent in 1998 as a provider of services to large corporate clients. But after 9/11 ten of the company’s largest clients cancelled their accounts because of budget cuts, and Briljent shifted its focus to government contracts.
“When our traditional markets dried up we turned to the technical arena,” Carrier says. Today, she notes, Briljent does more non-defense work for the federal government than any employer in northeast Indiana other than ITT Corp itself. “We even brought in a chief talent officer to improve our recruiting process and our staffing results.
“I think WBEs tend to be great employers,” Carrier concludes. “Generally speaking we don’t have big egos. Our companies are well run with little turnover. Compared with typical entrepreneurs, we manage people well, and as a result we’re more stable.”
Carrier is the founding partner for Indiana of Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), and received the organization’s 2006 public policy award.
“The word is out” at AT&T
When working with WBEs, AT&T (Dallas, TX) relies primarily on certification from WBENC and the California Public Utilities Commission clearinghouse.
Joan Kerr, AT&T’s head of supplier diversity, is active in WBENC and immediate past chair of its board. She also works with WIPP, NAWBO, the Center for Women’s Business Research, the California Utilities Diversity Council and more. “When someone knows about a WBE that can do a good job on the size and scale we require, that information is shared,” Kerr reports with pleasure.
AT&T’s supplier diversity program started in 1968, and its WBE program launched in 1980, “so obviously the word is out,” says Kerr. “More often than not the WBEs approach us.”
Nevertheless, AT&T participated in more than a hundred outreach events last year. And in the company’s supplier diversity outreach ambassador program, launched more than ten years ago, some 500 employees from many business units are available to represent the company at trade fairs and other events.
“When we dig into the supply chain,” Kerr notes, “we find there are WBEs in every sector. We work with WBEs in the most technical and sophisticated areas of our business.”
Last year AT&T worked with the Center for Women’s Business Research on a project to provide special training for women of color who are business owners. The program is ongoing; its aim is to develop the WBEs’ ability to compete on the scale required by AT&T.
Kerr has advice for WBEs. “Know how your customer operates and focus on quality. This,” Kerr believes, “is the biggest success differentiator.”
Major League Baseball
looks to WBEs
Major League Baseball (MLB, New York, NY) brings in WBEs for services in its corporate offices and also to various teams in the league. Clayton Judge, director of supplier diversity for MLB’s diverse business partners program, relies on WBENC for women-owned business certification and also, since MLB HQ are in New York, NY, on the Women Presidents’ Educational Organization-NY, WBENC’s regional affiliate in New York and northern New Jersey.
At each year’s end, Judge says, he reviews MLB’s top five and bottom five commodities listings to see if there’s room for improvement in terms of supplier diversity. “In the technical arena we currently see opportunities in construction and security at a number of our parks,” Judge points out.
committed to WBEs
“We are committed to growing and developing women-owned suppliers,” says Valerie Holpp, spokesperson for Southern Company (Atlanta, GA). Southern Co provides retail electricity: currently about five percent of the entire U.S. market.
Some years the company’s work with its diverse supplier base includes more spend with WBEs than MBEs. One active WBE is Raeford Land Clearing (Marietta, GA), owned by Vickley Raeford, which works for Southern Co’s Georgia Power affiliate.
Even deeper into the technical field is Vulcan Insulation Co, LLC, owned by Sandra R. Killion with Phyllis Paramore as CEO. Vulcan is an industrial insulation contractor, handling thermal insulation and asbestos abatement for the utility.
Southern Co also offers a mentoring program for its diverse suppliers, including scholarships to the Tuck business school, and a second-tier program that encourages prime suppliers to subcontract to minority- and women-owned firms.
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES & AGENCIES
Check websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|Ahold USA (Quincy, MA)
|Supermarkets from New England to Virginia
|AT&T (San Ramon, CA)
|Telephone, TV and Internet services
|Bonneville Power Administration
(Portland, OR) www.bpa.gov
|Power generation and distribution in the Pacific
|ITT Corp (White Plains, NY)
|Water and fluids management, global defense and
security, motion and flow control
|Major League Baseball (New York, NY)
|Operates thirty major league franchises
|Pitney Bowes (Stamford, CT)
|Schering-Plough (Kenilworth, NJ)
|Southern Company (Atlanta, GA)
|Power generation and distribution to the southeastern U.S.
|United Rentals (Shelton, CT)
Back to Top