Enterprising women stand out on the road to success
"Our suppliers are an extension of ourselves. All the qualities we seek inside the company we also look for in a supplier." – Marianne Strobel, exec director for AT&T Global Supplier Diversity
"Be patient and quietly persistent. If you're good, you'll begin getting the jobs you want." – Michelle Kilby, MKAssociates
By Harriet King
2010 is proving to be a very good year for many women-owned business enterprises (WBEs) in technical and scientific areas. As they supply expertise to corporations worldwide, they are also creating jobs for thousands of employees and a secure future for themselves and their families.
The large corporations interviewed for this article stress that they both prize and reward their superior suppliers. Their WBE suppliers include small and growing businesses as well as those that have already grown into multi-million-dollar corporations.
Cisco: 10 percent spend goal
Networking giant Cisco Systems (San Jose, CA) works with many WBEs and other diverse suppliers, as well as small businesses. Madison Gunter, a member of Cisco's global supplier diversity team, explains that "Our global supplier diversity business development program provides equal access to businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans, as well as to companies in historically underutilized business zones. Cisco's internal goal is to award 10 percent of our supplier spending to such businesses."
Cisco suppliers must meet specific criteria, says Gunter: certification by WBENC, NMSDC or one of their regional affiliates; a strong regional or national presence; a history of work with Fortune 500 companies; financial stability; professional customer support; and the ability to execute web-based electronic transactions. "All our suppliers are expected to conduct themselves with the highest standards of honesty, fairness and personal integrity. And they need a great attitude and flexibility," says Gunter.
Cisco maintains an opportunities list on its website that's updated every three weeks. "Be patient," Gunter advises. "Becoming a Cisco vendor is not an overnight process."
NTSG: Cisco supplier in a niche
Nancy Elberty is president and cofounder of NTSG, which delivers a full range of optical network integration services including network engineering, installation, testing, maintenance and decommissioning of SONET and DWDM networks throughout the continental U.S. The company is headquartered in Lebanon, NJ with additional employees in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Illinois and Texas.
Elberty began with a BS in organizational leadership and supervision from the college of technology at Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) and an MBA from Farleigh Dickinson University (Rutherford, NJ). Then she went to work at AT&T as a systems analyst and designer supporting the network operations organization. After ten years she went out on her own to become a global consultant specializing in network recording and billing.
She co-founded NTSG in 2001, and has done work for Cisco, AT&T, AboveNet Communications, Level 3 Communications and Nokia Siemens Networks. Through these relationships NTSG services have been included in the communications solutions its clients delivered to companies like IBM, Pfizer, Home Depot, UPS, Cargill and various government agencies. NTSG is certified to TL 9000 and ISO 9001 quality standards.
Several sites along the route
"In the world of optical transport," Elberty explains, "there are several sites along a route that need to be interconnected to allow communications to flow throughout the network. NTSG services are usually part of large turnkey solutions. Our job is to install and test the optical equipment at all sites and then turn up and commission the network.
"Our work requires highly skilled professionals focused on providing high-quality service to meet the requirements and expectations of our customers and their clients," Elberty declares.
Certification as a WBE opened doors for her company. "Organizations like WBENC provide opportunities and programs designed to help women-owned businesses succeed," she says. "They show you how to best position and manage your company to overcome the challenges faced by many businesses."
AT&T seeks technology innovation
Marianne Strobel is executive director for AT&T global supplier diversity. "We expect our suppliers to be innovative and excel at technology," Strobel notes. "They must be flexible and able to adapt and move at the pace of our rapidly changing industry." Strobel emphasizes that a potential supplier "must understand the business that we are in."
At AT&T, size matters in context with the project. "Our vendors must have the capacity and scalability to serve our needs. They must also be cost-effective.
"Our suppliers are an extension of ourselves," Strobel stresses. "All the qualities we seek inside the company we also look for in a supplier. Certification by a national organization like WBENC is also a necessity as it signifies reliability and financial stability."
AT&T partners with many regional and national organizations and participates in more than a hundred events each year. "Prospective suppliers can meet us at these events to learn more about our supplier diversity program."
The company encourages prospective suppliers to register at www.attsuppliers.com/prospective.asp.
Avion: following the deployment cycle
Avion Systems (Atlanta, GA) is an AT&T WBE supplier; Kanchana Raman is its founder and CEO. "Kanchana's expertise is in line with what we look for from a supplier," says AT&T's Strobel.
What does it take to succeed as a supplier? "Lots of hard work and the willingness to do your homework!" says Raman. Avion builds telecom systems and wireless networks for AT&T, Sprint, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks.
Raman launched her company thirteen years ago while she had an active one-year-old at home and was pregnant with her second child. "The projects I worked on were in wired technology when I started, but it was apparent that industries were going wireless very quickly.
"Besides my own technical expertise I had an international network of subject matter experts. I approached Alcatel-Lucent about teaming with them to deploy wireline switches at various locations and they were receptive. In eighteen months I covered sixteen countries, putting tech teams in place. We were a global company from the first year!"
When the U.S. economy slowed in the early 2000s Raman began working with developing nations in Asia, following the telecom deployment cycle around the globe while also expanding her client base in the U.S. Avion's professional staff is mainly telecom engineers supported by qualified back-office staff. The company has grown from its one-person start to more than 600, and has increased revenue and profits every year of business. "In technology the opportunities are there. You just have to look for them!" Raman says.
United Technologies Corp: high standards and stringent requirements
United Technologies Corp (UTC, Hartford, CT) maintains relationships with more than 50,000 suppliers in more than 180 countries, says Eileen Drake, VP of operations. "To produce superior products in a responsible manner we need suppliers who will meet high standards for business practices, environmental responsibility and operational excellence."
UTC's outreach efforts toward WBEs include company-sponsored events, national conferences and information sharing among the many UTC businesses. "We host an annual event, our diverse business exchange, where current and prospective suppliers meet with our supply management professionals," Drake notes. UTC also goes to WBENC and NMSDC conferences, and has its own supplier registration database, used across all UTC divisions. "It's a great opportunity for suppliers to register and provide their information for when an opportunity arises," Drake says.
UTC's goals of achieving perfect quality, 100 percent on-time delivery and best in class business results depend heavily on supplier performance, Drake points out.
UTC's supplier gold program
Some 75 percent of UTC products involve suppliers, so the highest standards are crucial. "That's why UTC has a program that facilitates and accelerates supplier performance improvements while recognizing suppliers who have achieved exceptional performance," Drake says. The program rates suppliers at four levels: gold, performing, progressing, and under-performing.
"Ultimately, it's UTC's strategy to grow our business with gold suppliers. When suppliers are performing and meet our business needs and requirements, we support them and help them grow with UTC," Drake reveals.
The Bernd Group: one of UTC's WBEs
The Bernd Group, Inc (Dunedin, FL) is one of UTC's largest WBEs. In 1990 Bernd began providing maintenance, repair and overhaul services to UTC's Pratt & Whitney. Today this gold-rated supplier is providing services to all six UTC divisions: Carrier, Hamilton Sundstrand, Otis, Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky and UTC Fire & Security.
"We have sent Pilar Bernd, the president of the company, to minority business development programs," Drake notes. In 2008, "Our CEO recognized her company with a supplier excellence award at our Diverse Business Exchange."
UTC also helps WBEs develop through mentor-protégé agreements. One such mentee, Lewis Engineering (Grand Junction, CO), is a woman-owned machining company that produces parts for UTC's Hamilton Sundstrand (HS). A mentor-protégé agreement was created with Lewis, establishing the company as an HS FAA repair station, and HS is helping Lewis Engineering get Chapter 21 approval as a certified independent FAA repair station. "With this certification Lewis can grow its business with other aerospace customers as well," Drake notes.
This year UTC became a corporate member of WBENC and was a sponsor for the annual Women in Business conference.
Verizon demands quality and flexibility
Monya Emery, supplier diversity manager for telco Verizon (New York, NY), notes that "Our company outsources everything from real estate to technical areas that support our networks. More than 35 percent of Verizon's outsourcing falls to WBEs and the financial total that WBEs earn with Verizon is over $1.3 billion dollars annually!"
Verizon looks for supplier certification through WBENC, NMSDC or government agencies. "We also expect financial stability and the solid technical expertise to be able to carry out the contract they're bidding on."
Companies that would like to do business with Verizon should register in the database on its website. "Then they can participate in the RFPs," Emery says.
Quality and flexibility are key for suppliers working with Verizon. "We also expect our vendors to have done their research on our company and to be able to quickly come up to speed."
Pinnacle supplies management services for Verizon
Nina Vaca, president and CEO of Pinnacle Technical Resources (Irving, TX), works closely with Verizon in professional services. "Verizon is fabulous with women and minorities," she says. "They are outstanding in offering opportunities to participate and grow!"
Verizon was one of Pinnacle's first clients, and Vaca's company is still providing IT solutions and consultants throughout the Verizon footprint. "Verizon gave me the opportunity to work on high-profile, large-scale technology projects," Vaca says.
"We didn't succeed in becoming a Verizon vendor on the first try or even the second, but the third time was the charm! From there we grew into a diversified IT services company with revenues of $200 million that employs 2,500 people.
Verizon's Emery and Pinnacle's Vaca work together in other areas, like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The group is holding its national convention and business expo this September in Dallas, TX and Vaca is the convention chair.
MKAssociates: "every job is our best"
"We try to make every job our best job," says Michelle Kilby. Kilby is president and co-founder, with her CE partner, of MKAssociates, a land surveying services firm.
In twelve years in business, many of the firm's new clients have come from referrals. "It's the best way to obtain new clients," say Kilby. "A referral means that someone is providing you with a reference as to the quality of your work." The firm's clients include Exxon Mobil, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Shell Oil and more.
Kilby started out working for a land surveying firm. She decided she could offer better service, and MKAssociates was born. The firm employs nine people to review surveying requirements of prospective clients and coordinate onsite hiring of a local crew to handle the actual surveying and engineering.
"The core of our business is developing relationships," she says. "We have a database of potential clients that numbers several thousand. Every time a 'potential' becomes an 'actual' we take the time to learn their business and their requirements as thoroughly as possible. We tell them, 'Make us part of your team!'"
Although MKAssociates may be hiring local teams at a distance for far-flung clients, the company always vets the job requirements and the teams thoroughly to be confident of a good outcome. It successfully provides services in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
"Being a woman-owned business has been an advantage," says Kilby. "It helps our unique service stand out."
She strongly advises women launching their own businesses to get certified: "You'd be surprised how many doors that opens." Her other advice is to "Be patient and quietly persistent. If you're good, you'll begin getting the jobs you want."
Hunter Hawk: reverse engineering of critical components
Sandy Hunter is the founder and owner of Hunter Hawk (Concord, CA). This seventeen-year-old manufacturing and project management company specializes in reverse engineering and manufacture of critical mechanical equipment components for industrial applications at refineries, power plants, mining operations, OEMs, biotech and government agencies.
She started her business "because I had two daughters and a golden retriever to support," she says. The daughters are grown now, the retriever is gone, and Hunter's business is thriving.
Before she went on her own she worked in industrial sales positions. She learned a lot about how equipment functions: actuated valves, safety relief valves, pipe, fittings and pumps with their shafts and impellers, vertical turbine pumps for industrial and agricultural clients. "I also listened closely to what my clients were asking for and did my best to supply exactly what they wanted and needed."
And she took lots of classes. "My clients appreciated that I was so hands-on on their behalf," she says.
Hunter got into sales management for an OEM and, she says proudly, "PG&E, the big California utility, purchased the biggest bowl assembly my pump-company employer ever manufactured as a replacement for another OEM's product."
When she founded her business, all her key accounts went with her. "Hunter Hawk designs and builds custom components for turbines, compressors and pumps," Hunter explains. "We get involved in remanufacturing when an OEM no longer supports a piece of equipment or the customer wants to do an upgrade quickly."
She's usually involved in heavy, older equipment. One of the oldest pieces she ever worked with was a compressor built in 1947. "It needed new bearings of a special material and design so they called us in." Today her clients include California municipalities, refineries, energy companies and manufacturers, and mining operations in Nevada.
Creating the "kit box"
Among the products Hunter Hawk custom designs and supplies is the "kit box." In case of a breakdown, older plant equipment often requires expensive and usually long-lead-time custom parts. If a part breaks down it could take weeks or months to find the parts and peripheral equipment for installation.
And that's where the kit box comes in. Hunter Hawk works with the client to determine all replacement parts for a specific piece of critical equipment, assembles them in one location, and delivers them to the client in a securely fitted custom container. The plant's people can open the box, do the repairs and have their critical equipment up and running in a matter of days. Sometimes a long downtime can mean $1,000,000 a day in lost revenue, so that represents significant savings.
Sandy Hunter was recognized as a 2010 WBENC WBE Star at the recent WBENC summit & gala.
COMPANIES INTERESTED IN DOING BUSINESS WITH WBEs & MBEs
Check out the active programs at these companies’ websites.
|Company and location
|Ahold USA (Quincy, MA)
|AT&T (Dallas, TX)
||Telecom, TV and Internet services
|Cisco Systems (San Jose, CA)
||Networking, data, business video products
|Office Depot (Boca Raton, FL)
||Office products and services
|Pitney Bowes Inc (Stamford, CT)
||Software, hardware and services to integrate physical and digital communication
|United Technologies Corp (Hartford, CT)
||Technology and support for the aerospace and commercial building industry
|Verizon (New York, NY)
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