National Grid works with Prism Energy services
The utility is working to increase its base of MBE and WBE suppliers and build partnerships with groups that support supplier diversity
National Grid is an international energy delivery company, with U.S. corporate offices in several New York and Massachusetts locations. In the U.S., National Grid delivers electricity to about 3.3 million customers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island, and manages the electricity network on Long Island under an agreement with the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA).
The company is also the largest distributor of natural gas in the northeastern U.S., serving some 3.4 million customers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island. National Grid also owns more than 4,000 megawatts of contracted electricity generation that provides power to more than a million LIPA customers.
"National Grid has always had a supplier diversity program," says Carla Hunter Ramsey, director of supplier diversity, who joined the company last year.
"When I first got here I reviewed the details of the existing program and then we initiated an enhanced program," she says. "We're using that to expand business opportunities through outreach and training, and creating powerful partnerships with diverse suppliers to attain our long-term objectives."
Hunter Ramsey established her vision for the program and formulated a mission statement after meeting with key stakeholders throughout the company. "I wanted the supplier diversity program to penetrate all areas of the organization," she explains.
Internal, external awareness
She developed an internal and external awareness plan, including a website, brochure, requirements for reporting and diverse supplier metrics, as well as PowerPoint presentations for global procurement people, the executive board and diverse suppliers. "We came up with a plan tailored to the needs of each of these stakeholders, and we also developed an M/WBE policy statement which was signed by the chair and the U.S. president of National Grid," she says.
Hunter Ramsey has more than twenty years experience in procurement. She was director of purchasing, contracts and property management for York College (Jamaica, NY). She's had minority business experience herself: she worked for her father as EVP of a minority-owned printing and publishing company in Hicksville, NY. "In one person," she notes with a smile, "you have someone who understands procurement, has experience as an MBE and was both a first- and second-tier supplier. I understand some of the hurdles these companies face and I have the working knowledge to interface with procurement to make positive changes in supplier diversity!" she declares.
Increasing the base and building partnerships
One current focus of the National Grid program is increasing the base of small WBEs, MBEs and small, disadvantaged service-disabled-veteran-owned businesses. National Grid already offers workshops on how to do business with the company. Another important aim is building "vibrant" partnerships with organizations that support supplier diversity, such as WBENC, and NMSDC New England and New York-area affiliates and the U.S. Pan Asian Chamber of Commerce.
"We're also creating joint ventures with larger companies," Hunter Ramsey notes. "And we're launching an ambassador program to identify people in our company's service areas who can serve as supplier diversity point people for their organizations."
The point people, she explains, will attend procurement meetings and events and collect questions, comments and suggestions from people within their organizations.
Since starting her job last year, Hunter Ramsey has increased the percentage of dollars spent with diverse suppliers by more than a third. "We look to move from about six percent now to be at ten percent soon, and by 2013 we want to be spending about twenty percent of our procurement dollars with diverse suppliers."
Tom King, National Grid's U.S. president, is the program's executive champion. He's familiar with the value of a diverse roster of suppliers: before National Grid, he was with PG&E in California where diversity spending averaged twenty percent.
Finding diverse suppliers
National Grid finds diverse suppliers in a number of ways. It attends trade shows, participates in matchmaking events and promotes the program in local, regional and national publications. It also hosts purchasing exchanges which include both matchmaking events and workshops. "We partner with supplier diversity organizations like WBENC and U.S. Pan Asian to sponsor events. These are excellent places for diverse suppliers to network and explore potential business opportunities," Hunter Ramsey emphasizes.
National Grid wants its diverse suppliers to have WBENC, NMSDC or New York, Rhode Island or Massachusetts state certifications. The company offers informal mentoring to diverse suppliers: for example, Hunter Ramsey's people review suppliers' unsuccessful bids to point out areas where they can strengthen themselves for success in the future.
Second-tier supplier diversity programs are not required, but Hunter Ramsey notes that a substantial percentage of contracts have subcontracting goals identified.
Working with Prism Energy Services
Wendy Simmons is president of Prism Energy Services (Quincy, MA). She founded the firm in 1998 to provide energy audits and implement energy-efficient lighting systems, upgrades and electronic controls for commercial utility customers. Simmons, who has a 1983 BS in education from the University of New Hampshire, learned many of her engineering and project management skills on the job.
"I discovered I didn't really like teaching, so I began working with Norian/Siani Engineering (Waltham, MA) as an office manager. I was helping an ME edit his technical reports and do his project management work, and he became my mentor. I read everything and asked a lot of questions," Simmons explains.
Today, Prism Energy Services helps power companies' commercial customers lower their operating costs through energy conservation. The firm employs sixteen people, four of them engineers, and plans to add more in the near future, Simmons says.
Prism gets the contract
National Grid was Simmons' first customer. Simmons had managed a small business efficiency program for the utility when she worked for Norian/Siani, and when she started her own company she made it her business to bid on that contract, after "working out an amicable arrangement with my old company," she explains.
"National Grid was my only customer initially. Now we run a couple of different programs for them and also administer programs for NSTAR, the metro Boston utility company, Public Service of New Hampshire and Unitil NH. We also have energy conservation clients who are not utilities."
In 2001 Prism was selected as a large business vendor for National Grid. "It's a more competitive program than the small business program, serving clients with higher electric consumption and more complex projects," Simmons explains.
Although National Grid has no formal mentoring program, Simmons says she gets valuable feedback and input. "I exchange emails with the head of the company's energy efficiency program. He helps me understand their needs so we can support them.
"And we let them know what's happening out in the trenches with their customers," Simmons adds.