Working with Nestlé has expanded Quest's horizon
The global food and beverage company had been doing business with diverse suppliers for years, but a new manager initiated new steps
Karen Blackwell is manager of supplier diversity and development for Nestlé, the global food and beverage company, in the Nestlé business services group. She explains that the company's supplier diversity program takes the classic two-pronged approach. "We look in two directions: internally, to assess and promote supplier diversity within the corporation, and externally, to determine how suppliers should approach the company and what our needs are," Blackwell says.
Blackwell joined Nestlé in 2005 to manage its supplier diversity program for the U.S. Before that she was assistant deputy mayor of Los Angeles, managing a federally funded program geared to develop minority-owned businesses in Southern California.
In the mid-1990s she ran her own lobbying business. She has an MS in regional planning from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
"I know what it's like to go through the ups and downs of the business cycle," Blackwell says. "I know what it's like dealing with government contracts. I've sat in most of the chairs around the 'free enterprise' table and it gives me a unique perspective."
Nestlé's supplier diversity program was established in 2000; in 2005 it was integrated into the Nestlé business services e-procurement group, which implements a strategic sourcing policy that runs across all business units and operating companies in the U.S.
Nestlé had been doing business with diverse suppliers for years before Blackwell was brought in, of course. But she put in new steps to get a handle on spend and educate the buyers. The company has had its suppliers.nestleusa.com portal for about four years, with some 4,500 active diverse suppliers and another 5,000 potential suppliers registered on the site.
Working on the Web
In 2006 a supplier diversity conference was begun to bring in prospective suppliers to meet with buyers. It proved a very successful way to help buyers and diverse suppliers learn more about each other. But in response to the financial constraints of 2009 the company decided to develop a new format to take advantage of the drawing power of the NMSDC and WBENC national conferences.
Based on what they learned at these conferences the Nestlé team created an e-learning tool to help suppliers educate themselves about the company's business. It's at supplierteleconference. nestleusa.com.
This year Nestlé will participate in a mentoring program launched by the Southern California Minority Supplier Development Council. "We're hoping to include several existing and potential suppliers," Blackwell says.
Quest Environmental works with Nestlé
Quest Environmental and Safety Products, Inc (Fishers, IN) is NMSDC certified and has several city certifications in the Midwest. Sam Yadav, president, explains that the company has been working closely with Nestlé's new Anderson, IN facility over the last year to determine the plant's worker safety and environmental needs.
The relationship began when Nestlé's Blackwell came to Indianapolis to introduce herself and look for potential diverse suppliers.
"It was one of their national videoconference meetings, and we were able to meet key Nestlé buyers in this way," Yadav explains. "As a result we've provided them with a market basket of products. We meet with their safety team, and then our people go back and research any questions they raise that we can't immediately answer.
"I've been really impressed with Nestlé," Yadav says. "They're very methodical and have great follow-up.
"Their sourcing managers helped us understand where we needed to improve our organization to come up to their standards. Their program is one of the highest-achieving we've come across."
Yadav founded Quest in 1997 to help improve the environmental safety of workers in any environment, he says. The company initially focused on pharmaceutical manufacturing, since the industry required compliance with both FDA and OSHA regulations.
Yadav has a 1983 BS in marketing and finance from St. Louis University (St. Louis, MO) and a 1991 MBA from Butler University (Indianapolis, IN). He worked in the medical device industry as a sales rep and divisional sales manager before founding Quest.
Safety products and clean-room garments
Quest distributes safety products for major manufacturers like 3M, Honeywell, Bullard and Mine Safety Appliances. It also manufactures its own key product, clean-room garments.
The pharmaceutical and medical device industries represent more than half Quest's business, "But we also manufacture for the nuclear dismantlement industry," Yadav notes. "The DOE has asked to feature our garments and our company because we have developed a really unique product."
The company's experience with FDA regs gave it an edge in understanding Nestlé's needs, but still there was a learning curve. Yadav says they've learned a lot more about FDA requirements that apply to the food processing industry. Quest currently supplies everything from clean-room garments to respirators for Nestlé's Anderson site.
A safety resource for Nestlé
"Our people are a resource for Nestlé and help identify the best products," Yadav says. "We also have technical expertise in evaluating hazards and we work with the safety managers and industrial hygienist at Nestlé's manufacturing sites to protect workers."
Special skill sets
Working with a global company like Nestlé has expanded Quest's horizons. "It has helped us develop our technical expertise to match up with Fortune 100-level requirements.
"Most companies can meet the requirements of small to medium-sized clients, but it takes a special skill set and additional resources to meet the needs of large companies like Nestlé," Yadav reflects.
Yadav arrived in the U.S. from the Indian state of Bihar when he was a child, and grew up in Missouri. His father came here to work on his MS and PhD in chemistry and went on to found a chemical company.
Several other people also played roles in Yadav's evolution, including execs and mentors in pharma manufacturing. "I'm proud to say I've taken all those influences and processed them to create new programs at Quest," he says.