Veteran-owned businesses do very well partnering with the big companies
"We rely on small businesses to work with us and bring their innovative technologies to us. We're always looking for the next revolutionary technology!" – Suzanne Raheb, Lockheed Martin
"When it comes to veteran-owned, you definitely want to support those who gave so much to the country." – Jamie Crump, United Rentals
By Sue Marquette Poremba
The U.S. has been a country at war for ten years now. It's only logical that many major corporations recognize the value of contracting with veteran-owned business enterprises (VBEs) and see it as an opportunity to support those who have sacrificed so much. And the VBEs themselves are "paying it forward:" bringing in other vets to work for them. These are especially welcome opportunities for vets who may be returning from war wounded, and without many job prospects.
Pitney Bowes: "We most truly believe in diversity of thought"
Pitney Bowes (Stamford, CT) is a global Fortune 500 company focused on customer communications management. It is a prime contractor to the federal government, working with the Department of Treasury, the U.S. Postal Service and more.
Lawrence Wooten, manager of supplier diversity, is a veteran himself. He understands the importance of reaching out to veteran-owned businesses. "The vets are coming home and looking for opportunities," he says. "They have sacrificed for us and we should be totally supportive of them."
Supplier diversity at Pitney Bowes is important for two reasons, Wooten explains. "Because of our federal contracting we are obligated to meet certain initiatives and goals, including supplier diversity. But the second and broader reason behind it is that we most truly believe in diversity of thought." Small businesses owned by diverse folks do a great job of bringing that to the company, he believes.
Wooten has been involved in supplier diversity for more than fifteen years and has built an extensive network of MBE, WBE and VBE suppliers. Pitney Bowes supports national organizations in supplier diversity, and Wooten serves on the advisory board of the National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA). "We build relationships through these organizations," he says. "My mission is to find the businesses we want to outsource to."
Pitney Bowes is a technical company, so of course Wooten sees technology as a key component for supplier diversity. "When I first started building this program, one of the main areas was technology, and how we were sourcing current technology needs to diverse businesses," he explains. He invites appropriate companies in to meet with Pitney Bowes engineers and talk about who they are and what they do, in hopes of bringing them on board.
"A lot of times a supplier will build a relationship with an internal stakeholder, but the rest of the company doesn't know about the supplier. My job is to make sure that good diverse suppliers are known across the entire company."
Office Depot works with VBE Hoffman Technologies
Office Depot (Boca Raton, FL) wants to incorporate as many diverse suppliers' services and products as possible, both to run its business and for resale to customers.
"I also interact with many diverse companies to get them to resell Office Depot products themselves," says Frantz Tiffeau, senior manager of supply chain diversity. "Part of that is mentoring these companies, showing them how to run a business, how to work with multi-million-dollar corporations, and helping them grow and market their businesses."
Working with diverse suppliers is a business imperative, says Tiffeau. "Our customer base is diverse, and the majority of businesses growing in this country are small business, so it just makes sense."
One of the companies Office Depot works with is VBE Hoffman Technologies (Roseville, CA). The company started as an IT provider, but went on to incorporate the sale of Office Depot products into its business. Now Office Depot is investigating having Hoffman Technologies provide an IT platform from which other small businesses can operate. "The platform being created is fluid and flexible, something that we at Office Depot could not do internally," says Tiffeau.
With so many customers working off its platform, Office Depot would not be able to make changes for individual customers. "If we make a change that affects one customer it affects them all," Tiffeau explains. "But Hoffman can customize the website and make it a platform in which our other partners can work with their own customers."
When looking to hire a supplier like Hoffman Technologies, Office Depot asks the company to complete a questionnaire about its current status, its expectations in forming a partnership with Office Depot and how the partnership will enhance its business plan. "One thing we definitely look at is whether the company will be able to stand on its own regardless of its relationship with us," says Tiffeau. "We'll provide backup for them, but we want them to take the lead with their other customers."
Hoffman Technologies combines office supplies with IT
VBE Hoffman Technologies continues to sell office products through its affiliation with Office Depot, and also provides IT services that range from fixing ATM machines to consulting services to setting up computer systems.
Gary Hoffman, company president, explains that "We met Office Depot through a function for small businesses, and after discussion they decided they'd like us to consider being a partner. We thought it would make sense. We could develop our own customer gateway system within our own business, and it would work well as a transactional-based system that could accommodate thousands of orders."
Businesses survive and change because they form relationships, says Hoffman. He saw the partnership with Office Depot as a way to strengthen his own company. Office Depot provides support through its supplier diversity office, and "We have a monthly call with their supplier diversity folks, where we discuss the directions we need to go in and the adjustments we need to make," Hoffman says.
Lockheed Martin: one of the best in supporting vets
In 2010 NaVOBA named Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD) as one of the best corporations for veteran-owned businesses. Over the past two years Lockheed Martin has done more than $1.5 billion in business with VBEs.
"Supplier diversity is an integral part of how we do business at Lockheed Martin," says Suzanne Raheb, senior manager for supplier diversity. "We rely on the innovation, diversity and agility that small businesses provide."
To find these companies, Lockheed Martin has about fifty liaison officers whose primary function is outreach. They attend trade shows and conferences on both the national and local level. The company also hosts seven of its own supplier information sessions each year. "We target small businesses to participate in these sessions, and then we bring in our liaison officers and buyers, people who can help the small businesses identify opportunities," Raheb explains.
Some of the sessions are done in person, some virtually. Raheb says the virtual sessions are like Web-based trade shows where suppliers set up virtual booths for display to Lockheed Martin's entire buyer community.
The company also set up a supplier diversity Twitter account (@imsupplier_div) last year. "We post immediate needs and announce conferences and events where suppliers can connect with our small business liaison officers," says Raheb. "We also have resources on the lockheedmartin.com website to help suppliers figure out what we do, a bulletin board to announce immediate needs and a directory of our products and services noting where there's current demand."
New developments and rapid technology
What can the suppliers do for Lockheed Martin? Offer new development and rapid technology insertion, Raheb explains. "Small businesses are more agile so they can come and apply technical development." Since Lockheed Martin develops major global security solutions, Raheb adds, it's essential to have access to the newest ideas in technology. "We rely on small businesses to work with us and bring their innovative technologies to us. We're always looking for the next revolutionary technology."
Supporting veterans is important to Lockheed Martin. The company employs more than 30,000 veterans, and some 1,900 employees are currently in the armed forces. "It's part of who we are," says Raheb. "Our customers are in the Department of Defense and the military, so it's only logical for veteran employees and VBEs to be part of our makeup and what we represent as a company."
Once the suppliers are on board, Lockheed Martin offers them a mentor/protégée program. The company has about twenty formal mentor/protégée agreements, many of them with VBEs. And once a supplier becomes a partner with one part of the company it gets help to find opportunities in other departments.
"We also offer webinars, and we have had a supplier conference where executives talked with our partners about challenges and focuses."
United Rentals: a database is vital
United Rentals (Greenwich, CT) is a relatively young company, but over the last decade it has become a major player in the world of equipment rental. Jamie Crump, director of indirect strategic sourcing and supplier diversity, notes that there isn't a lot of room for diversity initiatives on the equipment side because the company deals directly with the manufacturers. Diversity opportunities are in equipment support and the company infrastructure, she says.
Crump came to United Rentals five years ago, brought in to build a team to look at indirect strategy and begin supplier diversity initiatives. One of those opportunities is in IT.
"We have an IT function," Crump explains. "We use a lot of different technical services. They range from companies that maintain performance of the servers, to helpdesk outsourcing, to software packages needed to run the business."
Crump is a member of NaVOBA's advisory council, and bringing in service-disabled VBEs is an important component of her diversity goals. "We attend the veterans' conference each year and do matchmaking," she says. "We also keep a database, because most of our contracts are multi-year and it's vital to keep that data and be able to get your hands on it when you need it.
"I encourage companies to stay in touch with me, and I let them know when opportunities are coming up. NaVOBA does a great job of circulating RFP opportunities to its membership. We've found a number of RFP participants that way."
Working with diverse suppliers is good business, Crump says. "Your supplier base should reflect your customer base, and small business is what drives the motor for the U.S. and keeps people employed.
"United Rentals has more than 500 branches around the U.S. and Canada, and supplier diversity is a way for us to invest in local communities. When it comes to veteran-owned, you definitely want to support those who gave so much to the country!"
Feedback is essential to help VBEs and SDVBEs grow: not just feedback to the companies that are brought in as suppliers but also those that didn't make it. "Whenever we do an RFP process we offer to do a debrief for the companies that don't make the cut," says Crump. "I'm not going into a detailed analysis every time, but if I find that they made a misstep along the way I want to point that out, to help them get better."
Her role, she says, is to do as much as possible to help these suppliers thrive as independent companies. "We had one company that was going through growing pains in regard to credit, so we put them together with people in our credit department to get advice. If we help these companies grow to be more successful, we'll be more successful, too."
Verizon: diverse suppliers are integral to success
Verizon (New York, NY) established its supplier diversity program in 1984, and "We strive to do business with companies that mirror our very diverse subscriber base," says Tonya Rozier-DeAnda, Verizon's director of strategic sourcing, supplier diversity and relationship management.
"Diverse suppliers provide a competitive advantage for us. They are agile, quick to market, innovative, competitively priced and deliver compelling solutions. Our industry and technology are so fast-paced that we find diverse suppliers are an integral component of our ongoing success."
VBEs are a significant focus for Verizon this year. Rozier-DeAnda says she makes it her business to target suppliers that understand Verizon and what it does, and can provide innovative products. "We found that in relationships like the one we have with Morrow Cable Construction, we not only get a quality product, but it opens the door to finding other veteran businesses." In the coming year she hopes to increase Verizon's relationships with VBEs and SDVBEs.
She makes these kinds of connections in a variety of ways. Some are made through national organizations and the Office of Veterans Affairs, others come through company execs who reach out via their own connections and mentoring work. "For example, I was recently in a meeting with an executive who had just returned from active duty. We were talking about specific outreach opportunities to disabled veterans."
Sometimes Verizon will work with a supplier on a corporate-wide basis; other times the supplier fills a need only at a state or regional level. "We take pride in our network, so there are a lot of opportunities for diverse suppliers to meet our needs from a geographic as well as a technology standpoint," says Rozier-DeAnda.
Morrow Cable Construction works with Verizon
When he was in the military Robert Morrow trained as a telecom lineman, and when he left the service he decided to stay in the telecom field. He began as a civilian lineman for a GTE subcontractor and then started his own company, Morrow Cable Construction (Stanton, CA) to lay cable systems.
He connected with Verizon while working as an employee for one of the company's contractors. He got his own contractor's license in 1995 and in 2005 he certified his company as a service-disabled veteran-owned business and was able to reconnect with Verizon. He began contracting for Verizon in 2006.
Working with Verizon has helped Morrow's business grow, and lets him provide a service that is dear to his heart. "My passion is to help veterans," Morrow says. "I'm a disabled veteran, my son is a disabled veteran recently returned from Iraq, and I've hired many severely wounded veterans and found them excellent workers. My relationship with Verizon has given me the chance to employ veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan."
His contract work with Verizon also gives Morrow the opportunity to teach the vets a new trade. "We were doing work for Verizon on a project, and an individual who lost his arm from a grenade came on board with us. I was able to put him with a worker who taught him how to splice fibers. We were able to work with his disability and teach him something new."
BNY Mellon gives vet businesses a foot in the door
BNY Mellon (New York, NY) has a supplier development program that aims to help diverse suppliers get a foot in the door, says Claire Scanlon, VP and manager of the program.
"Our program strongly supports the company's corporate social responsibility commitment," she explains. "This commitment drives us to perform with the highest standards of good governance and ethics; provide products and services that meet the rising expectations of our clients and business partners and improve the social and environmental impacts of our business practices and those of our suppliers."
Potential suppliers must register at the BNY Mellon supplier portal and complete the supplier profile form. "We want to know that our suppliers are going to be around for a long time, so they must be in business for at least three years and have a clean record," says Scanlon. "We do background checks as part of our corporate-wide risk-assessment processes."
Scanlon believes that military experience and training develop important management skills: the ability to prioritize, lead people, assess problems, find solutions and remain focused. "Vets have the will and discipline to triumph over adversity," she declares.
VBE Compu-Tech provides services for BNY Mellon
One such supplier is Bud Thompson, a disabled veteran. His firm, Compu-Tech Software Services Inc (New York, NY), has been in business since 1977. Compu-Tech is an IT staffing company, and has provided services for BNY Mellon since 1979.
"We give BNY Mellon senior level IT consultants," says Thompson. "BNY Mellon is very serious in its use of services from diverse suppliers and minority-owned businesses, and Compu-Tech is just another example of the firm's execution of this policy." As well as its own business, he says, thirty-two years of work for BNY Mellon has provided his company with excellent client references that helped the business thrive.
BNY Mellon's Scanlon notes that "We build relationships with companies by an ongoing dialogue with representatives from the supplier's organization and our own. We also set up one-on-one meetings with the company's reps and introduce the reps to the appropriate departments within BNY Mellon. Some of the most productive conversations take place at the events we host on our premises for diverse suppliers."
BNY Mellon senior management fully backs and believes in the success of the supplier diversity program and especially in employing VBEs, Scanlon adds. "I want to encourage veteran-owned businesses to join our supplier registry."
Western Heritage: this VBE specializes in uniform buckles
Western Heritage (Loveland, CO) is a second-generation VBE that casts belt buckles for government agencies, most notably the U.S. Forest Service.
Most of the company's production is cast in bronze, but thanks to a new facility and equipment Western Heritage will soon expand out with custom casting, even silver and gold on demand. "We never offered to cast for other people before because we never had the capacity," says owner Mike Lynch. "But we bought a machine that NASA was selling at surplus. It's a one-of-a-kind casting machine that gives us capabilities no one else in the world has! That could lead us in a lot of different directions."
Recently Lynch began to create designs with CAD/CAM. "It's rapid prototyping technology," he explains. It begins with a 3D printer that imprints in a wax-like material; then, using the lost-wax process, Lynch melts the metal into the hardened imprint. "Now a customer can e-mail us a file, and with the CAD/CAM we can give the design dimension, print it out and cast it."
Lynch's relationship with government agencies came through his father, who served in the Forest Service as well as the military. "The padlocks used by the USPS had the agency's insignia on them," Lynch explains. "People working for the service would turn the old locks into belt buckles. Then my dad made a mold of the insignia to cast buckles for his buddies. At some point he realized there wasn't anyone else out there selling things with government insignia." The elder Lynch's connections with the government paved the way to build the business.
COMPANIES INTERESTED IN DOING BUSINESS WITH VBEs and SDVBEs
Check out the active programs on these companies' websites.
|Agency and location
|BNY Mellon (New York, NY)
|Investment management & investment services
|Coca-Cola Company (Atlanta, GA)
|Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD)
|Office Depot (Boca Raton, FL)
|Office supplies and services
|Pepco Holdings (Washington, DC)
|Energy delivery in the Mid-Atlantic region
|Pitney Bowes (Stamford, CT)
|Customer communications management
hardware, software and services
|United Rentals (Greenwich, CT)
|Verizon (New York, NY)
|Telecommunications, IT and networking
services for business clients
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