Asian American businesses help their customers stay competitive in a challenging environment
"Partnering with Asian-owned businesses helps us align with the diverse needs of our customers." – Donna W. Erhardt, director, supplier diversity and sourcing, Verizon
"Employing diverse suppliers in technology areas helps keep innovative technology jobs in the U.S." – John T. Lau, Appliedinfo Partners
By Angela M. Hutchinson
The 2007 U.S. Census found that some 1.5 million Asian Americans were business owners. Chances are the next census will show even higher figures. "Supplier diversity provides knowledge and input that would be lacking from a homogeneous system," says Solomon Chen, CEO of Superior Communications, an important Verizon MBE supplier.
This article looks at a handful of Asian American minority business enterprises (MBEs) and their relations with the forward-looking companies that do business with them.
Johnson & Johnson: building strong, collaborative relationships
At Johnson & Johnson (New Brunswick, NJ), Po Wong, in his thirty-fifth year with the company, is senior sourcing manager with the global procurement group, and the company's diverse supplier sponsor for Asian- and veteran-owned companies. "The Johnson & Johnson companies have long recognized that small and diverse suppliers play an important role in the success of our businesses," says Wong.
Johnson & Johnson's office of supplier diversity was established in 1998. Supporting Asian American-owned businesses is part of the company's comprehensive effort to support all diverse supplier groups. "Asians are a rapidly growing segment of the U.S. population that is not only culturally diverse, but also well-educated, affluent and media-savvy," Wong says.
"Asians are expected to continue to grow rapidly as a share of the U.S. population, and the fusion of Asian culture into the American mainstream will continue to be politically important. It will increasingly gain focus from makers and sellers of consumer products, particularly in West Coast and Northeast markets."
"Proud of the system"
Adriana OFlaherty directs Johnson & Johnson's vendor management organization and global IT strategic sourcing services category. "We are proud of the system we've built with our diverse suppliers, many of whom have been working with us for years," says OFlaherty. "Our supplier diversity program promotes a healthy social and economic environment for our company, for our small and diverse business partners, and for the communities where they reside.
"The program is committed to developing relationships and sharing best practices with diverse suppliers, which enhances the solutions we offer our clients. By doing so, process efficiencies increase, leading to more positive outcomes."
Last year Johnson & Johnson spent over one billion dollars with minority- and women-owned suppliers.
Avis Budget Group: commitment from the top
Lynn A. Boccio is VP of strategic business and diversity relations at Avis Budget Group, parent company of Avis Rent A Car and Budget Rent A Car (Parsippany, NJ). "Supplier diversity is extremely important to our company. The commitment comes from the top, directly from our CEO," says Boccio. "It makes good business sense, provides a strategic edge for business development and helps us maintain compliance with our disadvantaged business enterprise program."
Boccio has been with Avis Budget for fifteen years. She works with sales, marketing and other internal departments to assist in the connection between diversity and strategic business development, administering programs in disadvantaged business enterprise compliance and corporate supplier diversity.
Boccio values Asian-owned businesses and has studied the region all her life. She learned Mandarin Chinese in high school, and at Ohio State University she majored in East Asian political science and achieved fluency in Mandarin. She went on to law school and even worked in China before settling down with Avis Budget Group.
Avis Budget's approach to supplier diversity, Boccio notes, is to participate in conferences and trade fairs, and to support organizations that certify and promote participation of disadvantaged, minority- and woman-owned businesses.
John T. Lau's Appliedinfo Partners works for Avis Budget and others
For the past twenty-one years John T. Lau has been part of Appliedinfo Partners (Somerset, NJ), a company that strives to bridge the gaps between technology, design and communications by providing integrated, useful and unique solutions for clients like Avis.
As president, Lau manages sales, marketing and operations of the company. He meets with clients and staff and oversees projects.
Lau is Chinese American. He was born in Nanjing, China, went on to Hong Kong and came to the U.S. when he was fourteen. He has a 1970 BS and 1973 MS in physics from Stony Brook University (Long Island, NY), and has completed executive management programs at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH).
Lau's company has been a certified diverse supplier for about twenty years and has worked with Avis since 1999. "We provide a technical solution for Avis Budget's supplier diversity tracking," says Lau. "We also provide them with one-stop-shop support for technical and administrative functions."
"Avis Budget is a very loyal customer," Lau adds with appreciation. "As long as we give them great, dedicated tech support and services, they want to support us in return. They even introduce potential clients to us!"
What does Lau see as the challenges of an Asian business owner? "Normally, Asian Americans are thought of as great professionals like engineers and software developers but not good business managers or entrepreneurs that can think out of the box and manage people," he says. Clearly, Lau doesn't agree with that. "Often we have to work extra hard to compensate for these misperceptions," he notes.
"By employing us as suppliers in technology areas, Avis Budget is giving our company a chance to grow in a sustainable way." This also helps keep innovative technology jobs in the U.S., he points out.
CenterPoint Energy: value to the company and to M/WBEs
Cindi Salas, director of land and field services at CenterPoint Energy (Houston, TX), has been a member of the group for more than twelve years, and with the company for twenty-nine. In her current role, she's responsible for the enterprise-wide GIS system: surveying, underground line locating, right-of-way, and facilities joint-use management, serving both the electric and gas sides of the business.
These areas often rely on the services of contractors, and Salas notes that CenterPoint Energy actively promotes supplier diversity. "Our objectives include identifying qualified minority- and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs) that offer high-quality products and services in a competitive market," Salas says.
"We also promote second-tier supplier diversity through our larger suppliers who are not M/WBEs themselves, and look for other opportunities to help extend the capabilities of minority firms. In the end we are looking for solutions that provide value to both our company and to M/WBEs."
Salas notes that CenterPoint Energy "likes its diverse suppliers to reach out to the community to gain a perspective on how projects can and should be implemented. Asian American-owned businesses are a great example of this."
She thinks that "As a result of their culture, these business owners place a high value on developing relationships. They are successful in doing this within the community and with other small businesses, which further promotes M/WBE growth and utilization."
Applied Field Data Systems, Inc: ten years with CenterPoint Energy
Applied Field Data Systems, Inc (AFDS, Houston, TX) has been a diverse supplier for fifteen years, and has been providing services for CenterPoint Energy for the last ten of them. The company provides GIS data management and application development services and other products related to geospatial technology.
"What I like most about working with CenterPoint is that they truly believe in creating an environment that promotes supplier diversity," says VP Ishu Wadhwani. "We are a contractor, but CenterPoint treats us as part of their own team.
"They create a non-threatening environment where we feel free to brainstorm ideas, test processes and implement our suggestions. They even put us on one of their decision-making committees, which we think is a wonderful display of their interest in what we have to contribute and the confidence they have in us as their partner and team player."
As a VP at AFDS, Wadhwani oversees operations as well as personally handling key accounts like CenterPoint Energy. Her afternoons are typically spent with CenterPoint employees and her onsite staff at the client's premises.
Originally from India, Wadhwani emigrated to the U.S. in 1970 with her husband Ashok Wadhwani, who is now president of AFDS. Ishu Wadhwani notes that the company's growth has often been customer-driven.
"Our company began in systems integration and field data collection. Our clients were so satisfied with the services we had been providing them that they asked us to add other services like GIS data management and application development," she explains.
"Our company has faced a lot of challenges," she admits, "but there have never been any challenges or barriers specifically because of being an Asian-owned business. We've found that being able to communicate with the client and understanding the culture of the country and the business environment are of paramount importance when trying to build and grow a business.
"Build relationships with your clients and gain their trust," she advises. "If you do that well, success will likely follow."
At UPS, supplier diversity is linked to company values
Kathy Homeyer is director of supplier diversity in the corporate procurement services of UPS (Atlanta, GA). She's been with the company thirty-one years and was appointed director of its supplier diversity program in 2002. Since then she's worked throughout the U.S. to implement initiatives that increase representation of the small, minority- and women-owned businesses that support operations in UPS facilities.
"UPS sees a commitment to diversity as a key strength of its culture and growth strategies," she says. "We launched our supplier diversity program in 1992 as part of our overall commitment to diversity." This commitment, she explains, "helps us diversify our supplier base, penetrate new markets and fulfill customer requirements, and provides economic opportunities for diverse suppliers that give us innovations and other value-added benefits."
It all "strengthens our competitiveness and ability to serve our customers," she declares.
Among other diversity-promoting organizations, "UPS is proud to partner with the U.S. Pan-Asian American Chamber of Commerce (USPAACC)," Homeyer notes. "Organizations like this give us the opportunity to increase diversity in our supplier base as well as providing innovation and cost savings."
Avion Systems supplies tech and data services to UPS and others
In 1996 Kanchana Raman founded Avion Systems (Atlanta, GA). Her company provides data analytics services, enterprise applications, and reporting and data management systems. The primary goal, Raman says, is to "help organizations make better fact-based decisions." Avion's telecom division offers comprehensive next-generation broadband communication services in 3G and 4G cellular networks for voice and data.
Raman is Avion's CEO, responsible for leading all functions in the company. She meets regularly with clients, generates new leads and works to be an important strategic partner for clients like UPS.
Raman has an Asian Indian family background. She earned an MBA at Emory University (Atlanta, GA) and studied executive management at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business and Northwestern's Kellogg Graduate School of Management.
Avion has worked with UPS for ten years, providing high-tech IT services for customer projects. UPS people, Raman says, are "friends and mentors.
"They celebrate my success with all my clients. I am constantly encouraged by UPS for the work we do. Kathy Homeyer invites me to attend supplier diversity events with them, and I am always delighted to find myself seated at their table with their executives. It's a trusting relationship."
Raman does not recall any special challenges as an Asian business owner. "In my industry it's all about delivery," she says. "If you can deliver, meet the needs of the client and consistently perform, you are a winner. When it comes to telecom and IT services, my customers buy based on skills and not on race!"
This year, when many companies were cutting back, Avion added more than 200 jobs. Raman takes great pride in her company's contribution to the U.S. economy. "Diversity should be seamless for our clients," she says. "We want them to work with us because we deliver excellence."
Asian-owned businesses help Verizon align with its customers' needs
Donna Weaver-Erhardt is director of supplier diversity and sourcing at Verizon (New York, NY). "At Verizon, diversity isn't just a concept; it's an integral part of our business strategy," she declares.
Verizon's commitment to diversity begins at the top with CEO Lowell McAdam. The company is committed to "continuously identifying and expanding effective business relationships with diverse suppliers," says Erhardt. "We focus on providing maximum opportunity for diverse suppliers to compete on an equal basis with all other suppliers who meet our product, service, procurement and contractual requirements.
"Asian-owned businesses are among the strongest segments in the nation's economy," Erhardt notes. "Partnering with Asian-owned businesses helps us align with the diverse needs of our customers."
Last year Verizon spent $3.8 billion with diverse businesses, Erhardt says. The company works to ensure that its supplier base mirrors its customer base, because it believes that having a network of diverse suppliers is the right thing to do and also makes good business sense.
Superior Communications has been a Verizon supplier since 1999
In 1991 Solomon Chen founded Superior Communications (Irwindale, CA), a company that manufactures and distributes cell phone accessories and provides packaging services and marketing support to clients like Verizon. As CEO of Superior, Chen is responsible for the company's strategic vision, overall direction and much more.
Chen was born in Taipei, Taiwan. "Upon my arrival in the U.S. my English-speaking skills were subpar and I had no American college education. My best option to make a living was to be an entrepreneur," Chen explains.
Superior Communications has been a certified MBE since 1991, with Verizon as a client since 1999. Chen notes that Verizon has a long history of supporting minority business enterprises; its formal program launched in 1984. "It's an honor to be selected as a supplier to one of America's premier companies," Chen says. "We've shown that we can deliver to Verizon's requirements and help them remain competitive in a challenging business environment."
Chen notes that Superior and Verizon have "matching corporate principles. We believe in using diversity as a positive tool to get involved with the communities we do business in, to benefit customers and employees alike."
As Chen sees it, "Anytime a minority individual attempts to break into a business where the rules are set by a different majority, automatically there will be a barrier, but it's a barrier that can be overcome. This is true regardless where you do business around the world."
Chen's advice to other Asian American businesses is to keep an open mind, stick with your principles, and "Think of your market from a global perspective, not just the Americas."
Syntel provides a range of services
Syntel (Troy, MI), a diverse supplier for more than thirty years, provides custom IT and knowledge process outsourcing solutions to improve quality and reduce costs for its clients.
Bharat Desai, Syntel's chairman and co-founder, started Syntel in 1980. The company works with clients' R&D and sustaining-engineering departments, among many others. "We have helped clients with product design and development, device validation and verification, regulatory support, labeling implementation, active device life and end-of-life product support services, and much more," Desai says.
As chairman of the board, Desai sets vision and direction for Syntel. He also monitors the management team's performance, and "I address challenges and issues relating to corporate governance, corporate social responsibility and code of ethics," says Desai.
Born in Kenya, Desai is Indian American. He spent his childhood in Mombasa and Ahmedabad, India. He completed his 1975 BSEE at the Indian Institute of Technology (Mumbai, India), then came to the U.S. to earn his 1981 MBA in finance at the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business. He married Neerja Sethi, Syntel co-founder, and they started both a family and Syntel, he says with a smile.
Throughout his entrepreneurial career Desai has kept a clear focus on the value of a "customer for life." From time to time he has "reinvented" Syntel to align with what his clients needed in a partner, he says, differentiating the company through a continual evolution.
"For example, in 1992, when competitors were focused on delivering on-site services, I was spearheading offshore operations in Mumbai, India to launch the global delivery model that every Fortune 500 company now employs to some degree," he explains. "We have transitioned from a skills provider to an outsourcing partner, scaled up capabilities to handle e-business and the dot-com boom, launched knowledge process outsourcing services, and are now concentrating on domain-focused industry solutions."
Desai notes that "Supplier diversity is critically important for technology industries, to provide a level playing field for capable smaller suppliers in an environment that is often overpowered by large firms.
"Supplier diversity programs enable organizations to access technology talent across the globe," he says.
DEFENSE CONTRACTORS WITH ACTIVE SUPPLIER DIVERSITY PROGRAMS
Check websites for supplier information and registration.
|Company and location
|Avis Budget Group (Parsippany, NJ)
|Car rental services for business and leisure customers
|CenterPoint Energy (Houston, TX)
|Electric transmission and distribution, natural gas
distribution, natural gas sales and services, interstate pipelines and field services operations
|Johnson & Johnson (New Brunswick, NJ)
|Pharmaceutical, diagnostic, therapeutic, surgical,
biotechnology and personal hygiene products
|UPS (Atlanta, GA)
|Package delivery; specialized global transportation and
|Verizon (New York, NY)
|Voice, data and video products and services over intelligent wireless, broadband and global IP networks
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