Itron's enhanced program includes WBE Steinwall Inc
"We've always tracked metrics, but I was brought on board last year to initiate a formal program," says Itron supplier diversity leader Kate Armstrong
Itron (Liberty Lake, WA) provides smart metering, data collection and utility software systems to nearly 8,000 utilities worldwide. The company has kept track of its diverse suppliers for many years, but only recently began rolling out a formal supplier diversity program.
"Our customers are public utilities, so we've always tracked metrics, but I was brought on board last year to initiate a formal program," says supplier diversity leader Kate Armstrong.
Armstrong notes that Itron began by setting up parameters for the program and looked to its customers' requirements for guidance. The current emphasis is on certified women-, minority- and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses (WBEs, MBEs and SDVOBEs). Itron also accepts the California Public Utilities Commission's supplier diversity certification.
"I worked for WBENC from 2003 to 2009, and I've also worked with the NMSDC, so I have a lot of respect for the certification process," Armstrong says.
"We include LGBT-owned businesses in our metrics, but so far our customers haven't asked us to report that."
After setting the initial framework for the program, Armstrong and her team analyzed the company's existing suppliers. "We went through the supply chain list and found that we already worked with a lot of M/WBEs; they just weren't coded as such. We were delighted. It was like finding change between the couch cushions!"
The next step was encouraging the diverse suppliers to get certified. "We used outreach and education. Now we're combing through the entire company to identify opportunities for diverse suppliers, and training supplier diversity champions across the company on what we look for and how to carry out a supplier diversity initiative in the field," Armstrong says.
Supplier diversity cheerleader
Armstrong sees her role as a little bit of a cheerleader. "Our CEO issued a policy and mission statement that helped make supplier diversity more of a priority," she says. Since the initiative began Itron has joined WBENC and the Northwest Minority Supplier Development Council, the local NMSDC affiliate. Armstrong is proud of the company's efforts to highlight the program, and points out that supplier diversity can be a big selling point.
"Companies with supplier diversity programs can help their clients achieve goals through a second-tier approach. Our inaugural supplier diversity e-newsletter just went out last week. It will be a quarterly publication and each issue will feature one of our utility customers' supplier diversity programs. The goal is to give Itron's program a lot of traction."
Although Itron doesn't have a supplier mentoring program yet, one is definitely in the pipeline, Armstrong adds.
"Our diverse suppliers go above and beyond the call of duty to help us with whatever we need," Armstrong concludes. "We're big players in the new Smart Grid initiative, and they realize how important it is to be a part of that. It's a win-win situation."
Steinwall supplies injection molding
Steinwall Inc (Minneapolis, MN) is a process engineering company that provides precision thermoplastic injection molding services to Itron and other large clients. The company has 120 employees, eight of them degreed engineers.
Itron is an important client, providing nearly $3.5 million worth of the company's business. "They've helped us become who we are," says Dr Maureen Steinwall, president of the company. Itron's Armstrong agrees: "Steinwall has been a longstanding supplier to Itron, and when I came onboard I realized they were WBENC certified, and actually the largest diverse supplier in our chain."
Steinwall herself has a 1975 BS in math and business accounting and a 1981 MBA with a concentration in operations management from the University of Minnesota, and a 2006 PhD in business from online Capella University.
Over the course of her career she's been involved in business, accounting, marketing and operations. She also serves on the national board of the Society of the Plastics Industry and teaches management and statistics classes for the University of Phoenix.
A woman in injection molding?
Steinwall Inc was founded in 1965 by Steinwall's father. "He was a craftsman and actually made the original molds," she explains. "I was working in marketing at Honeywell in 1983 when I joined the company. I became president in 1985 and my father sold the company to me in 1987.
"Some people had a hard time accepting a woman owning this type of business. It soon settled down," she says. "But there are still not many women-owned injection molding companies."
The relationship with Itron began in 1994, and as the company proved itself it was given more and more work. Today Steinwall is one of Itron's primary molders. "If you do a good job for folks, they come back," Steinwall notes with a smile.
Since acquiring the company, Steinwall has taken it from $1.3 million to $19.6 million in revenues, with Itron supplying about 20 percent of the business.
"Itron has a very team-oriented culture," Steinwall explains. "If they see opportunities for us to improve, they let us know. They make sure we're aware of their expectations and where and how we can better suit their needs. It's a collaborative effort."