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October/November 2011

Diversity/Careers October/November 2011 Issue




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Supplier Diversity

Networking is essential at Chrysler Group

Chrysler Group LLC spent 14 percent with M/WBEs in 2010. The company has helped grow Sigma International, an MBE run by South African partners


The Chrysler Group (Auburn Hills, MI) diversity supplier development department was established in 1983 in an effort to provide access, growth and development opportunities to minority businesses, and to contribute positively to the company's financial performance.

Hi-Focus: moving the needle
One of Chrysler Group's important initiatives is the Hi-Focus supplier program. "This is on track to significantly improve our tier 2 spend with WBEs and MBEs in 2011," says the department's senior manager Kevin Bell. Bell has been with the automotive giant for twenty-five years and transitioned to supplier diversity in 2009.

Bell explains that the program attempts to "move the needle within the supply base. In 1991 we started one of the first tier 2 programs in the country, and we currently have one of the strongest.

"We also have a process by which we identify the companies we need to work with in order to increase the tier 2 spend," says Bell. Although Chrysler Group does not absolutely require that its tier 1 suppliers have supplier diversity programs of their own and join certifying councils, the company strongly encourages them to do so, he notes.

The analysis needed to establish the Hi-Focus program was performed by Suzanne Bobbitt, a program manager in the Chrysler Group supplier diversity department. Bobbitt has a BSEE from Purdue University (Lafayette, IN), an MBA from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI), project management professional certification and years of experience in the automotive industry. She's currently manager of the metallic, electrical and chemical supplier diversity program.

Bobbitt began her career as a summer intern at Chrysler Corp; over the years she's worked at Ford, GM and several automotive parts suppliers, and has been responsible for service engineering of electrical systems and design and release of HVAC systems.

Most recently she managed a supplier diversity program at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

She moved to Chrysler Group this year: "I was thrilled to return to the auto industry in one of the most prestigious supplier diversity programs in the country," she says.

She notes that she keeps her technical skills sharp by interfacing with the IT folks who support the supplier diversity team and the engineers who support sourcing.

Key components
Networking and relationship building remain essential components of supplier diversity at Chrysler Group. "All year our team actively supports events in diversity communities hosted by certifying councils," says Bobbitt. The councils include the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), the Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council (CAMSC), the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the Center for Empowerment and Economic Development, the Women's Business Enterprise Council-Great Lakes, the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Women Business Owners and more.

Bobbitt says the team participates in community events as well. "And we have onsite supplier visits and 24/7 access to our website at www.supplierdiversity.chrysler.com. Suppliers are also encouraged to contact our team directly," Bobbitt says.

An important part of networking at Chrysler Group is the annual Matchmaker event. "We host it to facilitate long-term business relationships among minority suppliers, Chrysler Group employees and majority suppliers," Bobbitt explains. Exhibitors include minority-, women-, veteran- and majority-owned suppliers.

The event is set up like a trade fair, and more than 1,700 guests attend each year. Since 2000, "the Matchmaker has generated more than $1.7 billion in new business opportunities for exhibitors," says Bobbitt.

In 2010 Chrysler Group's spend rate was about 14 percent with WBEs and MBEs. The company expects to achieve an even higher spend in 2011. The supplier diversity program recognizes certifications from NMSDC, CAMSC, and WBENC and their local and regional affiliates.

Christopher Naidoo: MBE from KwaZulu-Natal
Christopher Naidoo has traveled a long way to help his home country of South Africa. He has a degree in IT and business from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa). When he started Sigma International (Livonia, MI), a global supplier of decorative trim and vehicle graphics and ornamentation, Naidoo was looking at ways of creating more jobs in South Africa.

"I thought of ways to get more involved in South Africa to alleviate poverty and create jobs. I learned that there are trade policies for the automotive market in both the U.S. and South Africa which make that region a very advantageous area for manufacturing parts for export to the U.S. There are also advantages to manufacturing in the U.S. for export to South Africa," says Naidoo.

With the support of the South Africa Trade Industry and Chrysler Group, the company's first customer, Sigma International was launched. Naidoo is currently president of Sigma's U.S. operations; his partner is Akash Singh, who runs the South African operation.

Combining favorable trade policies of both countries let Sigma make quality products that were cost competitive, and growth was rapid. Today Sigma International has operations in the U.S., South Africa, China and South Korea, and expects to expand into Brazil. The company has also added agricultural equipment, heavy trucks and products for the recreational industry. About 10 percent of its business comes from South Africa.

Key role in Sigma's growth
Naidoo thinks that without Chrysler Group his company would never have gotten off the ground, let alone diversified, grown and prospered. "Chrysler has constantly put opportunity before us, introducing us to companies or suppliers that may buy our products. The diversity people are always accessible and act as mentors for our organization."

Naidoo first came to the U.S. to work at Chrysler Group. "I was actually one of Chrysler's first South African employees, hired in South Africa to work in the U.S. This was post-apartheid when Chrysler Corp was trying to reenter the South African market," he says. "That connection helped when we started the business, but we had to go through the same process of testing and qualification as any other supplier. Now the company constitutes 20 percent of our business."

The value of the relationship goes beyond direct purchases. "Chrysler Group has a strong network program and has introduced us to key players in the supply chain at GM and Ford. Because of Chrysler we have landed several major customers, and they've been very important in the growth of our company." Sigma International is certified by the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council (MMSDC) and has TS16949 and ISO 9000 certification as well. Last year the company was named 2010 MMSDC supplier of the year.

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