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February/March 2012

Diversity/Careers February/March 2012 Issue




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Supplier diversity


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Supplier Diversity

At Microsoft and other venues, EyeMail "brings email to life"

Microsoft spends $1 billion-plus with diverse suppliers each year. EyeMail, an emerging company, is doing very well as a Microsoft protégé


Fernando Hernandez, director of supplier diversity at Microsoft (Redmond, WA), has been managing the program for about five years. With first-tier spend standing at $1.28 billion annually, Microsoft has been welcomed as a member of the Billion Dollar Roundtable, an organization created in 2001 to recognize and celebrate corporations that spend at least $1 billion a year with minority- and women-owned businesses (MBEs and WBEs). There are currently just eighteen members.

"Our commitment to the chief procurement officer was to get to more than $1 billion in three years, and we did it in two," Hernandez says with pride.

Before coming to Microsoft, Hernandez led the supplier diversity program at AT&T for several years. Before that he was in multicultural marketing at AT&T. Hernandez is of Cuban descent. He grew up in Jersey City, NJ and went to Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ) for a BS in accounting and business and an MS in technology management.

"I'm a business person really, not a procurement type," he says. "Most of my career has been focused on multicultural marketing. I feel passionate about giving back, so I worked my way into supplier diversity. But my lens is business, and in my supplier role I look for solid as well as innovative business partners."

BizSpark: an opportunity highlight
One of the top opportunities for diverse suppliers available at Microsoft is the BizSpark program. BizSpark is open not just to diverse-owned businesses, but to other innovative business as well. It's a global program that helps software startups succeed by giving them access to current full-featured Microsoft development tools, platform technologies and production licenses for server products used in developing and marketing innovative solutions.

The startups can get business development and technical training at a highly subsidized rate or even free. The program also provides marketing visibility to an audience of potential investors, customers, partners and journalists.

BizSpark began about three years ago at Microsoft. It's not specifically part of the supplier diversity program, but Hernandez encourages businesses that are in that program to participate. "You get to play with world-class people," he enthuses. "Participants aren't necessarily small businesses, but typically they are."

Going international
Hernandez says his current focus is taking the supplier diversity program to the international level. "There's a lot of international push this year," he explains. "We're working in South Africa, Europe, the UK, Canada and Australia. In Europe and the UK we are part of WeConnect for women, which started in the UK and is fairly new but going well."

He's excited, he says, because "If we do this well we may be able to help women-owned business enterprises expand globally. We want them to learn how to go international; we can't keep focusing on the domestic market alone."

Looking out for diverse suppliers
Microsoft continues to find diverse suppliers at NMSDC and WBENC annual conferences as well as those of local affiliates. Hernandez is a board member of both organizations. The program also works with the Women Presidents' Organization (WPO), the National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA) and others.

Mentor/protégé continues to grow
Microsoft's mentor/protégé program partners MBEs and WBEs with sales team members. "Our mentoring program has a lot of aspects to it," Hernandez says. "We engage in active education of MBEs and WBEs through the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH), and we also have a program at the University of Washington (Seattle, WA)." There are ongoing partnerships with the states of Maryland and Mississippi to train MBEs and WBEs in technology, and other programs are available as well. So what, exactly, is the business advantage gained by Microsoft through its multiple supplier diversity initiatives? "It's multi-pronged," Hernandez says. "It gives us access to a diverse cultural customer base globally.

"Some people may discount diverse suppliers, but when you open your eyes and don't label them, you're open to the next big 'Aha!' moment. Taking someone to the next level? Well, that's pretty cool."

EyeMail "brings email to life"
EyeMail (Atlanta, GA) is an electronic advertising and marketing company. "We integrate embedded technology to bring email to life with engaging audio and video content instead of just text and graphics," says Lisa S. Jones. She founded the company in 2007 and serves as its CEO ("chief EyeMail officer," she notes with a smile).

EyeMail is designed to increase the active response rate for email marketing campaigns. It puts instant-play audio and video right into a prospect's inbox, eliminating the need for links which may or may not be followed.

Jones has a 1989 BS in logistics and procurement, and a 1992 MBA, both from Alabama A&M (Huntsville, AL). She started her career at NASA, responsible for logistics and management of space shuttle inventory. Then she moved to the telecommunications industry and eventually into Internet marketing on her own. She pulled together a support team of talented resources from around the world to bring her brilliant EyeMail idea to life.

Have a vision, develop a team
"I love the idea that you can develop innovative technology regardless of your professional background," Jones says. "You can have a vision and develop a plan and assemble a world-class team to implement the vision and develop the technology."

When her mother died suddenly several years ago, Jones wanted to create something inspiring and innovative to honor her memory. She drew on her knowledge of communication and society, especially in the context of marketing communications. "I wanted the email experience to be the equivalent of a high-quality video experience that is alive, captures attention and generates an immediate call to action in thirty seconds or less," she explains.

"I spent several months researching and learning as much as possible about how to bring my concept to life technically," she says. "I outsourced multiple layers of my email solution, so all critical aspects of development were done on an individual component level."

And of course she consulted and retained an IP attorney to conduct a patent search and initiate the patent application.

Jones went on to develop a team of consultants who work across the globe, and in 2007 she introduced the new product with a pro bono campaign using EyeMail for invitations to an upcoming conference of the Georgia WBENC affiliate.

Turner Broadcasting System, a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc, was on the organization's board, and was so impressed it became EyeMail's first corporate client. Microsoft was there, too.

Joining Microsoft's program
That same year Jones was invited to join the Microsoft supplier diversity program. Hernandez encouraged her to participate in Microsoft's incubation week and introduced her to chief procurement officer Tim McBride. EyeMail became part of Microsoft's Biz-Spark program and the Microsoft mentor/protégé program for women in technology, which has given it access to world-class technical solutions.

"BizSpark has been critical to the development of our product," Jones says. "We're ahead of the curve in terms of technology. We're a Microsoft preferred vendor now. And as a result of our relationship with Microsoft we've been able to land enterprise clients like Coca-Cola, Time Warner and Major League Baseball.

"Fernando also encouraged me to go to the Microsoft world partners conference in New Orleans in 2009. I learned more about the importance of collaboration and met with Microsoft internal teams. It helped me develop my global roadmap for expansion and collaboration."

Moving quickly
Today EyeMail has a presence in Canada, Germany, South Africa and Brazil, and Jones envisions growing the EyeMail network worldwide.

Recently Microsoft invited Jones to speak to a vendor summit including 500 Microsoft execs and partners.

"My success with Microsoft is based on my vision for innovation, my dynamic team of internal advocates and champions, and our continuing focus on advancements in email technology," Jones declares. "When opportunity meets preparation it will equal success!"

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