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Supplier Diversity

Merck supplier diversity: a focus on community investment

A mentoring program pairs suppliers with Merck execs. The pharma giant helped one local WBE reinvent itself in project management and expand its client base


Merck’s supplier diversity is focused on reinvesting some of the money the company’s diverse customers spend back into the communities where those customers live.

“If we have businesses that are in HUBZones or areas that may not have the economic support that’s needed, we want to make certain they’re employing people from those neighborhoods,” says Darrien Pinkman, managing director of global procurement at Merck. “It’s all about giving back to Merck’s customers.”

Atlas Data Systems: Merck helps with a new focus
Atlas Data Systems, based in Westfield, NJ, provides IT and business consulting services to Merck. The company was already a Merck supplier when Pinkman came on board in 2007, but he has since worked closely with Atlas through Merck’s supplier development and mentoring program. Through the program, supplier company owners meet regularly with Merck mentors to track their progress on a plan for growth. Program participants include women-owned, minority-owned, veteran-owned, LGBT-owned and small disadvantaged businesses.

When Pinkman discovered that Merck had a supplier mentoring program, he was eager to get involved. He was also interested in helping the smaller company avoid the impending threat of losing a large portion of its business through industry changes like the consolidation of suppliers. “I thought it was a great opportunity to work with Atlas Data Systems through the supplier development and mentoring program, to help increase their visibility inside and outside Merck,” he says.

The mentoring helped Atlas transition from its infrastructure-related focus to a project management role, says CEO Jacqueline Cleary, who founded the business in 1998. “When the mentorship program began, Atlas was at risk of losing a core revenue stream to a global Merck supplier,” Cleary says. “We weren’t a global firm, and we weren’t ready to be a global firm. We made a strategic decision to transform our service capabilities to align with the IT solutions strategies of Merck.”

Each Merck business division selects a new set of mentor-mentee relationships each year. “But as Jacquie will tell you, if you’re in a supplier mentoring relationship with me, it kind of never ends,” Pinkman says.

“That’s true,” Cleary confirms with a laugh.

The entrepreneurial gene
Cleary, who has a BS in marketing from the University of Scranton (PA), has had a longtime interest in business development. “Even my part-time jobs in high school were all about sales and business development, so that was the direction I was going in early on,” says Cleary, who is now a member of the president’s business council at her alma mater.

One of eight children, she inherited her entrepreneurial gene from her father. “He had been with big corporations in the construction industry, and when he was downsized he started his own business,” Cleary says. “He opened a business selling and servicing lasers used in the construction industry. It was a real family affair: all his children, myself included, were involved in his business at some time. The experience was both inspiring and educational, and was a key reason I started my own firm.”

Cleary plotted her career path strategically on the way to becoming an entrepreneur, so she could learn more about the consulting business. “I took a variety of management roles with other firms until I felt ready to strike out on my own. At least I thought I was ready. You’re never really equipped with all the skills you need to run a successful business until you actually do it. It’s definitely a learned skill.”

Atlas Data Systems is certified as a small business through the federal government and as a woman-owned business through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Cleary also is a graduate of the Tuck-WBENC Executive Education program and was recently awarded a Dorothy B. Brothers scholarship, with which she’ll attend Harvard Business School in 2014.

“I think certification has been tremendous in helping us open doors,” Cleary says. “At the end of the day, we still have to be there, gain trust from our clients and deliver. But through these various organizations, we’ve had access.”

Getting on board with Merck
Before starting her own firm, Cleary had business relationships with Merck through her employment at two other companies. After her first experience as a consultant to Merck in 1988, she worked in the telecommunications industry before becoming manager of the Merck account at another consulting firm. Three years after she launched Atlas, Merck became her client.

Merck accepts certifications from organizations affiliated with WBENC, the National Minority Supplier Development Council, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Administration and other agencies. Since 2008, the supplier diversity program has had a global component. Merck holds memberships in supplier diversity organizations in Canada and the United Kingdom.

The expectation: pay it forward
Pinkman says Merck wants its suppliers to share its commitment to giving back to the community through jobs and other investments.

“When I support Jacquie’s organization in growing to an $18 million account here at Merck, I expect that Jacquie, in turn, will share some of that wealth with the community she’s part of,” Pinkman says. “She’s employing women and minorities to become consultants at Merck, as well as at other customers.”

Cleary says Atlas is indeed committed to that goal. “Our last staffing report showed that Atlas’ employee base was 63 percent diverse,” she says. “It’s very important to us.”


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