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Supplier Diversity

Supplier diversity is a core business value at WellPoint

With online SD training, tier 2 mandates, mentoring and even diverse supplier of the year awards, supplier diversity is purposeful and comprehensive at WellPoint


'The WellPoint supplier diversity program is supported at the highest levels of leadership in our organization,” says Brenda Burke, staff vice president of supplier diversity.

“Our commitment to diversity is evident across our enterprise,” says Burke. “WellPoint is committed to being a valuable member of the communities in which we live and do business, and diversity in our supplier base is an important part of that overall commitment.”

WellPoint, Inc (Indianapolis, IN) is the largest health benefits provider in the U.S. Sixty-seven million people are served by its affiliate companies, including nearly 37 million enrolled in its family of health plans. It’s a Fortune Forty company, with more than $70 billion in revenue. It offers a broad portfolio of integrated healthcare plans and related services through its affiliated health plans and subsidiaries, as well as specialty products such as life and disability insurance benefits, dental, vision and behavioral health benefit services, long-term care insurance, and flexible spending accounts. WellPoint is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

Leveraging resources to strengthen the supplier diversity pool
According to Burke, supplier diversity is an essential building block of WellPoint’s overall success. “Our supplier diversity categories include minorities, women, veterans and service-disabled veterans, suppliers with disabilities, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender suppliers,” she says. “Last year, eighteen percent of our total procurement dollars was spent with diverse suppliers; our goal was 12.1 percent. We are proud that we’ve exceeded our goal each year since the inception of our supplier diversity program.” In fact, Burke reports, since the program began in 2006, WellPoint’s spending with diverse suppliers has increased by a factor of fifteen.

WellPoint has access to national supplier databases through its memberships in organizations like the National Minority Supplier Development Council, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, the Disability Supplier Diversity Program of the U.S. Business Leadership Network, and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The company also attends supplier diversity conferences and participates in opportunity fairs and matchmaking events.

“We maintain a supplier portfolio that includes suppliers we meet at these events and elsewhere, and refer to it when our procurement team launches a request for proposal,” Burke says. “We identify suppliers with scale and capacity to do business with WellPoint.” She notes that WellPoint also calls on its business enterprise partners as important resources to support its supplier diversity processes.

“We accept all national certifications, as well as state and municipal certifications,” she notes. “We request a capability statement from suppliers and do a significant amount of research in analyzing their experience, service solutions and innovation. It certainly helps if a supplier has healthcare industry experience and has a portfolio of clients that includes other businesses our size.”

Helping suppliers succeed
Three years ago, WellPoint created a supplier diversity mentoring program. “It was established to provide incumbent diverse suppliers opportunities to grow and develop even further,” Burke says. Selected suppliers participate in a formal twelve-month mentoring program supported by an executive sponsor, a mentor, procurement leaders, and the supplier diversity team. “The mentor and mentee individually identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and then create a gap analysis. The parties meet quarterly, and at the end of the year, they discuss outcomes and long-term goals.”

WellPoint also sponsors suppliers to attend the M/WBE business development programs at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. “They take away so much knowledge,” Burke says.

One recent MBE managing principal who attended Kellogg’s Advanced Management Education Program called the experience a “deep dive,” and told Burke in an email, “I can never repay you for what I gained: so much knowledge that we’ll apply to help us.”

Leveraging for more
Tier 1 suppliers, diverse or not, who win a contract are required to subcontract with certified diverse suppliers. “This supplier diversity language is in the request for proposal, and becomes part of the contract,” Burke reports.

“When we created the supplier diversity program, it was important to ensure that supplier diversity was a business value, and that it’s linked to our corporate objectives,” Burke explains. “WellPoint’s supplier diversity program allows us to compete successfully for new and renewal business by meeting or exceeding our clients’ supplier diversity requirements. It also increases our brand awareness through our memberships, sponsorships and conference participation.”

Each year, WellPoint nominates diverse suppliers for “supplier of the year” awards. “The suppliers are proud to be nominated for such an honor,” Burke says.

Over the years, one of the strategies the supplier diversity team has used to increase WellPoint’s effectiveness is to analyze and benchmark successful supplier diversity programs of other major corporations. The company’s mentoring program is an example.

Commodity champions is another. “Commodity champions are associates who work closely with the supplier diversity office and procurement to identify opportunities for diverse suppliers within specific commodity categories. They also serve as supplier diversity champions within their respective business units,” Burke notes.

“Supplier diversity is not something that works well in any organization without the support of its executive leaders. At WellPoint, executive leaders are tremendous advocates for supplier diversity,” Burke reports. “Our chief executive officer believes that supplier diversity is an important part of WellPoint’s strategy and reflects our commitment to the diversity of our members nationwide, and that by actively seeking out a diverse pool of suppliers, we create an environment where the best ideas, products and solutions rise to the top.”


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