Supplier diversity at Altria: established and still growing
Supplier diversity is a win-win for Altria Group and
niche visualization supplier CrossPlatform Design.
The two companies have helped each other in many ways
For more than thirty years, Altria and its family of companies have partnered with diverse businesses through an enterprise-wide supplier diversity program.
“We have a vested interest in doing business with diverse suppliers,” says Rueben W. Turner, Altria Client Services manager of corporate responsibility and supplier diversity development. “Having a supplier diversity program helps align the companies’ supply base with the changing demographics within the U.S. It gives our companies the opportunity to promote entrepreneurship and invest in the communities where we live and work.”
Finding the right matches
Altria Group, Inc (Richmond, VA) is the parent company of Philip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, John Middleton Company and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
“Our engagements with associations like the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) provide us direct contact with diverse suppliers,” Turner says.
Altria requires that diverse suppliers have third-party certification from NMSDC, WBENC, or state and local agencies like Virginia’s Small Business Administration and Small, Women-owned, and Minority-owned Business (SWaM) certification program.
“On the Altria website, there’s a portal where prospective suppliers can register their businesses to let us know they’re available and what type of services they can provide. As we have a need, we search the database for potential business partners,” Turner explains. The portal is accessible at www.altria.com/supplierdiversity.
CrossPlatform Design offers specialized visualization services
For the last three years, Altria has been a customer of CrossPlatform Design LLC (CPD, Richmond, VA). This company, started in 1999, specializes in decision-based virtual interactive immersive training using game engine technology.
CrossPlatform Design is NMSDC-certified and recognized in Virginia and the U.S. federal courts as an expert in visualization. “Certification has given us access to supplier diversity programs at companies nationwide. It’s not a guarantee of work, but at least we know who the players are,” says Jeffrey C. Taylor, president and chief executive officer.
CrossPlatform Design’s relationship with Altria began in 2011 when an Altria plant manager gave the company an opportunity to make a presentation. “This led to Altria asking us to work on a proof of concept project, which in turn led to a full-scale job creating a training program,” says Taylor.
For its work with Altria, CrossPlatform Design uses its Virtual Trainer, a computer-based application that simulates existing plant equipment and machinery. It provides an interactive visual learning environment to help workers assemble, disassemble, repair, clean, maintain and operate equipment.
“This service can help reduce Altria’s training costs,” says Turner. “Usually in our industry, we would have to shut down our machines in order to perform in-depth training. But the Virtual Trainer has enabled us to show a simulation of what goes on inside the machines, allowing our workers to get a close look without incurring injury.”
A broad background leads to CrossPlatform Design
Taylor, who has a 1990 BS in visualization from Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond), is a former officer in the U.S. Army with logistics certification. He started a marketing and computer graphics company in 1991, and in 1996, moved into the corporate world, first in advertising, marketing and communications and then as a vocational instructor of at-risk youth for Virginia’s Department of Correctional Education.
Taylor eventually went to work for the Virginia public school system as a conflict resolution specialist. Taylor believes that most people are visual learners. With his tech background, he developed a computerized instruction program that provided one-on-one learning for disruptive students.
Next he was drawn to the world of litigation, where he used computer visualization to animate court testimony, helping jurors understand complex scenarios. The final step in his journey was the creation of CrossPlatform Design.“Altria has supported CPD since we first connected with them,” says Taylor. “Rueben Turner has been a great advocate for us. He’s been helpful in putting us in contact with significant decision makers.
“Every small woman-owned or minority-owned company needs a corporate champion. You may have a great product or service but people may not have the time to take a hard look at what you do. Having someone who will answer questions for you is a great asset.”
Providing supplier support
In addition to the informal mentoring and guidance that Turner gives new suppliers, Altria provides executive management training sponsorships to select suppliers. “We get to know our suppliers and find out where they might need additional training, and we also work with the Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council to identify other worthy companies that might benefit from this sponsorship,” says Turner.
CrossPlatform Design was one such company. “Altria sponsored us to take business courses at the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH),” Taylor notes. “It helped us in the transition from a small startup to where we are now, a small-to-mid-sized business.”
“Altria has a second-tier program that encourages our prime contractors to have supplier diversity programs of their own,” says Turner. “We’re in the process of expanding our definition of diversity to include more veterans, as well as the LGBT community. Our supplier diversity program keeps growing larger.”
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