24 Jul Creating Opportunity in Tough Times
Leading diversity at Delhaize America and GE Healthcare involves creating new opportunities for everyone—from employees to vendors.
Conducting business these days, whether locally or globally, is about innovation, good corporate citizenship, and top-notch customer service. After all, an unhappy customer can now take to Twitter and voice displeasure for the world to see. And being in a position to shape how a corporation conducts business with women and minority suppliers—and with its diverse employees—is an important job. Michael Lucas, an executive director of supplier diversity for GE Healthcare, and Garland Scarboro, manager of the office of diversity and inclusion at Delhaize America, share their passion for diversity, the challenges they face, and trends they foresee on the horizon.
Executive Director of Supplier Diversity, GE Healthcare
Michael Lucas radiates excitement as he talks about the work he does at GE Healthcare. And why shouldn’t he? After all, Lucas has a hand in bringing in minority businesses that will play a role in getting the latest and most innovative medical devices to the market for GE. Lucas puts it another way: “What cooler job than to provide solutions, create jobs, and help people become successful beyond their wildest dreams.”
Just imagine how much a small or minority-owned business stands to gain financially by producing a specific part for an MRI machine or by providing a piece of technology that GE needs. A supplier contract with GE can help a small business expand and make its owners millionaires.
There’s also a lot at stake for GE when it comes to finding the right partners: the healthcare division brought in nearly $18 billion worth of sales in everything from ultrasound to mammography machines in 2011.
While Lucas’s job is rewarding, it’s not always easy. Part of his job entails making sure everyone is on board. “I make sure GE’s procurement leaders understand the mission, and they view [diversity] as a systemic part of the company,” says Lucas.
GE has a rigorous process that involves suppliers opening up their financials to intense scrutiny so that GE can review financial performance and stability. “Some small businesses are uncomfortable with this level of transparency,” says Lucas. A major challenge today is that a tough economy makes it hard for businesses to access the capital needed to invest in machinery, infrastructure, or staff. From his father, who owned a real estate and insurance business, Lucas got an up-close perspective of the issues small businesses face. “I worked with him and understand some of the struggles he had,” Lucas says.
As part of the procurement outreach process, GE especially seeks out suppliers in economically depressed communities like Detroit, Michigan. The company developed a program called GE Michigan Model (GEMM) with the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council. Many times, cities and towns are left picking up the cost of nonpaying patients. But GE hopes that, by partnering with suppliers in areas with high unemployment, jobs will be created that will enable employees to have health insurance or a way to pay their medical bills.
Lucas predicts that corporations will work more closely with small businesses in the coming years. “In today’s economic environment, corporations are much more risk-averse; for small and minority businesses to remain competitive, they’ll need to form partnerships and joint ventures,” he says. In order for small business to catch the attention of, say, GE, they will need to come up with solutions that give the larger entity more technical depth and expertise. Says Lucas, “A ‘me-too’ attitude won’t get you far.”
Manager, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Delhaize America
Garland Scarboro spent seven years in auditing before making the switch to diversity and inclusion. He enjoyed attending diversity workshops, so the move made sense. Scarboro couldn’t be happier. He gets to pursue a long-standing passion and shape diversity and inclusion policies that affect employees and vendors at Delhaize America, which operates food chains. The conglomerate has partnered with women- and minority-owned businesses like Pride Communications, Inc., a PR and marketing firm; FDY, Inc., a catering company; and Scott’s Sauce Company, Inc., whose tangy barbecue sauce is sold at Food Lion grocery stores, a subsidiary of Delhaize America.
The job Scarboro does is crucial these days, when hard economic times sometimes call for a heavy-handed approach to slashing budgets and cutting programs. “I have to remind management not to forget small businesses,” says Scarboro. He’s been able to help a vendor who distributes an ethnic hair product celebrate its 20th year doing business with Delhaize America and also identify new opportunities.
The new constraints mean Scarboro has to do more with less and work long hours—and he’s had to get creative. “We use affinity groups for community relations, enrollment, and retention,” says Scarboro.
Scarboro predicts diversity departments will see further consolidation, and perhaps even a monumental change.
“It was common for companies to have a person dedicated to managing diversity programs, but budget cuts have reduced department staff,” says Scarboro. “I can see diversity becoming the role of [all] managers and leaders.” DW
Jenny Mero’s work has appeared in Fortune, Essence, Latina, and on mamiverse.com. Find her on Twitter @jennymero.