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Supplier diversity program advances Emory’s mission
Musa Abdus-Saboor

Musa Abdus-Saboor runs Saboor Construction, an electrical firm that has become a registered small business contractor with Emory through its Supplier Diversity and Inclusion program.

— Emory Photo Video

Randy Brown holds fast to research that Forbes published in 2017 indicating that inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time. The “teams” Brown has in mind are the partnerships that Emory has created with diverse suppliers.

Through a variety of strategies, he has acted on this principle of inclusivity’s value to business, helping departments assess their annual spending and pivot to create opportunities for worthy companies. Apart from health care, units with the largest budgets include Campus Services, the Emory University School of Medicine, the Office of Information Technology, and Rollins School of Public Health.

Now in the second year of carrying out a newly created role as manager of Emory’s Supplier Diversity and inclusion program, Brown has served on both sides of this aisle, founding his own minority business and helping several prominent companies manage their sourcing with an eye toward diversity.

In his words, “Emory’s mission statement — ‘to create, preserve, teach and apply knowledge in the service of humanity’ — draws us to make this change. What better way to honor our mission than to give opportunity to diverse vendors?”

A ‘diverse supplier’ includes businesses that are minority-, women-, disabled- and veteran-owned as well as those that qualify as being part of what the government terms “HUBZones,” which denotes “historically underutilized business zones.”

Planting the first seeds

Brown arrived in December 2020, just months behind two other key staff members: Kevin Nash, Emory’s chief procurement officer, and Scott Shacter, the senior director of contract administration.

When Nash joined, the university’s central focus as a government contractor had been on compliance. He wanted to do more, to build what he terms “a high-functioning supplier-diversity area,” and reports finding a “very receptive audience” extending all the way to the president’s office.

Credit goes to the Business Diversity Advisory Council, co-chaired by Alan Anderson, assistant vice president, university partnerships; Debby Morey, vice president for business operations; and Carol Henderson, vice provost for diversity and inclusion, chief diversity officer and adviser to the president. The council formed in fall 2019 in order to create broader opportunities for diverse businesses in the region to work with Emory.

“Emory is committed to developing a model program for supplier diversity,” says Morey. “Through great partnership with Carol Henderson and Alan Anderson, we have been able to take an enterprise-wide approach to this important work. Randy Brown has been a tremendous leader in supplier diversity whose enthusiasm for this work has renewed the energy across campus, resulting in impressive increases to our diverse spending since he arrived.”

Given the timing of the new team’s arrival, it focused on pandemic needs — making sure that Emory had its share of gloves, masks, gowns and testing centers — but also took steps to achieve greater supplier diversity.

Nash shared his expertise in supplier diversity by leading the charge to develop processes to capture spending data as a means of setting benchmarks and goals to track and measure success. 

“Prior to 2020, we did not really know what we were spending across Emory with our diverse suppliers. Once we got our arms around that, we could have much more influential discussions with departments,” says Nash.

Emory is a large enterprise operating a decentralized procurement model and, as a result, “everyone has their own buying person; it is very independent,” Nash adds.

Enter Brown, who engages Emory’s buyers by sharing their spending data with them, outlining — where possible — benefits achieved elsewhere at Emory with regard to the same commodity and introducing diverse suppliers.

Just a few months into Brown’s tenure, he moderated a webinar featuring President Gregory L. Fenves. Acknowledging the burden on Black businesses during the pandemic, Fenves pledged the university’s commitment “to lasting progress on campus and in Atlanta.”

The drive to do more

The federal government makes certain demands of its contractors: for instance, 33 percent of a contractor’s spending must be with small businesses, 5 percent with women-owned firms, 3 percent with veteran-owned companies, and so forth.

The industry average for diverse spending stands at around 2 to 3 percent. Emory already exceeds that, with its diverse spending close to 6 percent and with construction and professional services realizing even higher percentages.

“Emory is determined to lead in this area,” states Henderson. “As we strive to be eminent as a research and educational enterprise, we want that eminence to be evident in all operational functions of the institution, particularly as it relates to our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.”

The push to do more is how Brown is wired and how his job description reads.

He interacts regularly with the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council (GMSDC), the Georgia Women’s Business Council, the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and OUT Georgia Business Alliance, supporting the efforts of all these groups to, he says, “expand what it means to be an entrepreneur.”

Emory became a founding member of ATL Action for Racial Equity in 2021, an initiative of the Metro Atlanta Chamber to help address the ongoing effects of systemic racism affecting the Black community.

As Henderson noted at the time, “The Metro Atlanta Chamber understands very well the partnership between businesses and the academy, and that pipeline is key. Not only do we want to make sure our students have internships in Atlanta businesses, we want to support those businesses with our supplier diversity plan as well as make sure that the businesses we engage with share our values in their corporate climate and culture. This initiative is an opportunity to look at our practices to ensure our efforts are being implemented in really transformative ways to impact our community.”

Acquiring capital can be more difficult for minority vendors. For that reason, Brown consults regularly with groups such as the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, a Black business generator, and the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative, whose mission is to “address Atlanta’s racial wealth divide.”

In fact, the latter relationship is how Goodr, a woman- and minority-owned business, came to Emory’s attention. Goodr now serves as the university’s holistic waste management provider to help achieve its zero landfill waste goal.

Recognition of Emory’s efforts

Randy Brown holding award

Randy Brown accepted the George Lottier Rising Star Award on behalf of Emory University.

In February 2021, the university was one of 10 higher education organizations to receive the Jesse L. Moore 2021 Supplier Diversity Award from Insight into Diversity. This award is specific to supplier diversity and recognizes institutions in higher education that are taking proactive steps to support and engage diverse suppliers in their communities and beyond. This award also recognizes unique programs and leading initiatives in supplier diversity.

In fall of last year, the GMSDC awarded Emory its George Lottier Rising Star Award, given to a council member who “is active for less than three years and has significantly impacted the growth of supplier diversity within their organization.” Emory was the only university among those honored.

Future goals

With Brown and Nash placing great emphasis on the Supplier Diversity and Inclusion program, Emory is on target to almost double its spending with diversity suppliers in 2022 over where it was just three years ago.

With departmental doors left on which to knock, Brown’s weeks are full. His calendar is proof that, as he describes it, supplier diversity is “expanding Emory’s Venn diagram.”

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