Office Depot Highlights Supplier Diversity

Frantz Tiffeau first set his sights on the diversity and inclusion field because he was drawn to the opportunity to interact with a diverse range of business owners. As senior manager of supply chain diversity at the global office supplies and services provider, he knew he could make a difference in the way the company approached diversity and inclusion.

Tiffeau spoke to Diversity Executive about how his company is leveraging supplier diversity to make a business impact.

What special qualifications do you bring to add value to the D&I function at Office Depot?
I hold degrees in marketing and management information systems, and I started working at Office Depot as a sales representative. I have held positions in our logistics, warehousing, training and project management teams over the years. I was surprised to find out how much of these skills are used on a daily basis in my current role.

As a D&I professional, I need to understand all of the aspects of how the corporation does business, from hiring and training, to purchasing, marketing, selling and distribution, so that I can provide an inclusive and diverse solution at each of these critical points.

What is the biggest misconception people have about D&I, and how do you counter this?
One of the biggest challenges is the lack of understanding that D&I is really about business processes and social economics and not about gender or racial hiring practices.

You have to look at every aspect of your supply chain and make sure that the most diverse and creative indicators are identified, researched and put in place at every step of the way you do business. This starts with the people that you hire and train, to who you acquire products and services from, to who you partner and do business with.

With global organizations like Office Depot, D&I becomes more complex. We need to balance our standard D&I process while also recognizing what diversity means to other countries and cultures in which we operate our business. Ultimately, it’s about being able to make sure that the people — and processes — participating in how you run your business align with the diversity of your customer base.

Are there special challenges in your company or industry you will address through D&I? What makes D&I unique at your organization?
D&I plays a vital role in the entirety of our supply chain – especially in the areas of merchandising and procurement. Through our ability to partner with a variety of diverse vendors, suppliers and small businesses, Office Depot is able to compete and offer solutions in markets that we wouldn’t be able to through traditional channels. For example, partnering with a small business — such as OutSmart Office Solutions Inc., a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender business enterprise (LGBTBE) — allows us to provide customized, personal solutions to customers in ways that a larger organization normally isn’t able to. In today’s environment of outsourcing and standard customer service, this allows us to continue high-level service while maintaining our costs.

What role does senior leadership play in D&I efforts at your organization?
Senior leadership plays a key role in the diversity and inclusion efforts at Office Depot. Support needs to come from the top down, and our leaders are highly involved.

Michael Allison, executive vice president of human resources, and Elisa Garcia, the company’s executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary, both attended the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce National Dinner, where I was presented with the Supplier Diversity Advocate of the Year Award. Later this summer, Neil Austrian, Office Depot’s chairman and CEO, will be giving the keynote speech at the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) 2012 National Conference & Business Fair.

Mohini Kundu is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.