Ford Puts Supplier Diversity Into Overdrive

Carla Traci Preston, director of supplier diversity development at Ford Motor Co., remembers volunteering with her family from a young age. She quickly learned that support from the community can help small groups and businesses flourish, especially in markets dominated by the big players. In her current position at Ford, she has the ability to continue that mission by recognizing and forming business partnerships with minority and women-owned business throughout the country. Under her direction, Ford has led the automotive industry in diverse supplier spending. She discusses how any company can work to increase its supplier diversity and how she continues to pay it forward by mentoring students.

How did you first become involved with supplier diversity at Ford?
As the chairman of the Ford Hispanic Network, an employee resource group, I worked frequently with Armando Ojeda, the previous director of supplier diversity development, and some of our strategic Hispanic suppliers such as Gonzalez Production Systems and Global Parts & Maintenance. I admired the tremendous work Armando and the entire supplier diversity development team was doing with minority and women suppliers and thought that if the opportunity ever arose this would be an area I would be interested in. As an engineer, I was particularly interested in the Joint Technology Framework initiative. This initiative is game changing and has the opportunity to significantly impact diverse suppliers.

Can you talk a little more about the Joint Technology Framework?
The Joint Technology Framework was launched in 2008 and is Ford’s commitment and promise to go further to enhance the technical capacity and sustainability of minority business enterprises through access to intellectual assets, such as Ford’s patented ideas, processes and subject matter experts. These projects will help suppliers enhance their business model and brand image in the marketplace.

What kinds of impacts can come about when a multinational automaker places a focus on supplier diversity?
We want to ensure profitable growth for all. The Ford team is committed to ensuring that this growth includes the development of minority and women-owned business enterprises in areas that represent large dollar volumes of goods and services in which these enterprises historically have not been represented or were underutilized.

Ford’s commitment includes investment in the growth and development of its diverse suppliers. Sourcing incremental new business, providing loans through Dearborn Capital Corp., facilitating acquisitions or joint venture partnerships are some of the ways Ford builds the capacity and scale of its suppliers.

Why does Ford find it important to champion supplier diversity?
Small businesses are the engine that drives the U.S. economy. Small businesses are crucial to our identity as a nation and to Ford Motor Co. Minority business procurement has a direct and positive economic impact on the communities where Ford does business. These businesses help Ford build brand loyalty.

What are the goals of supplier diversity at Ford?
Ford’s annual goal is to source more than 10 percent of its U.S. production and non-production business with certified minority and women suppliers. Last year, Ford surpassed its goal and also led the automotive industry in supplier diversity spending for the fifth consecutive year. Since 2009, Ford has increased its spend with certified minority-owned businesses 88 percent and with women-owned businesses 97 percent.

What suggestions would you give to companies looking to diversify their supplier base?
Businesses need top corporate management support and defined corporate policy. The key to supplier diversity success is unwavering commitment from a company’s leadership. Businesses should also look into developing a strategic plan that includes vision, mission and objectives. Ford Global Purchasing, for example, maintains a five-year business plan for diverse sourcing. The plan is updated quarterly to ensure positive trends and to maintain focus by the CEO and executive management.

There are many other things businesses can do like require diverse suppliers to be certified or verified, establish objectives for certified diverse suppliers, become active participants in the National Minority Supplier Development Council, and offer financial support in the form of five- to seven-year loans at market rates.

You spend time mentoring aspiring engineers, especially female engineers. What makes you want to carve time out of your schedule for these up and comers?
As a young girl I was blessed to have several positive role models who guided and mentored me. In particular, my female family role models have been and continue to be the greatest influences on my life: my grandmother, aunts and my mom. One of the values instilled early on is to pay it forward because to whom much is given, much is expected. For example, for over 10 years my mom and I have co-taught a second grade class on Mondays. It is very rewarding to know that we are doing our part to encourage boys and girls, especially those of ethnically diverse backgrounds, to be the best that they can be and aspire to be.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Working together as a global team has enabled us to reward our shareholders and other stakeholders such as our suppliers. But the success we have achieved so far is just a starting point, not a finish line. Ford is honored to have been selected by WBENC as one of the Top 29 Corporations for Women-Owned Businesses, Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council 2012 Corporation of the Year (third consecutive year) and the National Minority Supplier 2012 Corporation of the Year.

Jeffrey Cattel is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.