AT&T has been one of the leaders in the development of supplier diversity initiatives for more than four decades. In fact, the supplier diversity program was started in 1968 with one of their manufacturing facilities outside of Chicago, IL. Even back then, AT&T recognized that as a business operating in the community and providing telephone service to consumers and businesses, the company felt an obligation to make sure they were engaged with local diverse businesses.

“We held our first diverse business tradeshow at that facility and had our buyers meet with local suppliers. It was groundbreaking and we achieved success with that model over the years. And, we expanded this practice to our facilities across the country,” said Alithia Bruinton, director of the AT&T Supplier Diversity Organization. “As pioneers of supply chain inclusion in our industry, we continue to build on that legacy to increase diversity spending in other sectors such as advertising, professional services and financial services. Over the years, our program has evolved to incorporate not just outreach but mentoring initiatives, business development and coaching, financing tools, training and education, and supplier engagement initiatives.”

And also, over the years, certification has become more inclusive with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce certification for the LGBT suppliers.

“A diverse workforce and inclusive culture are essential to AT&T. They allow us to attract and retain the best and the brightest to develop the most innovative products and solutions to meet our customers’ needs, said Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO.

At the end of the day, the numbers are the real indicator of their success. Over the last five years, AT&T’s supplier diversity program which includes the LGBT suppliers, has spent more than $70 billion with diverse firms across the country. It is also responsible for growing several companies from micro businesses to multi-million dollar enterprises that led to job creation and investment.

“Our team works diligently with our internal business partners to cultivate new opportunities. We work with our Global Supply Chain organization to position diverse suppliers for competitive opportunities. We spend considerable time working with external groups and organizations to participate in outreach events. We believe that creating opportunities for diverse businesses is key to our success,” Bruinton said.

“Actually, the qualifications are not very different for diverse suppliers. We look for firms that have financial stability and bring innovative, quality products and services at competitive prices. We are looking for firms that have a unique value proposition and provide creative solutions. Diverse firms that want to do business with AT&T need to be certified as a diverse supplier. We like to know that they have a business strategy that will continue to grow their business. “

The Importance of Certification

First, certification allows companies like AT&T to refer the diverse supplier to their Sourcing teams and other units in within AT&T with the confidence that their referrals are viable. The certification process administered by WBENC, NMSDC, and other national, state and local approved entities, allows the company to validate ownership status. Secondly, AT&T administers a Prime Supplier Program where they refer diverse suppliers to its tier 1 suppliers which in turn, AT&T can refer certified firms to their own prime suppliers.

“My advice to MBEs is to understand what is going on in our business and industry and come to the table prepared. In the technology and communications industries, things move very quickly,” Bruinton said. “Be prepared to succinctly state your value proposition and make sure it aligns with what we are looking for. And finally, bring your patience. We are a global entity with a significant supply chain and we work with many prime suppliers. Typically, a new supplier’s first opportunity will be at the tier 2 or tier 3 levels. We encourage our primes to provide annual Supplier Diversity plans and our supplier diversity team actively refers diverse suppliers to our primes. Many firms that started this way have worked up to a direct contract status.”

As director of suppluer diversity for such large company, she began her career with AT&T as a technician with the Bell Labs Division of AT&T.

“I have background in network management, product management and Supply Chain in addition to my formal academic work. I have a Master of Science degree in Technology Management I also attended Executive Management Programs at Harvard Business School where I received extensive training in the areas of Leadership, Performance Development and Management,” Bruinton said. “It is crucial to have a multitude of experiences coupled with training and accreditations. For instance, my responsibilities within AT&T Supplier Diversity include strategy development and implementation, leading the Channel Management and Prime Supplier Team, Results and Data Analysis and Strategic Program Communications. I also provide leadership as a board member to WBENC, the New York and New Jersey Minority Supplier Diversity Council and a team member of the Women Presidents’ Educational Organization in New York.

Article by Brenda Matamoros-Beveridge