The University Record, September 25, 1995

U wins state award for Vendor Diversity Program

By Jared Blank

The Michigan Minority Business Development Council (MMBDC) awarded the University its Corporation of the Year Award—Education Sector at a ceremony held last Tuesday evening in Detroit’s Renaissance Center. The award is presented to the company that has “truly served the minority business community by going above and beyond normal requirements and helping to develop and aid minority-owned businesses.”

More than 2,000 business leaders, including Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, attended the event, which recognized companies from across the state for their work promoting minority-owned firms.

Farris W. Womack, executive vice president and chief financial officer, is pleased with the individuals who have made the University a leader in working with minority-owned, women-owned and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) approved businesses.

“The University won the award, but it was earned by the dedicated efforts of the people in Purchasing,” Womack says.

He also praises the Purchasing Department’s outreach effort, the Vendor Diversity Program, for making it possible for the University to do business with more than 1,000 minority firms.

“The program was begun by Gene Ingram, former director of University Purchasing and Stores, and Dick Throne, purchasing manager, and has been emphasized and expanded by Phil Abruzzi, director of Purchasing and Stores,” Womack says. This award came about because Purchasing worked effectively with minority businesses to help them learn how the University does business, and to make them competitive vendors.”

Abruzzi, a member of the MMBDC’s board of directors, is excited about the statewide recognition the University received with this award. “This is the first time we’ve received an award from a group with the stature of the MMBDC. The U-M has worked very hard for this since the Vendor Diversity Program’s inception in 1983.

“We are a major force in Michigan’s minority community. I am very proud of our staff and the hard work they have done,” he says.

Abruzzi notes that Purchasing has implemented a number of programs to reach out to the diverse vendor community.

“We are working to educate the University community on the importance of vendor diversity. Last year we had a trade fair where 80 vendors and 500 members of the University community met to educate each other about the opportunities for the firms to provide goods and services to the University.

“We produce a diversity vendor directory—the first of its kind—with the names of 3,000 diverse vendors to educate buyers about the opportunities to work with these firms,” he says.

Abruzzi adds that the programs in Purchasing are an important part of the Michigan Mandate. “We would like our business practices to reflect the diverse community at large,” he notes.

Purchasing staff have taken the lead in actively reaching out to work with diverse vendors, according to Robert N. Klaffke, senior buyer.

“We take the extra effort to seek out these companies and try to bring them up to speed with how to best do business with the U-M. For example, we work them through the billing process. We make sure that they are aware of key users of their products—we hope that they can become acquainted with departments on a one-on-one basis,” he adds.

Klaffke also says that working with University departments is an integral part of the Vendor Diversity Program. “We make sure departments don’t lose sight of our goals and continue to educate staff and faculty about opportunities to do business with diverse vendors,” he notes.

Jill S. Olsen, a senior buyer for health sciences, believes that being aware of the diverse vendors has become second nature in Purchasing. “We are always aware of who we’re bidding to—it doesn’t take extra effort to stay on top of who is available, what companies have to offer and make sure they know how we work,” she says.

Abruzzi says it is important to let businesses know that the University wants to do business with a wide range of companies. “We are getting the word out that the climate at this institution is receptive to minority-owned, women-owned and ADA-approved businesses. I really believe that we have earned this award.”

The MMBDC helps minority-owned businesses compete in the marketplace. The Council has nearly 500 minority business members and 280 corporate members.