Big role for these firms
Small and diverse suppliers provide Boeing with innovation and flexibility, as well as goods and services
BY DAN IVANIS
Scientists and engineers from 16 of the most technologically-advanced countries on Earth work each day to expand and improve the operations of International Space Station.
When the time comes to convert their work into computer programming language and integrate it with the operating systems aboard the ISS, they turn to Cimarron Inc., a small, woman-owned company in Houston.
How did Cimarron, with fewer than 500 employees, become a major player in the most complex and ambitious space project ever? Through its relationship with Boeing, which is the prime contractor to NASA for the design, development and on-orbit perfor-mance of the station.
Bill Stowers, chairman of the Boeing Supplier Management Process Council, points to Cimarron as a prime example of the evolving relationship between Boeing and its suppliers—and the kind of innovation and flexibility that small and diverse suppliers offer.
“Our relationship with Cimarron has been a boon to both companies,” Stowers said.
Boeing’s evolution into an integrator of large-scale systems has forced the companywide Supplier Diversity Programs office to find new and innovative ways to include small and diverse businesses as part of the enterprise.
“The company’s direction makes our supplier diversity mission more challenging,” said Vernell Jackson, who oversees the Supplier Diversity office as vice president of Supply Chain Services for Shared Services.
“On the other hand, it also forces us to become more imaginative in how we pursue these relationships.”
The relationship with Cimarron, for example, includes a NASA Mentor-Protégé agreement. Under the pact, Boeing is able to use Cimarron’s expertise in real-time control-center design and implementation on the Space Station. In return, Boeing helped Cimarron earn its ISO 9000 certification and is mentoring Cimarron in its effort to attain its Software Engineering Institute, Capability Maturity Model, Level 3 certification.
The relationship has been so successful that in August, Boeing and Cimarron jointly accepted NASA’s 2002 Goldin-Stokes Award, the agency’s highest honor for contractors participating in its Mentor-Protégé program.
While Boeing has a contractual obligation to its government and defense customers to include a certain percentage of small and diverse businesses in its supply base, the main reasons for the company’s supplier diversity efforts go much deeper.
“Supplier diversity is much, much bigger than complying with government contracts,” Stowers said. “It is about our responsibility to our customers, our shareholders, our industry and our communities.”
To tackle its expanding mission, Boeing overhauled the Supplier Diversity Programs office in the last year. In late 2001, it became part of Shared Services Group to leverage SSG’s strengths in delivering enterprise services. Shortly thereafter, the Supplier Management Process Council created an executive-level position to run the program and named Carrie Hill, a 23-year Boeing employee, to that position.
The program also has been working to raise its profile. The effort received a big boost when Alan Mullaly, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO, agreed to be the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Northwest Chapter of the National Minority Supplier Development Council. Boeing co-sponsors the event and is a member of the NMSDC board of directors.
With Mulally participating, the audience now will include key executives and decision makers from major Northwest corporations.
In the Integrated Defense Systems business unit, the supplier diversity message is being pushed to executives who make purchasing decisions at the program and general manager level, said Mary Simmerman, vice president of IDS Supplier Management Southern California.
In Phantom Works, “Using small and diverse suppliers is becoming a way of life,” said John Bishop, who led Supplier Management for the company’s research and development arm until earlier this fall. “If the program is successful and moves to the manufacturing stage in one of the business units, then that supplier has the opportunity to grow with it.”
Bishop now heads Supplier Management for Air Force programs in IDS.
Customer feedback is another important element in supplier diversity. For example, several commercial airline customers have recently inquired about Boeing’s Supplier Diversity efforts.
“Many of our airline customers are driven by the same demands that we are of trying to expand their diverse supplier base,” said Jim Morris, senior vice president of Supplier Management for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “They look at us as one of their major suppliers and want to know how we are doing along those lines.”
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