Supplier Diversity 101

Mark Artigues breaks down the procurement expertise that he levies on behalf of Alcatel-Lucent

In 1994, when Mark Artigues started at the global communications industry leader Alcatel-Lucent, the company had already operated a supplier-diversity program for years, understanding that a diverse supply base is vital to the growth of its supply chain and that such programs create effective business partnerships that are mutually beneficial. Artigues started in the company’s procurement group, holding various positions with increasing levels of responsibility, until 2011, when the director of Alcatel-Lucent’s supplier-diversity program announced her retirement. Artigues expressed his interest in the position, believing he could bring value and a new perspective to an already dynamic program, and it’s where he has been ever since. Here, the senior director of supplier diversity talks to us about the biggest challenges he faces in his role, adapting to the “new normal,” and the best practices a company should have in place.

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“Every day is a learning experience”

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“I will not be able to change the world, or at least our world, in a day or even a year. Some changes may come quickly, but many will take time.”

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“People in the supplier diversity profession—regardless of whether they work for competitors-—are all working to help each other. Everyone is united in the same mission.”

Why was having a supplier-diversity program important to Alcatel-Lucent?

Artigues: We recognize that it is an important priority for our customers. Although we are not a consumer-products company, and hence don’t have the same level of visibility for our supplier-diversity efforts as other more prominent brands, having a diverse supplier base is an absolutely critical priority, as important to us as having a diverse employee base.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role?

Artigues: Being in the position for only one year, my challenges are different than those experienced by someone who’s been in the role for 10 years. That being said, building awareness within the company is a big challenge. While we have been very successful in the area of supplier diversity, it’s not a program that touches everyone, so we’ve had to spread awareness. We only benefit from having more employees aware that this is an important priority for the company.

What would you say are the best practices a company the size and scope of Alcatel-Lucent should have in place? What challenges are facing the industry?

Artigues: I think it differs from company to company, and I am not sure our industry faces challenges much different than any other. For us, we’re not a US-based company, and a lot of companies in similar industries with similar programs are US-based with operations overseas. We’re the opposite. So, one challenge is having an abundance of suppliers in some areas and very few in others. Also, finding opportunities to introduce new diversity suppliers when we have existing diversity suppliers in the same commodity area can be a challenge. We want to introduce more suppliers to opportunities, but at the same time we don’t want to negate existing suppliers. It’s a delicate balance.

Artigues: Having both formal and informal practices has been beneficial for us. Formally speaking, in our procurement procedures we require that diverse suppliers are to be included in any US Request for Quotation (RFQ) over $100,000. I feel our informal practices are probably more important, and this includes the strong relationships our team has with the procurement teams and most of our customers. This provides for open communication and insight into needs.

What is the best way to build a strong supplier network?

Artigues: I am not sure I can say there is a best way. For Alcatel-Lucent, we make sure we’re picking the best candidates for the program. It’s not just about being diverse; we take our time to make certain we are bringing suppliers that will add value, be competitive, and provide innovative solutions. We want our diverse supplier, as with any supplier, to be successful, because if they’re successful then we’re successful.  —tina vasquez