Ross Mandiwall of IBM – Thoughts on Supplier Diversity and MSDUK

We had the pleasure recently of speaking to Ross Mandiwall of IBM. He’s an 18-year long-term procurement professional with the firm, having worked his way through various roles, including in business transformation and as category lead for contingent labour. He’s now IBM’s Head of Procurement for United Kingdom and Ireland.

Our specific topic with him was supplier diversity. He is involved as a Board member of MSDUK, the leading membership organisation for minority-owned firms. With the MSDUK conference coming up in September, we wanted to pick his brains about how buying organisations can go about developing a worthwhile supplier diversity programme, so we started asking for some background to his own involvement in the area.

“IBM has a long history of supporting social issues globally, and was one of the first businesses to have a supplier diversity programme, starting in the US in 1968 and becoming global in 2010. We spend some $2.6 billion annually with diverse suppliers now, and were a founding member of MSDUK 10 years ago. I took on the lead role here 4 years ago, and it has been a fascinating time. We’ve seen MSDUK grow and adapt in that time, becoming a real eco-system for minority-owned suppliers, moving well beyond the initial “dating agency” vision”, he says.

So why does IBM bother to place such store in these issues and activities, we wondered?

“It is within the IBM cultural DNA, and comes from both a real desire to help address societal issues and challenges – and of course in the US certain aspects are mandatory if you want to be a supplier to the government. Originally, the policies focused more on employee diversity, but now our clients often look for supplier diversity, and it is undoubtedly good from a business perspective”.

How does IBM find diverse suppliers?

“That’s a big part of our work with MSDUK and that is an increasingly important route for us to identify suppliers – around a quarter of our diversity spend in the UK is through MSDUK members now.  And every one of our category managers has a personal KPI related to their use of diverse suppliers, so they will use different routes to find those firms but they are all incentivised to do that.

Can you give us an example of a particular success?

“Yes, we have a minority-owned provider in the staffing sector. We initially recommended that they might work through a much larger prime contractor. They didn’t want to do that, and eventually they won a small part of our business. More recently, they have been appointed as one of our four prime contractors in that spend category, a very large contract, and even our most “challenging” internal stakeholders love them!”

What are the barriers or challenges you have faced in developing this scheme in IBM?

“Sometimes using diverse suppliers bumps up against the supply base consolidation goal that is often another priority; reducing supplier numbers, more aggregation and so on. We have to set expectations with MSDUK and the minority supplier sector generally. In some spend areas, it will be more appropriate for them to look to work through a first tier provider, rather than winning direct IBM business. We have to target which categories are most appropriate and be honest with the market, and firms have to be realistic about what is possible – that will give them a greater chance of success”.

So do you make allowances for minority-owned firms and give them a “leg up” in the procurement process?

“No, resoundingly not, I would say! We are trying to be open to these suppliers, but they have to compete on a level playing field, add value, and show innovation to become suppliers. There is no bias in their favour in our selection processes”.

It’s an overused word, but Mandiwall is clearly passionate about this cause. So we’ll let him have the final word.

“If you see where many of the MSDUK suppliers are based, in more underprivileged areas, you realise just what social impact they can have as they grow and succeed. I’m aiming to open doors for them that might not otherwise have been open, giving firms the opportunity to pitch their wares. Then it is up to them to bring their value and innovation to IBM”.

(The MSDUK conference and awards are in London on September 21st / 22nd.  Book here - you will also receive a 10% discount by using the booking code SM10).

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  1. mayank shah:

    Great Article Ross! As the founder and CEO of MSDUK my experience of last ten years has clearly seen companies that have achieved huge success in their inclusive procurement efforts have both the top level commitment and passionate individuals and leaders like Ross driving it within the organization. Opening up procurement opportunities to all sections of under-represented businesses brings huge commercial value to the bottom line and also makes a big socio-economic impact. I personally think that procurement professionals have a huge role to play as ‘change agents’ and being open and inclusive brings innovation, competitiveness and value within supply chain.

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