Supplier diversity – MSDUK event looks to make it happen

Earlier this month, I attended a MSDUK facilities management and office services ‘meet the buyer’ afternoon, held at the Grange Hotel, Holborn in London. MSDUK (Minority Supplier Development UK) is an organisation that exists to promote minority owned suppliers and help them find work with large corporate buyers.

As well as observing the event, it was also a good chance to meet Mayank Shah, the founder and CEO of MSDUK. He is Indian by birth, and came to the UK in 2000 to do an MBA, then academic research into supplier diversity. Part way through his PhD, the idea for MSDUK was born and the academic life was put on hold. With backing from the East Midlands Development Agency, the not-for profit organisation was founded in 2006, based in Leicester.

MSDUK works in a couple of ways. They actively look to match minority owned suppliers in their database with corporate buyers who approach them saying, “we want to work with more or better diverse suppliers”. Interestingly, the organisation takes no commission on any resulting business - “we want to avoid any conflicts of interest”, Shah explains. So prospective suppliers pay a small flat fee, and corporates a somewhat larger fee, in order to use the MSDUK services.

Secondly, the organisation is increasingly looking at how they can pro-actively help their supplier base, by organising events like this one, or providing training and education to help firms perform and bid better in order to win more work. There were undoubted success stories around amongst the attendees at the session this month – firms for whom significant parts of their business had come via MSDUK contacts and network.

We’ll have more on our discussion with Shah shortly, but onto the event. A large chunk of the afternoon was given over to one-to-one meetings between the corporate buyers and the minority-owned suppliers.  But there was a plenary session first, and some good debate about the whole diversity issue. Both buyers and suppliers were in general against ‘special treatment’ for minority suppliers,  quotas and the like – “we just want to be given a chance to show what we can do” probably sums up the feeling from the supplier side. Legislation “tended to lead to bad or perverse behaviour amongst buyers”, was one view.

That was reflected from the buy side as well. An old friend of mine from DSS days, Mike Thrower (now at Sodexho), made some very insightful comments and  was very supportive of small and diverse suppliers. But he pointed out that they also need to make an  effort to learn about procurement and the procurement process – ‘maybe even do a CIPS foundation course’ he suggested.  I’m not sure about that, but his point is valid nonetheless.

It was good to see so many large firms getting involved, although clearly many more do not.  As we’ve said before, supplier diversity should not be seen as “doing good works”.  Rather, it is about opening up to innovative, efficient, effective suppliers of any type or ownership, and making sure the playing field is not tilted away from those less privileged suppliers. And engaging with MSDUK seems like a worthwhile and relatively easy way to take steps towards that goal.

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  1. Justin Lambert:

    It was great to see you at this event Peter, the buzz in the room of business people meeting to discuss more than just business was great and I am sure business relationships were started that will lead to contract oppertunities in the future. These events show the power of a network organisation like MSDUK and hats off to the corporates that attended and made time to meet with the business owners. It has to be said also that this was an oppertunity for B2B interactions and I know that a number of joint ventures between businesses have been born due to this network.

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