How Henry Ford Health System aims to create opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses

Last year, Lillian Lowery, supplier diversity coordinator for Henry Ford Health System, reached out to Cassaundra Bing, president of ISC Solutions, to see if the Southfield-based company could provide a price quote for a cart for medical staff at a new clinic.


“ ‘We’d like to see a diverse supplier to be able to compete and bid in this space,’ ” Lowery told her, Bing recalls of the $150,000 opportunity.
Lillian Lowery, supplier diversity coordinator for Henry Ford Health System. Photo courtesy Henry Ford Health System


ISC Solutions, a certified women-owned company and minority supplier certified by the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council (MMSDC), not only won the bid, but helped the system save money, Bing says.


The outreach demonstrates HFHS’ commitment to ensuring supplier diversity. The partnership between HFHS and ISC Solutions dates back to 2008 when the former automotive supplier initially provided transportation services. Today it still supplies the health system with transportation but it has evolved to offer more such as office supplies and other items “woven into a package that makes a lot of sense. And it cuts costs through the supply chain,” Bing says.


These days, the conversation about ensuring diversity and inclusion has been brought to the forefront in light of the nationwide reckoning on systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death this past spring, but advancing equity and making sure diverse suppliers are included in the conversation is “nothing new” for HFHS, she says.


“In today's environment, we're hearing a lot more discussions about diversity and what it means. … [But] this is who we are, who we've been all along. And now, the rest of the world seems like they're catching up,” Bing says.


By creating a framework to ensure accountability in the bid process, the Henry Ford Health System Strategic Sourcing team under the direction of Valencia Stoudamire, director of strategic sourcing non-clinical and Supplier Diversity, is ensuring minority- and women-owned firms have a seat at the table when it comes to opportunities from transportation to construction.


A champion for more than two decades


“Henry Ford Health System embraces diversity by valuing the unique heritage, ideas, backgrounds, talents, and needs of our patients, team members, partners and community we serve,” says Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, the company’s senior vice president of community health and equity and chief wellness and diversity officer.


With more than 300 minority suppliers in its database and 33 awards recognizing its efforts in supporting diverse businesses and communities, Henry Ford Health System has been a champion of minority- and women-owned businesses in Detroit for over two decades. This year it was ranked No. 4 out of 15 on the list of Top Companies for Supplier Diversity on Diversity Inc.’s annual list of top hospitals and health systems.


After the company’s first supplier diversity policy was created in 1998 under Gail Warden, former President and CEO, HFHS has established itself as an industry leader through a variety of initiatives.


“Henry Ford had been very engaged in doing business in the local community for decades prior to [the supplier diversity policy] — but not in a formalized way,” says Glenn Croxton, HFHS director of Supplier Relationship Management. “One of the more significant things that’s happened was the development and creation of our transparent sourcing policy. It stresses not only the importance of supplier diversity, but also indicates that we would ingrain and embed supplier diversity within our supply chain management operations and processes.”


Adopted in 2012, the policy established a framework for accountability by requiring projects of $20,000 or more to be competitively bid and include one or more diverse suppliers in the bidding process. “That was a pretty major commitment Henry Ford Health System made, adding more teeth to the program,” Croxton says. “It wasn’t just something in writing, but something that could be actionable and measured.”


When it comes to non-construction projects the policy has been the most effective tool for bringing more minority suppliers to the table, says Lowery, the system’s supplier diversity coordinator.


Building equity


After joining HFHS three years ago, Lowery says her first goal in the supplier diversity program was to tackle construction. “Construction has so many legs — as well as the greatest opportunity to have an immediate impact on our local community,” she explains.


During construction on her first project with the company — the Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion, a 187,000-square-foot state-of-the-art cancer treatment facility on West Grand Boulevard that broke ground in 2017 — Lowery got the chance to make that impact by partnering with diverse construction suppliers. “We wanted to make sure that all participants were aware of the project and Henry Ford’s commitment to diverse suppliers. “From a Henry Ford perspective, we wanted to make sure that they understood our transparent sourcing policy.”


To generate equitable opportunities throughout construction, Henry Ford partnered with its contractors in a series of outreach sessions for diverse suppliers at the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church on Grand Boulevard.


Nick Kuelske, procurement manager for Turner Construction, says the goal of the outreach efforts was to connect “majority big player contractors” with minority- or women-owned businesses.


“We tried to help foster partnerships by introducing them at these kinds of events,” he says


Over the course of outreach sessions, with each targeting a specific trade, Kuelske says the meetings were set up to facilitate networking and help companies identify business opportunities. Building relationships between majority and minority construction firms through these type of matchmaker or outreach meetings has proven to be successful, resulting in the awarding of subcontractor bid awards to minority construction firms.


Businesses like Turner Construction and KEO & Associates, a minority-owned company headquartered in Detroit, helped bring small and diverse suppliers together with non-minority suppliers like SmithGroup and others, as well as organizations like the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, MMSDC, Great Lakes Women’s Business Council, and the Small Business Administration. Turner and KEO comprised the joint venture that managed the project and built the cancer institute.


Typically for Turner, when it comes to partnering on projects, the goal is to “find mentor-mentee relationships,” says Ron Dawson, the company’s construction executive. Turner had previously worked with KEO on other projects and KEO was looking to get more into the health care space, so with the cancer pavilion, it was “a golden opportunity for both of us.”


“We knew [KEO] was a good partner for this project, and we could also work with [Christopher Onwuzurike, president of KEO & Associates] and his staff to try to provide him with some new learning expertise in the health care side of the business. Our goal in these situations is to try to help bring along minority and disadvantaged businesses to bigger players in the marketplace and help them grow their firms as well.”


The relationship with Turner has been very beneficial, says Onwuzurike, who noted that KEO provided personnel such as superintendents, engineers, and a designer to the project.
Christopher Onwuzurike, president of KEO & Associates


In regards to the outreach sessions, the program was a success, he says.


“Knowing that it was a diversity program, we also brought in some lists of diverse companies to make sure outreach authenticity was achieved,” says Onwuzurike. According to estimates from Henry Ford, the outreach sessions began with 48 participants and included around 85 by the final meeting.


Out of the relationships formed during those sessions, Henry Ford Health System partnered with Turner Construction’s Turner School of Construction Management, an annual nine-week program that brings diverse and small businesses together to learn about best management practices in the construction industry. For two years, Henry Ford hosted the program at its headquarters.


“It’s just a well-rounded class. It covers so much. It gave me, my foreman, and estimators a broader idea of what it takes to be successful in business …” says Ben Medina, owner of Medina Resources Group, a four-year-old construction company based in Detroit that specializes in concrete and paving. “We were really impressed with some of the heavy-hitters that they actually brought in there to talk to us. It wasn’t like they just brought an intern to teach you stuff — they brought [experts] in from the top.”


In addition to the direct impact of the Henry Ford supplier diversity initiative, Medina says his involvement in the Cancer Pavilion project allowed him to forge important new business relationships in his industry. “Our niche has been pretty much anything concrete — vertical or horizontal,” Medina says. “Before we did this project, I could not get an account with Superior Concrete because we were such a new company. … on [the Cancer Pavilion] project, we had such big pours. Superior worked with us on that job, and after that job we were able to get an account.”


Beyond the new cancer pavilion, other significant ways supplier diversity has supported Henry Ford Health System include the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center. Opened in 2019, the complex includes the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine and the Detroit Pistons headquarters and its 185,000-square-foot training facility that is home to its namesake team, which touts it as the largest building of its kind in the NBA.


“That, too, was a major project because of the joint venture between Christman (non-minority owned) and Brinker (minority-owned),” Lowery says, noting the partnership between the two established construction companies on the project. “Larry Brinker, Jr. is an amazing senior leader. He was at the table when all discussions were being had from the beginning and throughout the project. You really saw diversity at the forefront.”


Engaging the community

Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom is Henry Ford Health System’s senior vice president of community health and equity and chief wellness and diversity officer. Photo courtesy of Henry Ford Health System
As part of its inclusion efforts, Henry Ford Health System also actively encourages employee involvement through participation in about 10 different employee resource groups (ERGs) with a goal of providing staff with personal and professional growth opportunities while increasing awareness about diversity concepts related to minorities, women, veterans, and members of the LGBTQ community. Some of the company’s ERGs include Amigos de Henry Ford Health System, iCare4U, PRIDE, and Women’s Improvement Network (WIN).


“We help them in supporting the community,” Lowery says, adding that Henry Ford also shares information about their diverse suppliers with ERGs in an effort to connect them with materials that fit their various needs.


Henry Ford Health System’s inclusion efforts also extend beyond its own walls and into the city. “We’re not just staying in this bubble — we’re going out in the community,” Lowery says.


Part of their efforts to reach the community include ArtBlock, an arts-infused community space, which opened in 2019. The project utilized the services of minority-owned and Detroit-based Real Electric and several diverse events vendors, and is adorned with the work of 14 local artists, providing a meeting place for members of the community upon request. “We wanted to have local and diverse participation — and local in the sense of familiar with the neighborhood,” Wisdom says.


“It's about the community that surrounds you, and clearly, there's a need there. And if there's a need there, we want to be there to help,” she says.


Taking diversity to the next level


Over the decades he’s worked in supply chain management, Croxton says he’s kept a close eye on changes to diversity spending. “The economic downturn in 2008 really had a significant impact on corporations throughout America. [In a recession], many companies will look to cut in the area of diversity, whether it’s workforce or supplier diversity,” he says, noting that HFHS remained dedicated to supporting diverse businesses even during the Great Recession, when some other companies cut diversity-related budgets. “We remained committed to supplier diversity during those tough economic times,” he says. “There were no significant changes to support or staff.”
Glenn Croxton, HFHS director of Supplier Relationship Management. Photo courtesy of Henry Ford Health System


Beyond its direct commitment to spending with diverse suppliers, Croxton says the health system’s supplier diversity initiative operates at a Tier 2 diverse spend level — pushing the needle on the program’s impact on diverse communities through its Tier 1 suppliers.

“In 2019 HFHS spent 3.2% of the system’s total operating and capital expense with diverse suppliers. Combining its Tier 2 (indirect) efforts collectively HFHS achieved 5.2% spend with diverse suppliers,” Lowery says.


In September, HFHS approved a three-year Supplier Diversity Plan that aims to challenge the health system to be more inclusive, setting aggressive spend goals.


“Most organizations start with Tier 1, which is your direct spend (money paid directly to a supplier). Tier 2 is the indirect spend on behalf of HFHS to diverse suppliers by our direct suppliers,” says Lowery, explaining that companies with a Tier 2 initiative encourage their suppliers to purchase from diverse companies — creating a ripple effect through the supply chain.


In setting diversity goals, Lowery says the Strategic Sourcing, Supplier Relationship Management, and Supplier Diversity team collectively review supplier diversity spending, benchmarking data, and general account spending to determine where the health system is currently spending with diverse suppliers and to identify new spending opportunities.


Over the coming years, Henry Ford is looking at stretching its supplier diversity goals to reach new heights. As a member of the Healthcare Anchor Network, which it joined last year, Henry Ford is among some 50 health systems nationwide that are considering groundbreaking commitments to enhancing diverse and local spend, and to identify specific community wealth building opportunities in their work with those companies.


“The Healthcare Anchor Network allows HFHS to look strategically at our purchasing efforts to see how we can leverage our supplier diversity efforts to benefit our local community. For example, specific spend goals in construction has created more utilization of diverse suppliers with a ripple effect that provide more business opportunities and job creation,” Lowery says.


As a contractor with experience partnering with Henry Ford, Onwuzurike echoes those sentiments, noting that he views the health system’s diversity efforts as genuine and effective. “Henry Ford Health System has a wonderful, successful, and authentic diversity program that has been around for a long time,” Onwuzurike says. “A lot of times, owners talk about diversity, but they don’t really make sure they follow through. Henry Ford puts programs in place to make sure those goals are reached.”

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