Furniture maker’s diversity program turns 25


From left, Kavy Lenon, Abe Carrillo, director of inclusiveness and diversity, and Michael Ramirez, senior vice president, chat during Herman Miller’s celebration of its Supplier Diversity Excellence Award, which went to Holland-based Global Concepts Enterprise. Courtesy Herman Miller

When Herman Miller first launched its supplier diversity program 25 years ago, there were very few certified Minority Business Enterprises or Women’s Business Enterprises.

Today, the company does business with hundreds.

“Not everyone understood the value of getting the certification,” said Kavy Lenon, senior supplier diversity manager for Herman Miller.

That was a challenge for a company that wanted to ensure it was working with a diverse supplier base.

“We had made it a business imperative to seek a diverse pool of talent internally as well as in our supply base, to make sure we are getting the best suppliers out there,” Lenon said.

To build its program, Lenon said Herman Miller focused its efforts initially on finding out who among its current suppliers were minority- or woman-owned and encouraging those businesses to become certified.

Over time, Herman Miller was able to build its diverse supplier base to several hundred, with additional certified categories including veteran-owned and LGBT-owned businesses.

“Now we operate with over 375 certified woman-, minority-, veteran- and LGBT-owned businesses,” Lenon said.

Herman Miller’s strategy for growing its supplier diversity base includes opening bid opportunities to diverse suppliers, requiring its prime suppliers to support supplier diversity through awarding a portion of their contracts to diverse suppliers, mentoring diverse suppliers, and sharing best practices internally and externally to encourage diversity.

“We want everyone to have an opportunity to be part of a bid and to have an opportunity to work with us,” Lenon said. “We have a requirement that when there is new product development, we include 25 percent of diverse companies to be part of that quoting process.”

Lenon noted Herman Miller launches new products every year, and it keeps track of its spending with its diverse supplier base.

“We do have a scorecard that we use to monitor our spending with the different groups,” she said. “It’s above 18 percent that we do business with diverse companies. When we first started, we were in the single digits, then we worked to 10, then 15, and we have a goal of 20 percent by 2020.”

Herman Miller has been recognized for its supplier diversity program a number of times. It was named one of the Top 10 Corporations for Supplier Diversity by DiversityIncmagazine in 2006, and received the Corporation of the Year Award in the Commercial Products sector by the Michigan Minority Business Development Council eight of the last 11 years.

Lenon said the biggest challenge now for Herman Miller isn’t finding diverse-owned businesses; it’s not being able to do business with all of them.

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