Investing in Supplier Diversity
Shippers, Sustainability • Published on July 27, 2020
In order for sustainability to become more mainstream, we need to look at much more than a company’s green initiatives. Sustainably responsible organizations must lead the cultivation of a more inclusive, equitable world, which means adding diversity into the sustainability equation. Sustainability teams at corporations therefore have to work toward making strides in bridging gaps, enhancing corporate influence and outreach, and gaining access to new perspectives, talent, and strategies.
Minority-owned suppliers who want a seat at the table with Fortune 500 companies need to qualify for specific criteria which will enable them to secure more business. The question then becomes, just how do they get this opportunity? Enter former NBA player Antonio Davis, CEO at AI Logistics. AI Logistics’ mission is to identify, recruit, and employ qualified minority and women-owned transportation firms to successfully partner in major contracting opportunities while assisting governmental agencies and corporations in achieving their Supplier Diversity goals and objectives.
We wanted to hear from Antonio’s on how minority-owned companies can best navigate the supplier diversity landscape and asked for his recommendations on the following questions:
- What is supplier diversity and why is it important?
- Who benefits from supplier diversity programs?
- How do shippers benefit
- How do carriers benefit
- How does the trucking industry, and society as a whole, benefit?
- Based on your conversations about supplier diversity with Fortune 500 companies, can you share how supplier diversity programs work?
- What is the strategic advantage for a business to diversify their suppliers?
- What is the opportunity for carriers if they have a diverse supplier certification?
- What are the current supplier diversity challenges for the industry today?
- For companies that don’t have supplier diversity programs today, what should their first step be to start one?
- What do you think it’s going to take for more businesses to make large investments in supplier diversity?
- How can a business or truck driver get in touch with you if they want to learn more about working with AI Logistics?
Antonio provides valuable perspective on his experience with supplier diversity, and, more specifically, the need for big corporations to take the time to teach small companies how to secure contracts from them. It involves a shift in perspective from “business as usual,” in order to recognize small companies are earnestly able to serve them in a big way. By providing specific information on what criteria they expect (which could be something as simple as acquiring better insurance), large corporations will be making significant strides to level the playing field and be more inclusive as it relates to transportation businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans, LGBTQ, and other groups.
Watch the video or read the transcription below.
Jennifer Wong: Hi everyone. My name is Jennifer. I lead sustainability at Convoy. This is our interview series to hear directly from leaders on how they’ve transformed company cultures, demonstrated material value, and position their companies as sustainability leaders. Today we have Antonio Davis joining us. Antonio is the CEO of AI Logistics. AI Logistics, their mission is to identify, recruit, and employ diverse certified carriers and connect them with businesses looking to increase supplier diversity in supply chains. Welcome Antonio. Thanks for joining us today.
Antonio Davis: Thanks for having me Jennifer. How are you?
Jennifer: I’m doing great. It’s a beautiful morning today.
Antonio: Yes, yes.
Jennifer: Thank you again for joining us for this incredibly important conversation. We, at Convoy, actually launched our supplier diversity program this year. I know that you are really basing your company on this initiative, which I think will be important for the freight industry and commerce moving forward. To start out, for those that aren’t familiar, could you share more about what supplier diversity is and why it is increasingly becoming even more important.
Antonio: Well, you know, first of all, thanks for having me. I think for me, supplier diversity, and I found this out quickly as I started my business, it’s just a proactive business program and approach that encourages the use of minorities, women, veterans, disabled veterans, LGBTQ, [2:00] a lot of other minorities. So, with that, you know, sometimes there’s set aside business for that, sometimes they’re just programs because of the size of the company. Obviously, there will be a process to getting to that point. So, when a company starts their supplier diversity program, it’s really teaching a smaller company how to do business with a bigger company. All the requirements, the processes that it is going to take. So, it’s been very beneficial, you know, to smaller carriers. I think it’s important because as we think about small business today and what it takes to grow, you kind of have to strike it rich in a sense where given an opportunity, there is kind of a steady, constant cash flow. In this business we know it can be so volatile at times. I was doing really good before COVID, then kind of COVID hit, then everything kind of got wacky. But if you want to grow, you really need a bigger company to give you an opportunity and most times that bigger company has bigger requirements. There is a lot that you need in order to do business with them. But through supplier diversity, you get a chance that you otherwise wouldn’t have. I know that I’ve sat in meetings where you have some of the bigger companies, JB Hunt, Old Dominion, you name it, and I’m sitting there like, “Whoa, I don’t stand a chance. There’s no way that I can go up against this powerhouse.” But through supplier diversity, I’m given an opportunity to kind of learn [4:00] the ropes and figure out the processes and compete, and even the playing field with some of these bigger companies. So, without that, otherwise I wouldn’t have that opportunity.
Jennifer: That’s huge. I mean, especially when you look at the entire trucking industry, there are so many small businesses being able to level that playing field. It’s incredibly important just to give everyone more access to more business so that they can grow.
Antonio: For sure. For sure.
Jennifer: And I know that even if you say it yourself, it’s a small business, you’ve already been able to gain access to incredibly important conversations with a lot of the Fortune 500 companies. Could you share a little bit more around how they’re thinking about supplier diversity for others that are starting to kind of start looking into supplier diversity for their own companies?
Antonio: Yeah, you know, and it’s been fantastic obviously, being in the room. And it’s the reason why, you know, I’ve decided that it’s important for me to go back, well two phases of it. One is I realized that a lot of times, I get in a room just because. You know, and I’m okay with that but once I get in, I want to be impactful. You know, I also want to be someone who’s going to kind of maybe bridge the gap. Someone who is going to pull others in. I realized starting, you know, my own carrier company, my own brokerage company that, hey, there are going to be some challenges just in starting a business in general, and then even in this industry, there are even more and more challenges. So, I can’t imagine not being able to get in that room and kind of understand what it is going to take [6:00] for me to grow my business. So the one thing that I talk to some of the bigger companies about, and try to explain to them the play of the small carrier, either you have one or two trucks, five or ten trucks, it’s kind of all the same. So, I can tell you a short story. So, I go in with Chrysler/Fiat and they’re talking about doing business with them and the first thing they say is, “Hey, you have to have a minimum of 50 tractors and 100 trailers.” Well, I immediately look at them and say, “Well, you just cut off 95% of minorities in this space. You know, we don’t have 50 tractors and 100 trailers. So, that right there, you’re telling us that the playing field is not even. I’m not going to be able to be in the room unless I’ve got 50 tractors and 100 trailers, how do you expect me to grow? How do you expect me to even get an opportunity?” So I start telling them, “Well, if this is just about one point of contact, then maybe I can create this umbrella where I can bring in other minority carriers, other women carriers, veteran owned carriers and be that one point of contact but hold them to high standards, just like you would a bigger company. Make sure that they have things to offer, same insurance requirement, all of that. All we’re asking is for an opportunity.” And I think when you kind of tell them and they kind of hear it because, listen, for them it’s business as usual. They’re looking at the bottom-line numbers. How much is it going to cost for me to transport the goods that I need either to make my product or get my product out the door to the consumer [8:00] or the distributor. And I get that but, in the meantime, you may be missing out on really helping some of the smaller carriers grow that maybe conserve you in different ways that a bigger company can’t. Let’s just be honest. You know, some of the bigger companies may have, you know, all of this equipment and be able to service you across multiple areas and may be able to bring the price down because they can. It’s about volume for them. But they may not be able to provide the service. They may not be able to provide some other things that a smaller company can provide but how you know if it’s just business as usual with big business to big business business. You know, we’re not included in those conversations. So, to me, for any company that is thinking about starting a supplier diversity program, you have to think about evening the playing field and what that means. Does that mean you have to educate the small carrier? Does that mean it is just to create an opportunity? Does that mean that maybe you need to bring some of them in the room and just ask them like what is it that you guys need? Because most of the time we hear the same thing. “Well, you just don’t have enough equipment.” And if that’s the case, that can’t be fixed until we get an opportunity to have some consistent income. And then the second part of it is trying to figure out where that fit into the grand scheme of things. You know, because I think every company is going to have their different reasons for why. I would think that in the climate of today and what is going on today, we all understand the importance of diversity and making sure the playing field is even.
Jennifer: One thing that you mentioned was the quality of service. What we’ve seen when we work with the longtail of the trucking industry because it is so fragmented so those carriers with maybe less than six trucks for their business, they actually have so much pride in their work because they are business owners. So, service level is typically not an issue because they are proud of their business, they want to show up in a high-quality way, just as you would expect from some of the larger companies out there.
Antonio: No, and that’s really it. You know, taking pride in what you do and how you do it is something that maybe, again, can be missed out on some of the bigger companies. You know, I know with my company, we had an opportunity to pull some stuff for a major furniture company and my guys…it’s crazy when you say small. Sometimes you equate small with young. You know what I mean? And all of my drivers have over 15 years of experience in driving. And so, just because we’re small, doesn’t mean that we’re not capable or we don’t have that same capacity to bring service as someone who’s been in the industry for a long time. So, it’s just again, trying to change that perception on going with a super big company instead of, you know, maybe giving some smaller carriers, you know, an opportunity.
Jennifer: And what do you think it’s going to take for more businesses to actually make the larger investments in supplier diversity? So really take some of those first steps to start actually increasing the diversity in their supply chain.
Antonio: You know, I think the first thing is they have to be open. Open to change, open to something different. I get it. [12:00] You know, some of the bigger companies of the world have done great work with you, they’ve given you great service, they’ve given you great pricing, they have a larger footprint. But I’d like to say that…we run our trucks northeast, southwest, Midwest, right? So, I guarantee you that if you give me something specific to where I am, I know that landscape better than, you know, somebody that might have that footprint as a part of what they do. Right? So I can be more specific to my area meaning cost, time, I know about traffic, weather, I know about all those different things so when I tell you I can do something, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I can get it done. Right? And there’s that pride that comes in with that. So that mixture of things will allow you the same kind of comfort that you’ve been getting with this bigger company for a very long time so it will be interesting to see if, again, through the climate of what is going on today, if more companies start understanding the importance of diversifying and evening the playing field. You don’t know if there is a benefit or not until you give it a try. And again, some of it, and I’ve heard this before too, “You know, well I would give business to smaller companies if they were more qualified.” Well, how do they know what to be qualified for if you never tell them? “Well, they don’t have enough insurance.” Well, do you tell them they needed more insurance? You know? How do you know that that’s the case if you don’t, kind of, let it be known? These are the qualifications for working with our company. Just start there and once they know, and even me [14:00] as I build my business and I know that I want to work with some of these bigger companies, when I put, you know, technology in place, when I put standard on my team and things like that, I need to know what that looks like so one day I will be prepared. Because even if I get 25, 50, tractors and 100 trailers or whatever, I still have to know, what are the barriers of entry into your company, and it may be different for each company. So, if you start off by just educating and saying, “This is what it takes to work for our company,” I think that would be a huge step.
Jennifer: Thank you for sharing your advice. As we wrap up, I have one last question. You did mention that you work with a lot of other carriers that are looking to gain access to this type of freight if that are a qualified diverse carrier. Could you share a little bit more for the carriers out there that are going to be listening to this how you help business, or you help their businesses and how they can get in touch with you if interested.
Antonio: Right. Well first of all, you know, to be a certified minority in whatever it is. Whether it’s women or veteran, you have to be at least 51% owner. Right. It’s important to get that certification. That certification can open up so many doors. I am actually certified through the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council. Usually they have one in each state. I joined there and I’ve been giving a ton of guidance, support, and even some access. You know, which is just crucial to this business. And as I’ve tried to do, you know, everything from being in that room and giving back this information…and I’m not big on [16:00] social media. Everyone is jumping on me about it and we’re kind of figuring that out, but I am on LinkedIn. If you search Antonio Davis on LinkedIn, you’ll find me. We’re trying to spread the message through either Facebook or Instagram. Still working on it though but I think if you search us, we’ll be there. I’ll be very bold, you know, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and then also I’ll be very bold and give my office number out. It’s 678-783-4055. So, at any time, I’m just, you know, I want to be a vessel for change. I want to make sure that when I’m in that room, I’m not only speaking for AI, but I’m speaking for, you know, a multiple of diverse carriers that are looking for opportunities and at the end of the day, it’s just about, “Hey, give me that one load and if I do well with that one, give me two. And if I do well with two, give me three. And then I’ll be able to have an opportunity to prove myself.”
Jennifer: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. We’re excited to share this message alongside you.
Antonio: Thank you and I appreciate you.