BMW Plays Matchmaker

How do you come off a record-breaking 2016? BMW Manufacturing employees in Greer, South Carolina, are still celebrating high-mark production and export numbers for last year, but they’re also exalting the plant’s 17 percent increase in supplier diversity.

President & CEO Knudt Flor recently shared the numbers with participants at the car manufacturer’s Supplier Diversity Matchmaker Conference in Greenville. “We are not only here to sell cars, ” he told suppliers and attendees. “We are here to produce, to create jobs, and last but not least, we are here to support your business to make this company grow. We think there is high value in diversity.”

BMW has hosted the conference for six years, opening the door for smaller, minority-owned suppliers and community partners to network with Tier 1 suppliers. Senior management was apprehensive about interest for the inaugural event, but response was so strong, BMW had to transform a parking garage into a colorful Bavarian biergarten to house the crowd. This year, 2000 people attended the conference.

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Louise Connell, supplier diversity coordinator for BMW Manufacturing, has spearheaded the initiative since inception. “Our success is two-fold, ” she says. “We’re not only helping minority and women-owned businesses, but we’re also helping our suppliers fill some voids that they weren’t able to. This is a win-win for both sides.”

This year, veteran-owned businesses were invited to attend as well. All participants must have third-party certification from organizations that include WBENC or NVBDC. Every year, the conference has grown, and more expansion is expected in 2018. “Under the minority umbrella, it’s all minorities. It’s Hispanic, Pan-Asian Americans, African Americans, ” Connell says. “The company is open to diversity in any way that may be. New things we’ve talked about are with the LGBT community.” Expansion could be endless, with BMW changing suppliers for different vehicle platforms and traditionally using five- to seven-year contracts.  Connell estimates every seven years, new companies could gain exposure and explore untapped relationships.

She’s even looking beyond the U.S. “We are at a growth point where BMW sees this as an opportunity. As we continue to link BMW to the intercultural innovation world, I think word is slowly going across the ocean, ” she says.

Connell envisions new refugees in Europe becoming the next generation of entrepreneurs and joining the overseas supply chain. Flor’s comments appear to create guideposts pointing that way. “I believe in the value of diversity, because only in the value of diversity lies the spirit and ideas for the future.” 

Text by Dave Helms

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