Kendra Austin: Dedicated to Diversity

Kendra Austin: Dedicated to Diversity

Kendra Austin is director of supplier diversity with pharmacy benefit management services provider Express Scripts, St. Louis, Mo. She has held this position since November 2014.

Responsibilities: Creating a supplier diversity program, defining the business case for it, and developing an internal infrastructure for engaging diverse sourcing participants.

Experience: Supplier diversity executive, Ameren; procurement agent, Anheuser-Busch; financial analyst for contract strategies, BJC Healthcare; acting director, development and technical services, St. Louis Housing Authority.

Education: BS, business administration, Langston University; MBA, Webster University.

I started my career in public housing, but ended up in supply chain. The common thread? All organizations need the same things to operate, whether it’s office supplies, insurance, or legal services. Supply chain is bigger than products and inventory, and encompasses everything required to run a business.

Once I started working in supply chain, I recognized it was what I wanted to do, whether through analytics, supplier diversity, or sourcing. All stay true to the idea that companies want the best service or product at the best price. I like negotiating and understanding how to get the best price for products and services. I also like building relationships.

Supplier diversity adds another facet to supply chain operations. Demographics are changing; more companies are run by people from diverse backgrounds. My job is to expand Express Scripts’ supplier diversity program, and add value so we attract and secure the business of more companies.

There’s a certain strategy that goes into supplier diversity. Say you’re working on a $50-million contract and no diverse vendor is available for it. You need to ask about second-tier opportunities. That is, if a vendor is going to use subcontractors, you can explore opportunities to use diverse vendors. We’re incorporating this into RFPs.

A big part of my role is communicating the value of supplier diversity. Clients look for it, and we need to identify ways to meet their needs. Supplier diversity also increases competition and keeps everyone honest. In addition, engaging diverse vendors helps the community. So it’s not just doing the right thing, but brings real monetary value.

Still, change is hard. You’re changing the way people think about how they buy. Yet the more you talk about supplier diversity, the more everyone wants to be a part of it.

One project I’m proud of is our work with AlphaPointe, the third-largest employer of visually impaired individuals in the United States. Express Scripts had won a large government contract, and turned to AlphaPointe to manufacture medicine bottles. However, we first needed to work with them to secure equipment financing and to establish pricing. Because of the program requirements, it took more than one year to get the contract signed. It has been a huge win for everyone.

Going forward, I’ll be working even more with my colleagues in sales and account management. We’re also adding more reporting features to our supplier diversity program. This will make it easier to create goals for different business areas.

We also do a lot of outreach in the community, participating in three national shows and a number of regional shows each year. It’s a great opportunity to interact with the community and do what we say we’re going to do.

When you enjoy what you do and have conviction and passion, it can make the difference between doing a good job and a great job. I love what I do.

The Big Questions

What’s the best work-related advice you’ve received?

Accept change. It’s one of the only things in life that’s inevitable, and you’re better off learning to embrace it.

What’s one passion outside of work?

My parents, sister, and I started an organic farm. We turned a sunroom into a greenhouse and grow about 5,000 plants.

Who are your heroes?

My parents and sister. They were retired and wanted to start something healthy to help the community. We hope in a few years the farm will be big enough to be meaningful to the community.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?

To see each of the Seven Wonders of the World. I’ve seen the Pyramids, so I have six to go.

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