Our VP of Business Development Stephanie Fontaine shares her panel Q&A experience

On August 15, 2017, Sun Life Financial, WBE Canada and the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce held “Collaborating to Win” – a supplier diversity workshop. I was honoured to take part in a panel, along with Marty Britton, Katie Mead, and Mary Anderson. In the spirit of knowledge sharing, below are some of the topics I covered.

Q1. Tell us your background and what you do at WBE Canada.

For about 7 years prior to joining WBE Canada, I worked in procurement. My portfolio included categories like office supplies, travel, furniture, uniforms, cleaning chemicals, security services and promotional products just to name a few. I did category research, RFPs, contract negotiations, product testing, arranged for distribution, and purchasing program implementations across Canada.

One of my side projects was to implement and lead a Supplier Diversity program. For the most part, it involved seeking new vendors, measuring progress as well as helping diverse vendors gain visibility and access to bids, presentations, and contract possibilities. I enjoyed finding or creating opportunities for these vendors while introducing innovation, cost savings and efficiencies into the larger supply chain.

Joining the WBE Canada team was ideal for me because my role combines my procurement background with my experience in the non-profit sector. I love helping suppliers understand the intricacies of large supply chains and supporting corporations at all stages of their supplier diversity programs. I’ve been there and I understand the challenges and success mechanisms.

Q2. What’s your definition of supplier diversity?

For me, supplier diversity is a mindset where organizations make a deliberate effort to look for, support and make opportunities visible for different and diverse vendors to access new supply chains. It’s working toward having a supply chain that represents the communities where they do business.

Q3. Certification is often the first step in the journey for a business. Could you share some “tips” about how to be successful doing business with big business and how to get started?

With WBE Canada the first criteria to certification is being women owned, but there are many others. In fact, it’s an audit on your business — and it’s completed on behalf of our members, the big businesses. In addition to being verified as diverse, the certification provides reassurance that the business is sound, prepared for growth and committed to learning and development.

In my previous role as a buyer, I wanted to pick up every call and take every meeting request from new suppliers but I just didn’t always have the time. I often referred diverse owned businesses to the certifying councils so they could gain an understanding of how to do business with big supply chains and start building their connections.

My best tip, to get started, is the same today as it was when I worked in corporate procurement. Give yourself time to learn. Take in as many opportunities as possible: webinars, networking events, connections, mentoring — ask questions, talk to corporations but also talk to fellow suppliers and learn from them.

Q4. There are many tools that are important for a newly certified supplier. What do you consider the best “tools” and how can a diverse certified supplier leverage them?

The most important tool is this community, by far. The councils, the organizations that are members and the long standing certified suppliers. These people get it and can really help newly certified suppliers understand the journey and most importantly – put it in perspective.

The events are great for networking and making connections and as the second best tool I want to focus on the roundtable activities that the councils offer as part of their events. At these roundtables, each supplier is asked to do a one-minute pitch to 6-7 other participants. Use that opportunity to develop and improve your pitch every time. Don’t be afraid to ask someone at the table to give you feedback. Over the last 3 years, I’ve been amazed at how willing the people in this community are to help each other.

The third tool is your business profile and capability statement. The councils are your biggest advocates and we constantly look for ways to introduce your business and share your value. When member corporations have procurement opportunities, we might share your business profile or capability statement. I can’t stress enough how important it is to put your best foot forward here. If you’re a transportation and logistics company and your business description is limited to “we provide transportation and logistics to clients” – you’re not differentiating yourself. Make your business profile a priority and focus on the value you bring.

A big thank you to Laura Williams, AVP, Global Procurement Services, at Sun Life Financial for hosting this event in their beautiful new space at One York Street, Toronto.

Sun Life Financial is a WBE Canada Corporate Member

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