Investing in minority product suppliers with Harry Perales of Campbell Soup Company

“Professionally, I want to enhance Campbell’s ability to navigate through the diverse Hispanic marketplace. Personally, I’d like more minorities to have the same chance at success that I have had," says Harry Perales, senior manager of procurement and supplier diversity at Campbell Soup Company. PHOTO: Jon Heller

“Blessed” is the word that Harry Perales uses to describe his life. After all, rising from his inner-city roots to become a senior manager of procurement and supplier diversity at consumer-products giant Campbell Soup Company seems a bit miraculous. But despite a fulfilling career with the renowned soup company, Perales hasn’t forgotten his roots. In fact, he has made it his life mission to broaden opportunities and access for minority product suppliers. HE spoke with Perales about achieving corporate success and honoring his Puerto Rican heritage.

What led to your position with the Campbell Soup Company?
I came from a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Paterson, New Jersey. I went to Temple University in Philadelphia, but left after my junior year for a full-time job. This led to a position with corporate travel provider Travelco where I was outsourced to Campbell Soup as their travel manager. Subsequently, I joined Campbell in 2001. Eventually, I completed my bachelor’s degree in marketing from Temple in 2006.

How did your current role with Campbell come about and what does it entail?
According to census studies, minority groups will collectively become the majority of the US population by 2050. In response, Campbell has worked to formalize its supply-chain approach to these demographic groups since 2006. I volunteered for a committee exploring ways to reach out and grow spending with minority and women suppliers. These companies provide Campbell with everything from sausages for our soups to indirect services like office supplies and laptop computers.

We began by sending out 25,000 letters to our supply base asking if they were certified female or minority-owned businesses. We discovered that we were spending about $85 million with these suppliers. Our primary goal is to increase spending with these minority-owned businesses. We now have strategic plans in place outlining our projected growth toward our targets.

How are these goals achieved?
We look for diverse suppliers for everything in global procurement. We seek out prospects through sourcing tools like SupplierGateway, which contains listings of minority-owned suppliers. We are active members of the National Minority Supplier Development Council and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. We emphasize to our nondiverse suppliers that we put great value on their outreach to minority vendors. For example, we’ve had a positive response from our chocolate supplier, Barry Callebaut of Chicago, which started its own supplier-diversity program.

In addition, we’ve enabled Campbell to have a strong presence within minority-focused trade groups. For instance, we provided scholarships, which enabled several minority company owners to benefit from business seminars. We also hosted a Women Business Enterprise Council event allowing member companies to network with other major corporations like DuPont and Johnson & Johnson.

How have your efforts benefited Campbell Soup?
Because many minority-owned businesses are smaller and leaner, they are often more innovative and results oriented. Consequently, Campbell has benefited from the price competitiveness and quality of these owners.

Campbell has also increased its business with diversity-focused suppliers to $145 million in 2008—a $60 million increase from 2005. And, despite the weak economy, our goal is to reach $135 million in 2012.

You’ve demonstrated commitment to diversity in other ways. Tell me about Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas.
As a first generation Latino-American, I look to strengthen Hispanic cultural connections. So when I was asked to serve as board treasurer of Raíces Culturales Lationamericanas, which promotes Hispanic arts and culture, I accepted. Through this organization, I’ve reconnected with my ethnic roots and explored Hispanic cultural diversity, from learning about Mexican writers to Colombian dance. By remaining true to my heritage, I’ve provided Campbell with an authentic perspective into Hispanic culture and how we can use that to better connect to our customers.

Looking ahead, what would you like to accomplish?
Professionally, I want to enhance Campbell’s ability to navigate through the diverse Hispanic marketplace. Personally, I’d like more minorities to have the chance at success that I have had. There is nothing like the feeling of a Hispanic entrepreneur expressing appreciation for being connected to a business opportunity. I’d love to increase such opportunities among those seeking the American Dream.

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