The USHCC champions diversity through its Million Dollar Club

Members of the United States Chamber of Commerce's Million Dollar Club join USHCC president and CEO Javier Palomarez (center).

When the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) launched its Million Dollar Club in 2009, there was no way the organization could have anticipated how successful some companies would be at championing supplier diversity. The Million Dollar Club was introduced as a way of honoring corporations and procurement executives who demonstrate support for Hispanic Business Enterprises (HBEs) through spending with Hispanic suppliers.

“Each year, some of America’s most iconic corporations, all members of the USHCC, apply to form part of the Million Dollar Club,” USHCC president and CEO, Javier Palomarez says. “This accolade praises trailblazing corporations that are diversifying their supply chains and supporting our nation’s small businesses.”

Ford went above and beyond “demonstrating support.” The 109-year-old company has successfully integrated supplier diversity into the way it does business with its 35-year-old Supplier Diversity Development (SDD) program. Since 1978 Ford has spent more than $67 billion with minority suppliers and, in 2012 alone, the company spent $5.7 billion with tier-one minority-owned suppliers, $1.2 billion with tier-one women-owned suppliers, and its tier one suppliers spent $2.1 billion with tier-two diverse businesses.

Last year was a great year for Ford with the National Minority Supplier Development Council naming Ford as Corporation of the Year for the fourth time. Ford was also just one of three companies designated by USHCC’s Million Dollar Club to have spent at least $500 million on supplier diversity. For two years now, Carla T. Preston has been at the helm of Ford’s award-winning program as its director. Preston,  a former engineering manager, learned about the company’s supplier-diversity program while working in product development.

“Many people don’t know that Ford has one of the oldest supplier-diversity programs in the country and it was started by Henry Ford II,” Preston says. “Ford has a long, storied history of supporting minorities in the US. It was the first company to offer equal pay for equal work, paying workers $5 for an eight-hour work day, which was double the national average at the time. So this is a company that understands the social value of championing diversity and working with women, minorities, and veterans.”

Despite Ford’s impressive numbers over the last two years, Preston remains humble, saying she stepped into an “incredibly strong, well-established program.” Preston takes a great amount of pride in Ford’s Aligned Business Framework (ABF), a series of agreements with select suppliers to strengthen collaboration and develop sustainable business models to drive mutual profitability and technological development. Ford currently has 79 production suppliers and 25 nonproduction ABF suppliers, with 14 of those being minority and women suppliers.

“We’re constantly creating new technology, but it’s not just for Ford. We share this technology with our suppliers and they can use it to improve their businesses and expand their reach,” Preston said. “It’s not just about benefiting Ford. We want to see our minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses become more innovative and technologically competitive.”

Ford, which is a long-time supporter of the USHCC, intends on making veterans a key focus of its SSD program moving forward. The company has committed to spending 3 percent of its US purchasing budget with qualified veteran-owned businesses and asked its tier-one suppliers to also source to veterans.

Preston, who was appointed as Chair of the USHCC’s Procurement Council Advisory Board in February 2013, finds her work personally meaningful. She is a Latina working in a male-dominated field and her position enables her to help other women and minorities take their businesses to the next level. She says she’s proud to be working for a company that has always recognized the importance of the USHCC, as evidenced by Ford being a founding sponsor of the USHCC’s Foundation BizFest, an innovative and intensive entrepreneurship program that empowers Latino youth with knowledge and insight into the business world.

“My challenge is always to do more and to do better,” Preston says. “It’s not about the numbers; it’s about helping our suppliers accomplish more and go further. I always remember that if our suppliers don’t get contracts or don’t get business, people will lose their jobs.”