Independence Blue Cross Supplier Networking Meeting Encourages Collaboration and Relationship-Building Among Black-Owned Businesses
Earlier this month Independence Blue Cross (Independence) held its second Supplier Networking Meeting, comprised of a group of African American businesses that are local to our region. The topic of the meeting was “How to do business at Independence” with a focus on information technology. Its primary focus was on what to do to win business at Independence, but as importantly, what not to do.
The idea for this meeting came from Chuck Stefanosky, Director of Strategic Sourcing and Procurement at Independence. With over 35 years of experience leading Procurement for various companies and 18 years at Independence, Chuck understands the importance of building relationships with suppliers. He is committed to bolstering Independence’s longstanding and impactful supplier diversity program. Last year, Independence Health Group, the parent company of Independence Blue Cross, achieved landmark spending of $187 million with diverse suppliers nationally.
Chuck has had this idea for some time to bring suppliers together to network. Chuck understood that there is tremendous value in Black business owners getting to know and build relationships with each other as well as learning what works when dealing with larger, corporate scale customers.
The kickoff meeting brought together ten business owners and lasted about 90 minutes but could have easily gone longer due to the free-flowing nature of the conversation and the organic relationships and friendships that started to form. Chuck was very intentional about who he invited to the group: A mix of longtime and newer Independence suppliers, as well as firms hoping to do business with the company. All of the firms were third-party certified Black-owned.
Not only did the meetings prove to be great opportunities for networking, but Chuck built in a mentoring component as well. In order to participate, each existing Independence supplier had to agree to mentor another business in the group. An unintended but fortuitous consequence: The relationships that spun out of the meetings have ignited a lot of business between the suppliers. Since the first two meetings, the suppliers have been meeting with each other independently and collaborating on projects outside of Independence.
Chuck plans to host Networking Meetings every two to three months. He encourages other major institutions to consider having similar meetings to bring local Black-owned businesses together as a part of supplier diversity efforts. Not only are invaluable relationships established, but the mentoring and collaboration that takes place between the suppliers is also very valuable. Replicating and scaling this model across the region could lead to a tremendous amount of new business – which is the whole point!
Chuck Stefanosky, Director of Strategic Sourcing and Procurement, Independence Blue Cross