Diverse suppliers and MBA students collaborate to improve business

A group of MBA students in the Johnson Graduate School of Management (JGSM) recently completed projects aimed at helping diverse suppliers by evaluating business objectives and recommending improvements to boost efficiency and revenue. This effort is part of the Supplier Diversity Initiative, one of the five annual goals of the DFA and CIT Diversity Initiative, which supports Cornell’s institutional diversity and inclusiveness initiative, Belonging at Cornell.

The unique collaboration began when Procurement Services approached JGSM in 2012 about providing consulting assistance to diverse suppliers as part of Procurement’s diverse supplier strategy. The idea was to help small and diverse suppliers grow their businesses and ultimately enhance their connections with Cornell. Subsequently, an MBA student-led firm called Big Red Consulting (BRC) began working with five diverse suppliers: DUPLI & Eagle Envelope, New England Biolabs, Photosynthesis Productions, The Presentation Source, and Vasco Brands. To find participants for collaboration, suppliers were asked to submit project proposals. BRC teams then interviewed suppliers individually and selected projects according to what fit best with the expertise of the consulting team members.

BRC teams visited the suppliers’ worksites to study their operations and talk with staff members, managers, and customers. The teams then made recommendations on matters ranging from management styles to marketing strategies.

Suppliers were happy with the outcomes of the projects and found the experience enlightening, rewarding, and valuable to future growth. The projects even had a profound impact on some of the suppliers. One discovered they needed to switch paths entirely to focus on a new project and another began working on new product lines and intends to implement a social media marketing plan.

At the end of the projects, the students presented their results to a meeting with suppliers and members of Cornell’s senior leadership, including Joanne DeStefano, vice president for finance and chief financial officer. The standing-room-only May 9 meeting drew attention from all over JGSM, with many MBA students dropping in to observe.

Prior to the May 9 meeting, the students entered their findings in a BRC project competition, judged by professional members of BRC and JGSM faculty, in which projects from other MBA students – not affiliated with this particular effort – were entered. Two of these projects won that competition, one of them taking first place.

BRC is planning phase two for this project, which will begin sometime this fiscal year.

Read more about this project in the Cornell Chronicle article, “MBA students boost sales for Cornell’s diverse suppliers.”