Stellantis program helps grow Black involvement in auto supply industry

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Stellantis put the spotlight on its Black designers and the plush Jeep Grand Wagoneer SUV they shepherded as part of its efforts this summer to commemorate Juneteenth.

The design team was featured in a video in which they spoke of being among the few Black people in the field, inspiring others to consider that line of work and the importance of Black youth having examples to look up to.

While Stellantis design chief Ralph Gilles and others shared their perspectives on camera, another story centered around diversity and inclusion was taking place behind the scenes.

The production was the result of a collaboration between Stellantis and Ten35, a Black-owned advertising agency in Chicago that has also crafted content for companies such as PepsiCo and General Mills.

Ten35 was one of 13 Black companies that were a part of a pilot run of the National Black Supplier Development Program launched last year by Stellantis and the National Business League, the organization founded by Booker T. Washington in 1900. The initiative’s goal is to provide businesses with virtual training and give them access to an online marketplace that builds “a bridge between the public and private sectors to create substantive business opportunities for Black suppliers” around the U.S. and internationally within the auto industry and beyond.

The marketplace will provide access to capital, mentorship, executive coaching, supplier training and development, bid posting, matchmaking, supply chain solutions, and talent placement and acquisition, among other things.

Ten35’s ode to the Black designers was revealed during the Juneteenth Legacy Gala sponsored by the Stellantis African Ancestry Network Diaspora and has been amplified on the automaker’s social channels.

Sherman Wright, managing partner and co-founder of Ten35, said the agency and Stellantis wanted to put out something that made a “meaningful statement.”

“It’s truly about the partnership,” Wright told Automotive News. “What excites us even more than the work and the opportunity is just the collaboration and the commitment that they have within us, not only as a creative resource, but their commitment to diverse Black-owned businesses that they want to see grow.”

Ten35 and other companies that participated in the pilot are now applying the lessons they learned to their day-to-day operations and encouraging other businesses to apply for upcoming rounds in the years ahead.

The program sent the companies through a training slate beginning last November that guided them on topics such as building up capacity, creating a brand and managing finances. They received tips on how to refine their elevator pitches, for instance, and heard from successful Black business owners such as Leon Richardson, CEO of Chemico Group, a Southfield, Mich.-based chemical management company with clients in various industries including automotive and defense.

The initial group of suppliers graduated in February, and Stellantis said the next set of companies will be announced this month.

Moses Shepherd, who owns Detroit-based fuel supplier ACE Petroleum, said the elevator pitch critiques were critical to him at a time when he’s looking to grow his clientele. The training he did with Stellantis inspired him to have everyone in his company give him their own elevator pitches.

The effort has led to ACE acquiring more customers, Shepherd said.

Adam Claytor, CEO of Coltrane Logistics & Trucking in Wixom, Mich., enjoyed the interactive nature of the sessions.

The financial management and capacity-building aspect, Claytor said, were some of the more informative parts of the program.

“That was the most critical for us in terms of the growing part because [when] everyone wants to start a business, they want to have customers knocking at your door,” Claytor said, “but the hard part is actually having the capability to scale.”

While developing a curriculum, Stellantis consulted with suppliers to find out what they needed, said Greg Hawkins, the automaker’s manager of supplier diversity and project lead for the program.

Hawkins said Stellantis went into it with a focus on making sure the suppliers in the program were prepared to work with Fortune 500 companies, not just Stellantis.

But the automaker discovered that some of the suppliers were already in a position to team with Stellantis and connected with them on projects.

Looking ahead, Hawkins said Stellantis is looking to add an in-person element to the experience and build a matchmaking component in which Stellantis connects the companies with its Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers to foster interaction.

“We’re amping up the touch points where we see that there’s going to be genuine interest not only from the suppliers who are in the program, but also the OEMs and suppliers who have been seeing the program from afar,” Hawkins said. “We’re actively creating those opportunities for them to engage.”

Wright, of Ten35, said the sessions helped in areas such as long-term planning.

“It allowed us to take a different perspective and also have access to resources that had a different vantage point, not necessarily industry-specific but business-specific,” Wright said.

“Some of the business modeling and strategic planning really allowed us to take a fresh approach and look at our business, identifying blind spots that we hadn’t seen before as well as opportunities to capitalize on those blind spots for continued growth.”

The National Business League wanted to work with Stellantis because of its experience in supplier diversity.

Chrysler founded its minority supplier program in 1983 and has spent more than $60 billion with diverse suppliers since then.

The new program was born after the automaker’s diversity and inclusion office, led by Lottie Holland, met with the business league and brainstormed ideas.

Brittany Stovall, co-founder and CEO of Assured Quality Systems, said the brand-building portion of training was particularly helpful. She also considered the success stories from guest speakers such as Chemico’s Richardson among her favorite moments during the program.

Her Grand Prairie, Texas, company offers services for manufacturers such as corrective and preventative action on nonconforming parts, inventory control and engineering staff support.

“What some of us, especially as small businesses, don’t understand is your brand means everything, and sometimes you are your brand, so how do you market that correctly?” Stovall said. “How do you make sure your customer understands your core values as a company, but also you as an owner because at the beginning stages and at the small stages of a business, your brand individually is just as important as your brand holistically as a company.”

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