Creating opportunities and opening doors for small business owners keeps Joe Chow quite busy. As the Supply Chain Strategy and Planning Manager for Southern California Gas Company, Joe’s responsibilities include supply management and supplier diversity. In his position he manages the gas company’s supplier relationship management (SRM) function, SCORE (Smaller Contracting Opportunities Realization Effort), an area of his work that brings the Kansas native a great sense of pride.
“I’m most proud of our SCORE program for finding opportunities for smaller size companies (five million or less in revenue) within the Southern California Gas Company and meshing those opportunities with capable companies,” explains Joe. “We focus on smaller minority companies and we’ve had a lot of success with that program. This program started in 2011 and since it’s inception we’ve awarded more than 57 contracts with a total value of over $18 million to small minority business owners. We’ve had companies that started out doing about $75,000 annually in contracts who are now doing about five million in business a year with us.”
Joe has managed the SCORE program from the beginning and has been an integral part of its steady growth as well as the program’s increasing economic impact and influence. “We started in 2011 with zero contractors and each year we look at putting more contractors to work,” he insists. “Typically when we bring in minority contractors they hire from within their community, which indeed helps the community themselves. So far this has been a tremendous boost for the local economy and has been a great program for small companies.” More precisely for the local economy it has meant approximately three million and 12 contractors in 2012; more than five million and 25 contractors in 2013; and a goal this year of 20 million and 25 contractors. With seven contractors already secured in the first quarter of this year, SCORE is on track to reach its programmatic goals once again.
In a time when diversity initiatives and programs such as Affirmative Action are under fire and their very existence is scrutinized, SCORE continues to demonstrate its significance. “I think that these programs are needed,” states Joe. “We don’t look at them as set aside programs, we look at them as providing companies access and opportunities to projects we may have inside the company. I think when you look at the various spend areas of a lot of corporations we still have a ways to go.” He continues, “Although we have accomplished this past year about 45% supplier diversity spending—and that’s 45% of all our total spend—with minorities. I still think in a lot of different areas, there’s still plenty of space to cover. There‘s a lot of under utilization of minority companies in a lot of different areas in corporate America.”
In most cases the biggest hindrance to progress is a lack of trust and inexperience. Many of Joe’s efforts in the SCORE program over the past three years have been to mitigate such challenges. “It takes a lot of convincing and having to build the trust with program managers on the inside to make this work,” Joe shared. “Specifically trying to influence and persuade them to use a new company from the outside because typically they want to go with a company they know and have a track record with. On the other hand you’re also trying to find capable companies who can perform and you’re vetting companies and working with various business organizations to find and get quality companies in the pipeline.” And once the companies are in the pipeline that’s when the real work begins.
“It’s not your typical supplier diversity program,” says Joe. “We take a very hands-on approach. When these contractors come in the door we make sure that the avenues of communication are wide open between the project manager and the company and everyone understands, the expectations,” he states. “In the beginning stages we were meeting with the companies almost on a weekly basis,” he said with a laugh.
“We’re constantly checking back with the project manager and the company checking their progress on the projects they’re assigned to, we want to ensure their success.”
One such company that has benefited from the program and is acutely aware of Joe’s hands-on approach is Alameda Construction Company. “Joe really helped set me up and guide me through the process of the Gas Company,” says Alameda Construction Company owner, Kevin Ramsey. “The SCORE program has meant a lot to my business. It helped us get into to the Gas Company and once you’re there they start sending you more business once you prove you can perform and Joe has always been there if I need anything.” Ultimately according to Joe that’s the larger goal of SCORE—ensuring the long term sustainability of its clients.
“When we bring the companies in the intent is to get them in but not to keep them forever,” claims Joe. “The idea is to help build their capacity and help grow these companies where they’re able to bid against the general population on larger projects. We try to not just give them a one-time opportunity; we want to help build their business, and build their relationship with the Gas Company so it’s sustainable over time.”