Seventeen years later, the mission of the annual opportunity exchange is crystal clear. The event will draw about 2,000 participants in late 2007. A trade fair of dozens of Toyota suppliers will encourage minority-owned enterprises to solicit business from the group. And Toyota will press on with its publicly declared goal of sourcing 10 percent of its Tier 1 purchases from minority-owned businesses — a trade that would be worth $1.5 billion this year.
Why the zeal to do business with minority businesses?
"It's important for us to be diverse, and particularly important because a respect for people is part of our philosophy," says Gene Tabor, 53, purchasing general manager at Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc. in Erlanger, Ky.
"Also, we want to contribute to our entire customer base. About 15 percent of our vehicles are purchased by minorities in the U.S., and about 50 percent by women."
The effort includes vendors that are at least 51 percent owned by members of a minority group, as well as companies owned by women.
Tabor, who joined Toyota's purchasing department in 1987, has been involved with supplier diversity from the start. In some cases the effort has cast Toyota in the role of developing new minority-owned Tier 1 suppliers in the United States.
In San Antonio, where Toyota launched a Tundra pickup plant in 2006, the automaker now works with six Hispanic-controlled supplier ventures on site. One of them is Reyes Automotive Group, formed with Fernando Reyes, CEO of the newly created company. Before that project, Reyes had manufactured chin straps and vests for the U.S. military and had never worked in automotive.
Toyota connected him with seating giant Lear Corp. and a separate U.S.-Japanese vehicle carpet venture called Amtex Inc. Reyes now employs about 170 people supplying carpet for the Tundra.