Stellantis is laying the groundwork for a Black supplier development initiative that will reach beyond the auto industry.
The Stellantis-National Business League National Black Supplier Development Program will ensure that businesses receive virtual training and gain access to an online marketplace with the goal of building "a bridge between the public and private sectors to create substantive business opportunities for Black suppliers" around the U.S. and internationally.
Stellantis will anchor the creation of a virtual training and development portal over the next three years. It will first open the portal to its own suppliers and then make it available to other automakers, the federal government and companies in the public and private sectors.
The automaker plans to begin a pilot run with several suppliers in January that will include companies outside the automotive space. The initial target was 10 companies for the pilot, but Stellantis isn't sure what the final number could be because of the early excitement it's seeing, said Marvin Washington, Stellantis' director of electrical and electronics purchasing and the national lead for the new program.
Firms in the pilot include a marketing company, a real estate operation and Isiah International, a holding company owned by NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. The automotive arm of Thomas' company is working to develop renewable hemp-based alternatives to plastics for use in vehicles.
"Part of the focus will first be automotive in the beginning, but we want, through our relationships, to be able to provide development for any industry that a Black business is interested in," Washington told Automotive News.
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.
"Knowing how instrumental OEMs have been even during the civil rights movement in developing some of the first diversity programs to exist in the country and Stellantis being at that table, we wanted to start with a proven system and expertise we know that works," said Ken Harris, the league's CEO.
Washington said one of the key components of the program will be to train Black entrepreneurs in how to present their products. Washington wants the initiative to boost the credentials of these companies so they can point to their experiences in the program and what they learned while dealing with potential clients.
"What we want to do is to remove the barriers that keep the Black businesses out," Washington said. "So we really like to give them, as they go through this program, the opportunity to understand what the customer is going to be looking at and how the customer is going to be assessing their facility, their presentation, their financials, all of that."
Harris is calling the program a "huge opportunity" for job creation and "sustainable Black business growth."
Once the online marketplace is up and running, it will provide access to capital, mentorship, executive coaching, supplier training and development, bid posting, match-making, supply chain solutions and talent placement and acquisition, among other things.
"We wanted to step up in partnership to obviously look at how we truly move the needle post-civil rights," Harris said. "We have turned the corner socially, educationally and politically. Where we have not turned the corner, in terms of the Black community, is entrepreneurship and economics."
He added: "Stellantis and the National Business League want to put this program in place to be intentional in our design to address Black racial equity needs for the marketplace and also prepare future Black businesses to be competitive for future opportunities."