Major League Baseball is working everyday to become more diversified on and off the baseball diamond. MLB created their Diverse Business Partners Program in 1998 under the suggestion of former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. DBP keyed in on five critical factors: Proactive Leadership, Commitment to Sound Business Practices, Priority on Partnerships, Structure and Process that Yield Long-Term Success and Accountability.
Corey Smith, Major League Baseball’s Senior Director of Supplier Diversity and Strategic Sourcing recently chatted with me about diversity in Major League Baseball and even discussed his own journey as a minority in the work world. Six years in with MLB, he’s got a lot to say.
Here’s THE SCOOP:
Scoop B: How did you get started?
Smith: I’ve been in the procurement and diversity and inclusion space — procurement for about 20 years, diversity and inclusion for about 10 years and this is probably about the fifth company that I’ve had similar roles in, but my background is procurement, I started my career out just normal purchasing, transactions, buying goods and services on behalf of whatever company I was working for contract negations doing long term deals with the suppliers and that kind of morphed into the role that I have now where not only am I still responsible for overall purchasing activities and dealing with our partners in our supply chains but also this sub content of diversity and inclusion where I’m making sure that some of the companies that we are doing business with are diverse, therefore either minority owned or woman owned, veteran owned, LGBT owned all the categories that fall under the word diversity, we absolutely want to make sure that some of the suppliers and businesses that we partner with fall into those categories so that’s kind of the background on that. I’ve been doing it for quite some time in a couple of different industries, I did it in a technology space, education, consumer products, media and entertainment, and now I’m in the sports industry.
Scoop B: Walk me through the early days, how you talked about doing it in different spaces, where did you begin? Where did you go to school?
Smith: So I went to Columbia University, I got a undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering then went to work for a while then I actually went back to Columbia and got my MBA.
Scoop B: Okay so after college where did your journey take you?
Smith: So after graduating undergrad, my first job out of college was actually working for IBM, in one of their manufacturing settings, which this is funny this is how diversity actually works, they had a huge manufacturing plant smack dab in the middle of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and most people didn’t know that IBM had a manufacturing plant there and it was actually created and that particular plant there opened up back in the 60’s and it was a partnership that IBM had actually with JFK, President Kennedy at the time as a way in which they could employ minorities. So they purposely and intentionally opened the manufacturing plant literally in the middle of an urban, high-minority populated neighborhood like Bed-Stuy and I believe at the time 93 percent of the employees at that plant were African-American or Hispanic so that’s kind of where I got my start, in the manufacturing setting we were repairing and shipping out computers and you know this was early 90’s and that was kind of my first gig out of college.
Scoop B: So this was the Space Invader days on the Mac when you were running IBM in Brooklyn before Jigga and the Nets made Brooklyn cool.
Smith: Exactly, I was working in Bed Stuy Brooklyn when Biggie dropped Ready to Die (laughs).
Scoop B: Wow, that’s a milestone right there, for sure, for sure.
Smith: Yeah it was pretty crazy and literally the building was on the corner of Nostrand and DeKalb and my route home every day I literally drove down Nostrand straight past Fulton, Gates and Greene all of that Biggie talk, all of that Jay talk, I mean it was a couple of blocks from Marcy Projects, yes I’m all too familiar with the neighborhood.
Scoop B: What happened next? Where was your next stop?
Smith: Again, interesting story IBM selected that particular plant, this is again you gotta kind of understand technology at the time in the 90’s IBM was going through its downsizing and they actually selected that plant for closure, they were gonna close the plant down, the employees got together and basically bought the building from IBM and started their own company, so again diversity at work and you don’t even realize that these terms even exist. At the time that was the largest minority-owned, employee-owned company in the entire country, it literally from one day to the next went from being an IBM facility to a company called Advanced Technological Solutions and I stayed with the company and worked there for some time and that’s kind of where I got the purchasing experience because literally overnight I got promoted three levels because now we’re a new startup company. Got promoted three levels and had a whole bunch of additional responsibilities thrown at me and part of it included procurement, so stayed there for a while did that and then I actually went back to Columbia University to work, so I worked for the University and while I was working there I went back and got my MBA, so I worked at Columbia University in their purchasing department and was responsible for buying all of the furniture, all the computers, technologies for the entire university so the main campus, the medical center, uptown, some of its affiliate locations and I negotiated Columbia University’s contract with Dell for hardware, I negotiated their contract with Microsoft for software, really just kind of took the normal purchasing activity of just transactional like somebody needs 10 pencils in their office you go buy ten pencils and really started morphing it into more of a strategic relationship where I’m negotiating big large multi-million dollar long term contracts on behalf of the university and getting great discounts as a result and saving the University a bunch of money so that experience while I was at Columbia really kind of enhanced my procurement skills so to speak and then again it didn’t hurt that while I was there I went back to school got my MBA just kind of broadened my scope in terms of my analytical mind and really learned how to apply a lot of what I was practicing at work into a larger, broader business sense.
Scoop B: So what happened after that?
Smith: After I got my MBA now I think I’m the man …
Scoop B: Uh-Oh.
Smith: I was actually really looking to switch careers, I wanted to get out of purchasing at the time and I wanted to get into marketing the problem was I’ve got this great degree from this great ivy league institution what I didn’t have was any marketing experience, so you know I was getting all of these offers for entry level positions and by that point I was already making a pretty decent salary in procurement and didn’t want to start all over, so I stuck with what I knew and I left Columbia and went to go work for Altria Corporate Services which most folks don’t know what Altria is. Altria at the time was the parent company to Phillip Morris International which sells tobacco and cigarettes and Kraft Foods so you had these two massive companies that basically belonged to this parent company that nobody knew existed so I worked at Altria in their procurement department and negotiated a bunch of deals for them had great vendor relationships everything from big building renovations, so hiring architectural and engineering firms down to simple and small stuff like office products even got involved in some of the R&D things on the tobacco side so the ingredients that actually go into making a cigarette like where you source those products from it’s not just tobacco, there’s chemicals and there’s a whole bunch of things, buying actually some of those products and your buying some of these things from as far away as Korea and Africa or as locally and domestically as down south. Really incredible wealth of knowledge there and both at Columbia and at Altria is where the whole diversity thing started to kick in. At Columbia because Columbia says it’s in Morningside Heights but everybody knows that anything north of 110th street is actually Harlem.
Scoop B: Hmm.
Smith: Yeah so at Columbia, because Columbia was already doing so much local business in the neighborhood they were already spending a lot of money with minority-owned businesses, there’s a bunch of African-American and Hispanic businesses in Harlem, they’re already spending a bunch of money with them and just didn’t realize it so essentially I formalized a program for Columbia in which we not only tracked the amount of dollars we were spending with minority businesses locally in the neighborhood but we also began to proactively seek them out and intentionally do business with them because they were minority owned. So that was a huge game changer for Columbia it was a little self-serving in terms of us having an act of goodwill and wanting to be a great neighbor to all these businesses and all of these folks from the neighborhood in Harlem but was also a great way for us to track where our money was going and if we could leverage some of these relationships to get better price points so that took place at Columbia. At Altria when I actually walked in the door Altria was already spending over one billion dollars a year with diverse companies. Kraft was doing about $500 million, Phillip Morris was doing about $500 million and as the parent company we added maybe another $200 to $300 million on top of that so they already had an incredible supplier diversity program all I did was soak it all up like a sponge. I went from starting one to seeing how one is really, really run when it’s a well-oiled machine and I just kind of soaked up all that knowledge and really got to understand here’s how a major corporation can impact a community, a neighborhood, a business, an entrepreneur economically just by intentionally trying to promote diversity through its business operations.
Scoop B: So here’s where I’m going with this you have a wealth of experience which I think is bar none, what is great for a millennial such as myself and others who are moving their way up the ladder in an economic time where it’s just the pits. How do you think in today’s society where you have a ton of millenials, a ton of LGBTs, a ton of African-Americans there’s a whole bunch people looking for jobs, you being in diversity at this point in 2016 going into 2017 what advice would you give people to continue to weather the storm? Because you have a wealth of experience as you were building yourself up in corporate America yourself.
Smith: Absolutely, I mean we’re in different times right about now we’ve got a lot going on in this country as it relates to diversity and inclusion period and you know for me the message as of late really has been about being inclusive or being open minded to diversity itself and that has been my mantra lately we can talk about ethnicity sure. We can talk about gender, absolutely. We all know the stats there are more minorities in this country now than there have been, in a couple of years, 10, 20, 30 years they’ll outpace the white people in this country. We already know that women are 50 percent of the country we have stats that solidify why people should be more open, more embracing, and more inclusive, we can talk about sexual orientation, we can talk about religion, we can talk about politics, and we can chop people up into a variety of sectors. I’m suggesting what we really need to be open to is diversity itself, especially in a business environment. What you want is a plethora of ideas; you want people with different life experience, people with different work experience, people from different cultures to bring something to the table that you otherwise based on your own coming up, you yourself wouldn’t have thought of. You get that type of environment around any conference room and I’m suggesting that not only are there going to be operational efficiencies that improve your business, but there’s gonna be innovation, creativity, and some new business idea that single-handedly you wouldn’t have thought of on your own, but you have to be open to that. I tell people all the time at any corporation not just here at MLB if I can walk past a conference room and in that conference room it’s just one of anything so all white men or all women, whatever it is I’m pretty much suggesting that that meeting whatever they’re in there talking about is not going to produce the best results. There should be a person of color in every meeting, there should be a woman in every meeting having just different perspectives simply based on your experiences of whatever fill in the blank is going to lend itself to sharing better ideas and better creativity. So it’s simple as you have to be open to hearing from somebody who doesn’t look like you, doesn’t live in the same neighborhood, doesn’t drive the same car you drive, whatever it is and be receptive to their thought process, their experiences. If we could all just at least do that, not just in life but in business and whatever I think all of us as a collective would move a lot further along.
Scoop B: Don King said “show me the money” and in my favorite movie Rush Hour 2 Chris Tucker said “Follow the rich white man with money,” with those two things being said where is the money? What is the money in?
Smith: I mean I think there’s money in everything as far as I’m concerned, again but that’s my job I’m a money guy!
Scoop B: Right! That’s why I’m asking you!
Smith: I mean look, especially in the sports industry, I think the sports industry is relatively unique only from how much money we spend to get things done so I just went through this and I’ll run through two quick scenarios. I just hired a company to replace every light bulb at the Seattle Mariners ball park with LED lighting. You know how many light bulbs are in ONE Ball Park? So think of something, you know your average person is not thinking about you know what I’m gonna approach Major League Baseball and ask them can I replace all their light bulbs, but there is a lot of light bulbs.
Scoop B: Especially There!
Smith: Right! Your average ball park has trillions of lights in it so something that simple is such a tremendous money opportunity. Another thing I’m in the middle of a huge luggage RFP right now, we buy luggage every year. Whether the old luggage is good or not it doesn’t matter we buy luggage EVERY year and that’s everything from suitcases, to backpacks, to computer bags that the players use traveling on the road, to equipment trunks that MLB Network uses to transport video equipment around from city to city, to regular equipment trunks that we use to ship everything down to spring training facilities in February and March. So there’s money in almost anything anybody could think of as it relates to us. Just like any average corporation we need office products, we need furniture, we need things that are very specific to sports so there’s tons of opportunity.
Scoop B: The Diversity Summit comes up in the spring where is it being held this year— or next year?
Smith: We had an event during the Winter Meetings this year and it might actually be the new format and replace the Spring Summit. The reason for that is that the offseason is when the teams are actually doing their buying so we were having the summits at other points and times in the year and the teams are actually saying well you know what I actually spend the bulk of my money during the off-season to get ready for next season so if we could time the summit a little bit better it might work out better for the suppliers in terms of actual real opportunities. So we just had it last week as a part of the winter meetings in National Harbor, Maryland, had some great feedback, the clubs loved it the suppliers that came were engaged and some of them actually already within the last few days have already received some orders, so again because of the timing of when clubs actually spend the bulk of their money this might actually be the new format.
Scoop B: What other projects are you guys are working on going in 2017?
Smith: So right now my biggest project in term of supplier chain is the All-Star Game, the All-Star game is taking place in Miami
Scoop B: Lucky you!
Smith: (laughs) Miami’s gonna be a good location we’re definitely gonna have fun. I’m in the middle of sourcing for the All-Star game so that is a smaller niche of industries that I’m sourcing in terms of its hospitality, and its core and its caterer’s , its graphic design , its banners and flags and other types of signage I’m looking for somebody that can provide some seating, I’m looking for somebody that can wrap a building for me with the All-Star logo you know it’s a very finite set of commodities that I’m looking for but that’s probably gonna be my biggest project for probably the next month or two.
Scoop B: Where can people find more information about all the initiatives and things that you are doing through major league baseball?
Smith: Absolutely, we have a diversity website it’s mlb.com/dbp and that stands for diverse business partners which is our name for our supplier diversity program and for us even the name means a lot because we do consider our suppliers partners this is not just a transactional deal for us it’s not about just giving you a purchase order and then just sending you on your way. We want to bring you in the fold, we want to keep you as a longtime partner, we want to continue to do business with you and we want you to grow. We hope that you go from doing business with one club to you know 20 clubs and for us it is really a long term strategy, so even in our naming of our supplier diversity program calling it the diverse business partners that was also very intentional so you know mlb.com/dbp.