The Diversity Edge

Kiruba Sankar won Procurement Business Advocate of the Year Award from CAMSC and Corporate Leader from WBE Canada

January 3, 2018
by PurchasingB2B Staff

Image: Joel Robertson Photography

From the December 2017 print edition

Each year, the Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council (CAMSC) hosts its Business Achievement Awards. These awards celebrate the achievements of those involved in supplier diversity in Canada. For 2017, the winner of the Procurement Business Advocate of the Year award award is Kiruba Sankar, director of corporate social responsibility, RBC Global Procurement. Sankar was also named Corporate Leader by WBE Canada. PurchasingB2B spoke with Sankar on his career and the importance of supplier diversity.

Q: What’s your background and current role?

I joined RBC procurement in 2010 and since 2015 I’ve been the procurement global lead for corporate social responsibility, developing the strategy and program execution plan for CSR. That includes our supplier diversity program, responsible procurement practices and community involvement activities. Working with procurement category managers we support the organization’s overall supplier diversity goals. I’m a proud advocate for CSR across RBC procurement, and externally with stakeholders and suppliers. Before that I was responsible for the IT professional service category supporting technology & operations across all businesses at RBC. Before joining RBC I was managing the system and server product distribution for Tech Data Canada. Prior to immigrating to Canada, as a general manager, I introduced Emachine PCs and servers into the Dubai market. I was also a regional manager of Middle East operations for Taiwan’s largest systems manufacturer, First International Computers. I set up MegaPlus International, a systems integrator company in Dubai and Sydney, Australia. I’m an electrical and electronics engineer with certification in computer applications and business management.

Q: Why did you get involved in supplier diversity?

Diversity and inclusion are at the core of innovation and mean you are drawing on everyone’s talents—that gives you a competitive edge and is the socially responsible thing to do. I’ve advocated for supplier diversity since 2012, having conversations within my network of IT suppliers. I volunteered to mentor certified diverse suppliers and also supported the person who was then the lead of RBC’s CSR program through a reciprocal mentorship initiative. My passion was noticed as I was balancing my volunteerism with my day job as director of the IT professional services category. I was drawn to Canada because the importance we place as a country on diversity aligns with my values. Once I joined RBC in 2010 I decided to chip away at the idea that only large suppliers are a good fit for large corporations.

Q: What does your organization do in terms of supplier diversity?

RBC has a formal supplier diversity program, and we encourage diverse suppliers to connect with RBC if they are interested in participating in our program. We explain the benefits and connect them with certifying organizations. We measure success by tracking increases in the number of diverse suppliers and diverse supplier spend, and whether RBC suppliers become corporate sponsors or achieve certification. RBC Procurement launched the Reciprocal Mentorship Program (RMP) in 2012, offering ongoing mentorship to a limited number of diverse, certified suppliers. A questionnaire is distributed to CAMSC, CGLCC and WBE Canada members giving certified suppliers the opportunity to apply for the mentorship program. Our flagship initiative is our Supplier Diversity Mentorship program. In 2012, we sponsored our first mentorship workshop sharing ideas and best practices to help suppliers grow their business, network and secure business with large organizations. We recently expanded the workshops to include more suppliers and included an in-depth understanding of how RBC handles sourcing for specific category.

Q: What’s your involvement with CAMSC and why is the organization important?

RBC is a founding member of CAMSC and has been an active sponsor since its inception in 2004. RBC has sponsored, and our employees have engaged in, several CAMSC organized events, including the annual Procurement Fair and Business Achievement Awards Gala. At the Fair, I’ve been both panelist and speaker discussing technology innovation and how fintechs can participate in RBC’s procurement process. We participate in CAMSC’s Inclusive Procurement Leadership Summit and participated in a case study focusing on RBC’s corporate policy and executive support, which helps other companies launch supplier diversity programs. We include CAMSC representatives at various RBC-led supplier diversity initiatives. I’ve travelled across Canada to support CAMSC outreach events and invite our business partners to attend—translating into discussions with suppliers and commercial clients who may qualify and benefit from certification. I encourage large suppliers to not only support, but to consider being corporate sponsors of CAMSC and the other councils. I engage with the other councils, participating as a panelist at the CGLCC Supplier Diversity Forum in 2016, hosting the panel presentation at the Summit of the Americas 2017, participating in WBE Canada’s Breakfast with Brands and hosting the Toronto launch of the Supplier Diversity Alliance Council (SDAC) in 2016. Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice—that’s why organizations like CAMSC and others are to be acknowledged for their commitment to sustainable change. By harnessing everyone’s talents we not only create an inclusive culture but foster innovation and generate prosperity.

Q: What does it mean to you to win a CAMSC Business Achievement Award?

It was a great honour to win the CAMSC 2017 Advocacy award and I’m thankful to the many amazing colleagues at RBC who supported the success of our program—I’m humbled by council’s recognition of my contribution towards building a diverse supplier community. I want to encourage other Canadian procurement leaders to support supplier diversity.

Q: Why is supplier diversity important?

Supplier diversity adds economic value because it encourages the growth of businesses across a wider spectrum. As diverse businesses grow, our local and national economies benefit. It’s not just about doing the right thing and being a responsible corporate citizen. Supplier diversity helps drive business value—by including diverse suppliers in sourcing processes, corporations gain access to competitive offerings, more innovation and culturally diverse business interactions. All of which helps organizations serve the diverse marketplace in which we all work and live.

Q: What are your future supplier diversity plans?

We want to increase our spend with diverse suppliers and increase the number of diverse suppliers in our supplier chain. My goal is to help RBC grow this program in Canada and expand into other regions where we have procurement operations. In the last 13 years we have seen significant growth in Indigenous, visible minority, women-owned and LGBT-owned suppliers and we’ll continue to focus on building relationships with these groups. We still have much more work to do towards persons with disabilities and veteran-owned businesses.

Q: What advice would you give organizations looking to get involved in supplier diversity?

I’d encourage them to reference the RBC case study on inclusive procurement available on the CAMSC website. It’s full of helpful advice to get started. For ongoing support I’d ask people to get involved and support Canadian Supplier Diversity councils.

Q: How were you named 2017 Corporate Leader by WBE Canada and what does the award mean to you?

I educate suppliers about supplier diversity and its benefits, and I’m always encouraging large suppliers to not only support supplier diversity but to become corporate sponsors of WBE, as well as the other councils. As a regular corporate table host for marketplace meetings since 2014, I promote RBC’s supplier diversity program to expand opportunities for women-owned suppliers. I network and nurture relationships with diverse suppliers to improve and enhance the supplier diversity ecosystem. I’m so thankful to WBE Canada for honouring me with the 2017 Corporate Leader Award and for recognizing my support towards women-owned businesses. Receiving this award would not be possible without the tremendous support from RBC and the team of colleagues who have supported the success of the program. I’d like to thank and ask corporate members of the supplier diversity program to continue their support of women entrepreneurs, for managers to recruit women employees to their teams, and for business leaders to mentor and support our incredible Canadian women entrepreneurs.

Q: Why is it important to engage with and promote women-owned businesses?

Women are involved in 85-pecent of purchasing decisions and are bringing quality products and services to the marketplace at an accelerated pace. Despite this, they receive a small fraction of large contracts. That’s a lost opportunity. It’s important for Canada to mirror the growth of supplier diversity spreading across multinational corporations in the US and UK. Over 95 percent of Fortune 500 companies have supplier diversity programs that target historically underutilized businesses, including women-owned. It’s the right strategy—it expands buyers’ choice and boosts innovation, competitiveness and marketplace knowledge.