George Robinson II, MBA, is director of UPMC Supplier Diversity and Inclusion, which provides minority-owned, woman-owned, and disadvantaged businesses, as well as LGBTQIA+ and veteran-owned enterprises with equal access to procurement opportunities at UPMC and UPMC Health Plan. He joined UPMC in 2018 and brings to his role over 20 years of experience in business and engineering administration, government management, and diverse business development. An Ohio native, he earned an MBA from the University of Toledo, where he also completed doctoral studies (ABD) in higher education leadership. He is a member of the inaugural cohort of the Executive Leadership Academy, a partnership of Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business and the Advanced Leadership Institute (TALI), and a recent graduate from Georgetown University McDonough School of Business with additional Executive Education credentials.
What inspired you to become involved in supplier diversity and inclusion efforts at UPMC?
I bring a passion to my job that comes from being part of a family of minority entrepreneurs, and that instilled in me a strong desire to help set the stage for future generations of diverse entrepreneurs.
I believe in the mission of supplier diversity and inclusion. There are plenty of professionals in the field who are simply box checkers. But that is not my upbringing or my culture — and that’s not what I want for future entrepreneurs doing business with UPMC. I want the competitive abilities of our diverse vendors to be well established and recognized, and I want to help ensure that they have the best business experience possible working with UPMC. I believe in them — and I believe in UPMC.
Supplier diversity first emerged as a concept during the civil rights movement. President Richard Nixon later signed the first laws promoting and supporting diversity in government purchasing practices. When did it begin to involve the health care field?
Supplier diversity became a viable national initiative under the Nixon administration. It was a hallmark period of affirmative action, and the government became the main architect in seeking ways to redress past discrimination. Health care organizations initially got involved in supplier diversity initiatives in response to state-based government contracting. To be considered for contracts, they had to comply with the diverse vendor rules and regulations set in place by the government.
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In 1989, UPMC’s board of directors generally and supply chain team specifically sought to go beyond simply meeting federal requirements by looking for ways to more fully support the communities UPMC serves. Their goal was to identify specific ways that UPMC’s supply chain strategy could also help build economic and community development. In doing so, UPMC would play a significant role in engaging entrepreneurial individuals across minority- and women-owned businesses. Over time, the list of diverse vendors that UPMC recognizes has grown to include veterans, individuals with disabilities, and individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+.
Supplier Diversity and Inclusion is integral to UPMC’s overall supply chain efforts. We’ve expanded that goal to incorporate diversity and inclusion activities that more closely mirror the values and goals of our UPMC Health Plan customers. To achieve that goal, we provide education, training, mentoring, certification acknowledgment, and networking opportunities to interested diverse vendors.
What role does customer choice play in UPMC Health Plan diversity and inclusion initiatives?
Many people have a choice in their health care options. With millions of members, UPMC Health Plan is a great example of that. Recognizing that choice is a very real option. UPMC is working to identify the issues and concerns that are important to its members. We are focusing on the value of doing business with individuals who look like the patients and customers we insure and execute at the highest levels the requirements of our contracting agencies their needs for diverse vendor participation. An example of this focus includes my recent testimony to the Veterans Affairs subcommittee of the Pennsylvania Senate on our support for legislation increasing the amount of and support for diverse and veteran-specific business done by the Commonwealth. The pending legislation will impact how UPMC Health Plan conducts business with state-managed Medicaid and Medicare customers, and customers have voiced their opinions to their representatives.
With 92,000 plus employees at UPMC, we also have many internal UPMC customers — I call them “Team Purple” — who have an important voice as well. It’s important that their values, goals, and needs also are part of our overall conversation on supplier diversity. We aim to further educate, inform, and empower them to understand the capacity they have in vendor options inclusive of diverse vendors by working with our team and Supply Chain Management.
How are people learning about UPMC’s initiatives in supplier diversity and inclusion?
It’s critical that we get the word out about the value and impact of our services and opportunities, particularly to our own UPMC and UPMC Health Plan employee base. We’ve accomplished a great deal over the years, and we’re very proud of UPMC employees’ response to our efforts of outreach during the pandemic to their calls for social justice and economic equity.
When I started at UPMC in 2018, I launched UPMC’s first Supplier Diversity and Inclusion web portal. This portal offers diverse vendors a gateway to rich opportunities with UPMC. They can register their businesses and be recognized as certified diverse vendors. They can also provide business descriptions that enable our internal departments and Team Purple to search for qualified vendors. Today, we have a base of 750 certified diverse-owned companies that we engage with as vendors. In 2020, I began our UPMC Supplier Diversity and Inclusion LinkedIn page to further promote our services and resources. This was both an internal and external reach to share our stories of success with vendors and efforts locally, regionally, and nationally. That page can be found via LinkedIn keyword search “UPMC Supplier Diversity and Inclusion.”
We provide specific ways for vendors to engage and receive business and technical assistance to further their journey with UPMC/ UPMC Health Plan. One of our most important initiatives is UPMC Essentials for Success — our free business education and development programming for diverse vendors. This initiative is offered in partnership with Pitt’s Institute for Entrepreneurs Excellence and its Small Business Development Center (SBDC). It is open to any business, providing a pathway to becoming an approved supplier of goods and services to UPMC.
Essentials for Success was first piloted here in Pittsburgh in 2019. It has evolved into a quad-state program where we engage all 17 SBDCs in Pennsylvania, all 20 in New York, and five SBDCs in Maryland. We’ll be working with SBDCs in Delaware later this year.
Once a business completes the curriculum, it can work with any SBDC in those states to address business and technical gaps in their business. The goal is to help strengthen any areas of need in preparation to conducting business with UPMC.
In March of 2022, we hit an important milestone: a total of 1,000 businesses have participated in Essentials for Success since that first pilot. That same month, we also started an alumni series to further demonstrate our commitment to vendors that have gone through that curriculum — showing that we walk with them on their journey of establishing a relationship with UPMC. We’re actually able to track the time frame from completing training to securing an actual contract with UPMC.
We tell every participant that our objective is to help your business become poised for success — even if it’s not with us. If UPMC can improve the lives of underrepresented business owners through this training and create a stronger relationship with their local SBDCs, that has a real connection to improving the social determinants of health within that community.
A new opportunity launched in 2021 includes our SDI Fireside Chats. Curated bimonthly to bring UPMC’s subject matter experts in particular categories of procurement together with interested vendors, this event allows vendors to engage with UPMC’s leadership who are buying products, goods, and services, ask questions, and gain higher knowledge of how to conduct business with UPMC in a more intimate setting, and gain a better understanding of how to direct diverse vendor business development to UPMC. To date, we’ve hosted eight fireside chats and look forward to more vendor/buyer engagement across the system.
How are individual departments within UPMC encouraged to utilize supplier diversity?
UPMC Supplier Diversity and Inclusion is a policy-driven entity. That means each of our hospitals is required to adhere to UPMC’s policies in this area. I’ve spoken to several hospital executive leadership teams to explain our work and training opportunities and welcome more engagement across those I’ve yet to reach. We want to let them know that we are a willing and able partner. We stand ready to help them identify diverse vendors in their own communities to accomplish their procurement needs and meet their objectives.
As part of the 25th anniversary of Supplier Diversity and Inclusion in 2021, we also curated a series of monthly videos featuring UPMC executives who have sponsored and championed supplier diversity as a part of the UPMC business experience. Those 12 videos generated incredible internal awareness and response. Videos are available for viewing through Infonet.
Let’s not forget that we encourage anyone with spend authority who is interested in engaging with diverse vendors to contact our office to participate in our fireside chats. Slots are available throughout the year and fill quickly.
Most people feel supplier diversity and inclusion is an important expression of being a good corporate citizen but is it also good business?
At the end of the day, UPMC and UPMC Health Plan must focus on delivering quality, life-saving medicine while controlling costs. Our certified diverse-owned companies compete for the same work as any other vendor. Their involvement and perspective not only bring new ideas and solutions to UPMC, but they help stimulate competitiveness. And it’s been well established that supplier diversity helps create more socioeconomically stable communities.
A decent percentage of our subcontracting opportunities resides with UPMC Health Plan, where government contracts require or have very strong goals surrounding diverse vendors. We’re able to utilize the rubrics and policies within those states in which we’re doing business to identify those diverse-owned companies. We, in collaboration with Health Plan’s Small Diverse Business team, have conversations and do site visits to establish our confidence in their ability to fulfill those portions of a contract for which UPMC Health Plan needs support.
Another initiative focuses on UPMC’s construction and real estate business efforts where we want to increase diverse construction and engineering vendors both as direct contractors and subcontractors. We have partnered with Turner Construction Company to connect interested vendors to a series of presentations as well as mentoring opportunities designed to help them grow their company and scale up for larger projects through their Turner School of Construction Management. We have been their leading sponsor for the past four years and have recently opened up our community partners to several large organizations to support the diverse vendor community’s knowledge of construction-related work in the region. We have been highly active in the Presby Bed Tower construction DEI Program efforts, supporting the enterprise goals and objectives to increase diverse vendor education and participation on this phenomenal project.
We hope to begin looking for similar opportunities with our global vendors as UPMC supports its international operations in countries where supplier diversity has recently been recognized.
The bottom line is that there are tremendous opportunities for diverse vendors with UPMC. I’m proud to play a role in championing and advocating for them. Over the past five years, UPMC has conducted over $1 billion in business with diverse vendors, and that number promises to only increase in the years to come.
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.