Supplier Diversity Spotlight: Kathi Stearman

Having come from supplier diversity, our team has strived to make improvements in the strategic sourcing and supplier relationship management space. Inclusive procurement is a strong tenet of our business values – we believe buyers and suppliers can collaborate to foster innovative, sustainable new supply chains.

Today, we’ve brought on a long-standing customer to show up the business value of supplier diversity. Over the past several years, we’ve worked closely with Kathi Stearman, Employment Compliance Officer at Brown-Forman. As the VP of Global Practices and the chair of the North American Region Diversity & Inclusion Site Councils, she steers her team on strategic efforts to support Brown-Forman’s diversity and sourcing strategy.

We caught up with her to learn more about the impact she makes with her team.

How does you create value for diverse suppliers?

Supplier diversity is important. Through finding diverse suppliers we have sustain the community. Many of our suppliers give back to the local economy through philanthropy and broader social impact. My role in employment compliance allows me to “level the playing field” by bringing in people from diverse backgrounds, who have historically been marginalized or under-represented. It’s not easy being a supplier, and it’s even harder being a minority-owned supplier. We help by giving businesses all they need to understand how to work with Brown-Forman.

What does collaboration look like?

I take a personal touch with minority suppliers and help them understand the supply chain. We’re very transparent about the things we’re looking for. Having honest conversations with our vendors allows Brown-Forman to continue being innovative and collaborative. The way I see it, working in sourcing should give you an inside stakeholder fighting for your business. As the insider and point of contact, I try to give all the information suppliers need to be successful, to help set up buying meetings and offer practice or feedback rounds. I know our seasonal calendar, I look for suppliers who are a good fit for the scope of work. But at the end of the day, suppliers have to succeed on their own, whether or not they’re diverse. They still have to bring value to the table.

What is the business value of diversity?

Inclusive sourcing can change the world. I believe we have a duty to pay it forward, to leave something worthwhile behind for our children. I enjoy my job because I believe in the value of the work that my team and I do. I see the real-life impact that Brown-Forman makes by collaborating with local suppliers. Bringing in diverse backgrounds helps us understand our diverse customer base. And we help each other succeed; there are so many people working hard behind the scenes to make everything we do possible. Nobody succeeds by themselves.

What does our partnership mean to you?

Our supplier diversity initiatives have blossomed during our partnership with ConnXus. I’ve enjoyed collaborating and am excited to see what the future brings. ConnXus is exactly what we need. Every time we call with a question, account managers do their best to answer our concerns. We have the feeling that the whole team here has our best interest at heart.