Diverse Companies Find Doors Opening

But the rules of the game are the same as those for all suppliers

Millie Maddocks

There are plenty of opportunities in the healthcare supply chain for diverse suppliers these days. “Doors continue to open like we’ve never seen in the past,” says Millie Maddocks, founder and CEO of MAC Medical Supply Co. in Chicago.

But business is business.

“Diversity may open some doors, but it won’t keep you in the game,” she says.

Certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, Chicago-based MAC Medical Supply is a supplier of a broad variety of products, including recording media and chart paper, batteries, biodegradable patient bedside products, electrodes, echo gels, blood pressure cuffs and more.

Maddocks is a long-time advocate for diversity among healthcare suppliers. For several years, she was a protégé in Owens & Minor’s Department of Defense Mentor/Protégé program, gaining experience and knowledge about the healthcare supply chain she otherwise would not have had access to, she says. Through that experience, she learned the importance of expanding her business, which today includes private labeling, master distribution, third-party logistics, and more. She conducts business with the major GPOs and med/surg distributors, as well as the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I had to come up with innovative, new products to diversify my company,” she says. And just like “the big players,” she has obtained exclusive rights to many different product lines to do so.

Rules are the same
When supplier diversity initiatives were in their infancy, some companies mistakenly believed that their diversity was an opportunity to charge more for their products, she says. That’s no longer the case, nor was it ever.

“Just like any company, you have to add value, offer great products and services, and offer something innovative for patients and providers,” says Maddocks. “And you have to offer competitive pricing.”

Being a diverse company offers one set of challenges and opportunities. Being a small company – as many diverse companies are – introduces a whole other set.

“There’s always so much change in the healthcare industry – mergers, acquisitions, hospitals switching from one GPO to another, then from one prime vendor to another,” she says. “As a supplier, you think you are secure in an account, then a change takes place and you have to demonstrate your value proposition all over again. You may have known a buyer for years; then she leaves and a new person comes in.” A small supplier, which lacks the name recognition of big national firms, has to start from scratch, familiarize decision-makers with their products and services, and then get them to trust them.

And as any supplier knows, the wheels of healthcare decision-making can turn slowly, she adds. Introducing and implementing a new product in a health system can take forever, and it calls for persistence and patience on the part of the supplier.

“Yes, there are people in charge of supplier diversity who can help you get in the door. They definitely are your champions, but they are not necessarily the decision-makers.”

“The biggest way any of this works in any GPO, prime vendor or healthcare system is through leadership from the senior team of the organization,” says Maddocks. “If they don’t emphasize diversity, it won’t happen.” Some CEOs do just that, and appoint someone to focus full-time on the initiative.

For their part, supply chain executives should make an effort to understand the favorable economic impact that small, diverse suppliers can have on their health systems, says Maddocks. In most diverse companies, the CEO is close to the customer, is fully engaged in the business, and can make important decisions immediately. “We are more flexible and agile, and we can turn things around much more quickly than big companies.”

And beside all that, supporting diverse suppliers is the right thing to do, she says.

Editor’s note: Learn more about working with diverse suppliers from:

  • The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, wbenc.org
  • Women’s Business Development Center, wbdc.org
  • Healthcare Supplier Diversity Alliance, hsdafordiversity.org
  • National Minority Supplier Development Council, nmsdc.org