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Impact Story: Executive Mentors United States

How diversity wins business for growing companies and Cisco

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Carlos Dominguez knows about diversity and the value of mentorship. He was born to a Cuban father and Chinese mother and grew up in Union City, New Jersey, a city with more new immigrant families per block than any other place in the United States. “I am a product of being mentored by everyone,” he said. “I was raised and managed by my neighbors opening a window with advice. I learned that if you ask for help, you’ll get it.”

As a senior vice president at Cisco, Carlos responded to requests for help from the startups and entrepreneurs he encountered as a company innovation evangelist and futurist.  “I derive energy and learn from them because they see the world through a different lens,” he said. “It’s about meeting someone different from me, getting to understand them, and appreciate them. I help them with strategy and build a friendship. That’s where it’s the most powerful.”

Executive mentors build diversity in the supply chain

When Cisco launched the Executive Mentoring Protégé Program (EMP2) in 2009 to support women-, minority-, and veteran-owned businesses, Carlos was one of the first to volunteer. EMP2 pairs Cisco executives with CEOs of diverse-owned companies from Cisco’s supply chain including its partners’ channel to participate in a formal, 2-year mentoring program. The program is part of the Cisco CSR Supply Chain Focus Area to promote growth and diversity of suppliers.

“Most large companies do business with other big companies that have support structures and relationships,” said Carlos, who became president and chief operating officer at Sprinklr in 2015 after more than 20 years at Cisco. “It can be tough for a small company to navigate to the right people, communicate the right message to them, and work within the structure. They have wonderful ideas and products, but miss how to go to market and scale.”

Participating companies represent all parts of the supply chain, from manufacturing to procurement to partners and sales. The protégés complete a rigorous analysis of their current business—they survey customers and determine strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Mentors offer expertise, make introductions and help resolve issues.

“By investing and developing our supplier pool, Cisco is creating mutually beneficial, long-term relationships with diverse businesses,” explains Denise Coley, director of Cisco Global Supplier Diversity Business Development and Strategic Programs. “A diverse supply chain creates economic and social benefit for the company, the community, and Cisco.”

Breaking down barriers to do business with Cisco

Carlos was matched with the CEO of a consulting firm. He helped her better define the problem her services solved, what made her approach unique, and how to articulate the benefits more clearly. “It took work to have that crisp 30-second message,” he said. “She helps organizations understand the value that exists in the power of diversity—religious, geographic, sexual preferences. The more diverse, the stronger the organization.”

Once he understood the business, need, and value proposition, he considered what it might mean to Cisco and who at Cisco would care about it. “I made the introductions and then shepherded a couple of meetings,” he said. “I became the translator when the mentee said something that my Cisco colleague didn’t understand.”

EMP2 participants learn how to better market their business to Cisco and introductions smooth the path to business within Cisco and with Cisco customers. Protégés have scaled up their operations and expanded to new markets around the globe. The program is available to nominated diverse-owned Cisco supply chain businesses in the United States. Learn more about Cisco Global Supplier Diversity Business Development and the EMP2 program.

Diversity is good for business and the community

Diversity in the global workforce and supply chain is a key business strategy for Cisco. It has direct competitive value with partners who require diversity reporting. It also makes the whole organization stronger and more responsive to market needs. A study by SCM World found that supply chain executives value softer managerial skills in addition to traditional skills and they believe more women in supply chain management will help meet that need. (Women in Supply Chain: Value in Diversity)

“If you are a big company, you shouldn’t do these programs just because it’s the right thing to do,” said Carlos. “Diverse service providers bring a different perspective into your organization. They help you address a service or need in a different way. When diverse workforces collaborate, they are much more effective.”

Cisco executives who are interested in becoming executive mentors may contact  gsdbd-emp2@cisco.com.

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“Diverse service providers bring a different perspective into your organization. They help you address a service or need in a different way. When diverse workforces collaborate, they are much more effective.”
— Carlos Dominguez, former Cisco Senior Vice President and executive mentor