Business UNusual Spotlight

Rethinking Partnering

SDI DEI info in front of electric power lines station
Instead of...
Relegating MBE subcontractors to Tier 2 roles and responsibilities
SDI Presence
Treats MBE firms as partners and helps them grow by offering co-prime experience on large-scale projects
Diversity, equity, and inclusion aren’t just slogans to SDI Presence, an IT consulting and managed services provider and minority owned business (MBE). They are principles embedded in their DNA, informing every aspect of their business, including how they work with subcontractors — a term SDI abandoned early on.

“We decided as a company,” explains Cecelia Bolden, Chief Development and Diversity Officer, “to drop the term ‘subcontractor,’ because if you look at the definition, it means 'less than.' So we use the word ‘partner’ because we share in the risk and the reward.”

SDI’s terminology and approach to partnering changes the typical Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier relationship. Chief Markets Officer Dawn Nash Pfeiffer elaborates: “In traditional supplier diversity programs, you get a number, and the Tier 1 finds a Tier 2 business that can satisfy that number. And that’s the extent of traditional Tier 1’s thinking — they are making their number. But they’re also putting the MBE in a subordinate position.”

SDI understood that this approach stifles MBEs’ growth potential. And they’ve proven from experience that there’s a better way to support MBEs beyond “checking a box.”

SDI’s experience with a forward-thinking Tier 1 supplier was critical to their growth. SDI was selected to serve a large utility company alongside a premier systems integrator (SI) who understood the importance of helping MBEs grow. Even though SDI was Tier 2 sized, the two companies proceeded as co-Tier 1’s, each priming the portion of the project that best leveraged their talents — an exceedingly rare move for a large SI with clear risk tolerances. The bold approach was successful for all parties and provided SDI with valuable co-prime experience on a large-scale project.

Another experience involved SDI’s largest-ever IT managed services contract, awarded by a client that was intent on growing Chicago’s diverse IT ecosystem. While SDI had the capacity, talent, and diversity to perform the job themselves, they chose to partner with nine other MBEs. This approach, says Cecelia, “gave us and our partners the ability to scale in a healthy way. And this allowed our smaller and diverse partners to see what it takes to bring home a large bid.”

Holding the ladder steady for others

Both projects cemented SDI’s commitment to helping other MBEs grow in a meaningful, healthy way. Cecelia summarized the company’s view: “We recognize that we are where we are because we were able to stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Now, as our Chief Legal Officer Linda Petty says, 'As we continue to climb the corporate ladder, it is our clear intent to hold that ladder steady for deserving others to follow.'”

While co-tiering/co-priming projects can be a tough sell for some service providers, there are other ways, which all companies can try to emulate, to lift up diverse businesses:

  • Exceed diversity spending guidelines in new and existing contracts
  • Use targeted bids to cultivate more MBE partnerships
  • Provide a dedicated mentor to ensure an MBE is successful
  • Offer training on best practices for cybersecurity, financials, back-end operations, etc.

President and Chief Growth Officer Hardik Bhatt reflects on the impact of SDI’s MBE partnership efforts thus far: “Not only have these partnerships built our capacity and expertise, but as we’ve grown, our investment in the community has grown too.”

The potential of other companies to follow SDI’s path isn’t lost on Cecelia: “53% of SDI’s corporate spend went to diverse businesses last year. Can you imagine what 53% of corporate spend in larger businesses could do?”