Microsoft’s Hernandez: Supplier diversity starts at the top

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Fernando Hernandez

When it comes to diversity and inclusion for technology giant Microsoft Corp., Fernando Hernandez, the company’s director of supplier diversity, global procurement group, said it started with founder Bill Gates, who recently stepped down as chair of the Microsoft board to become the company’s technology adviser.
African-American John W. Thompson replaces Gates, and Satya Nadella will replace Steve Ballmer as Microsoft’s CEO.
“Putting two diverse people in charge of this company speaks volumes,” said Hernandez, a longtime leader in developing minority suppliers. “It is a new day. It is a very exciting time, and this sends a message to the world.”
According to Hernandez, who has been with Microsoft since 2006, diversity only makes a company better in terms of products and sales. From a marketing point of view, he said, it is richer and, ultimately, puts the company in touch with “people we should care about.”
“I am from Jersey City. I grew up in the hood,” said Hernandez, who went to St. Peters University in Jersey City and Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., before he enrolled in The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “Today everybody talks about the user experience. We have to create an experience where you can feel good about your experience.”
For this positive user experience to happen, Hernandez said you have to love your consumer. “You can’t fake it,” he said. “It is my privilege to meet [diverse suppliers] and work with you to make new friends.”
One way Microsoft ensures this positive user experience happens is through impact-sourcing, a trend Hernandez said minority suppliers should embrace.
“We are pioneering impact-sourcing,” he said. “When you setup a call center somewhere in South Africa, our strategy is impact-sourcing. We are bringing a diverse call center team from the U.S. to do this deal and to implement it in Africa.”
Another trend Hernandez deems important is in the area of “big data.” He uses Mother’s Day as an example of how big data can have an impact.
“If you know many African-Americans take their mothers out on Mother’s Day, you could set up a service for smart coupons with certain restaurants and people will say, ‘Now they are speaking to me,’” he said.
Hernandez has a lengthy track record of thinking this way when it comes to new technology.
Long before he was living in Redmond, Wash., Hernandez sold commercial real estate and prepaid phone cards to various immigrant groups in New Jersey. While much of corporate America skipped the phone cards he viewed as a growing market, Hernandez became a prepaid phone pioneer for AT&T.
Today, after generating millions in sales with venture products for AT&T, Hernandez is a leader at the technological giant Microsoft, which recently named an African-American as its new chairman of the board and a man whose family came to this country from India as its new CEO.
“We are infusing diversity all the way down the chain,” Hernandez said. “Impact-sourcing is about how deep of an impact you can make in the community, all the way down to the individual. It is about supplier diversity and getting the right vendor on board to set up these shops, because you have to respect  culture.”

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