Passion for leading Starbucks’ supplier diversity initiative earns NMSDC Catalyst award


Diane Lin

Diane Lin NMSDC Corporate Catalyst Award

Diane Lin, director, global procurement – supplier development at Starbucks Corp., was honored at the National Minority Supplier Development Council Leadership Awards event in May in New York City. She received the Corporate Catalyst Award, which is presented to a member with five to 10 years of experience who demonstrates exceptional leadership while engaging internal and external peers in support of NMSDC’s vision.

Lin’s supplier diversity journey has been truly evolutionary. Interestingly, her transition into supplier diversity was not by choice. After holding multiple leadership positions within finance and procurement at Starbucks, she was appointed to advance the Starbucks supplier diversity program. She would be the first to admit she did not understand supplier diversity. “I believed all the myths about supplier diversity,” she said. “I thought it was a public relations or social program focused on awarding business based on minority ownership rather than supplier qualifications.”

As she began to develop the Starbucks supplier strategy, Lin set out to forge a relationship with NMSDC, initially at the regional level with the Northwest Minority Supplier Development Council and, soon after, at the national level. These relationships were key factors in her evolution. She reflected on her initial connection with NMSDC. “Everyone was very welcoming and wanted to help me in any way they could,” she explained. “NMSDC provided resources for my research to understand the value of supplier diversity and introduced me to peer corporations to learn about their programs. It did not take long for me to understand the value and to dispel the myths. Supplier diversity has turned out to be one of the most strategic and fulfilling roles I have ever had.”

Lin shared that coaching and developing suppliers is one of the most rewarding facets of her role. The Starbucks brand commitment is rooted in driving moments of connection. She focused on emulating this commitment in the design of the development components of Starbucks’ program. Throughout the year, the Starbucks team attends and speaks at several events to help suppliers understand how to present themselves for business opportunities with Starbucks.

The most important piece of advice Lin gives suppliers is to be “patiently persistent.” Becoming a supplier can take a long time, so it requires a lot of patience. As far as persistence, it requires a lot of hard work — investing the time in researching companies to truly understand their needs, being prepared to clearly articulate and demonstrate the value they can add and building the relationships. She recalled one particular success story of a diverse-owned supplier who asked for help to grow their business with Starbucks. “It listened to our advice and focused on being “patiently persistent.” It executed quality work, sought to understand our needs and cultivated the relationships.” Through its hard work, the business with Starbucks has grown more than ten times what it was four years ago. “Now, it doesn’t need my help anymore,” she said with a laugh.

As for the future, Lin is proud of how far Starbucks has come, but recognizes there is still so much more that can be done to further grow supplier diversity. But, then again, she is a catalyst who is up for the challenge and, in doing so, will take her favorite quote to heart:

“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson


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