KeeKee Mathis, supplier diversity manager for Volkswagen Group of America, emcees the 2016 Volkswagen Chattanooga's Partnering for Success Conference. (Courtesy photo)
KeeKee Mathis, supplier diversity manager for Volkswagen Group of America, emcees the 2016 Volkswagen Chattanooga's Partnering for Success Conference. (Courtesy photo)

As the supplier diversity manager at the Volkswagen Group of America’s plant in Chattanooga, Supplier Diversity Manager Edkedsha Mathis said she relies on a concept called the three A’s.

“Aim High, Apply herself and Achieve her goals.”

Mathis, whose supplier diversity position falls under the company’s purchasing department within the Chattanooga Plant location which employs about 2,800 workers, said that her concept is rooted in the philosophy that credibility is built on results and leaders that achieve by doing and not just advising.

“As a young adult venturing into the business world, I had a road map and goals. One year, three years, five years and 10 years,” Mathis said.

“That’s something you need to stick to. Make two road maps, one for yourself on a personal level and a professional one to present your leadership as the path that you want to follow,” she said.

“When you are in your evaluations with leadership you can show them this is where you are and this is where you want to be. Advice your leadership that you need their guidance and support to meet these goals,” Mathis continued.

If she sounded like she’s lecturing, then you’re reading her words incorrectly.

For Mathis — whom colleagues and family affectionately call, “KeeKee,” — mentoring and offering advice to young women, minorities, and anyone within the diversity community is one of the traits she’s demonstrated as she’s helped Volkswagen’s Supplier Diversity Program remain one of the most successful in the world.

Born and raised in Chattanooga, Mathis has been with Volkswagen for 8 years and she has more than 20 years of experience in purchasing; which includes supporting as a regional buyer, service buyer, supply chain support, key user for all of the purchasing systems and lean management.

Previously, she worked for 13 years as a buyer for the Wrigley company.

“There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself,” she said. “The only barrier between yourself and success is you. No one can stop you from what you want to accomplish, but you.”

The powerful principles of diversity and inclusion — which promotes superior performance and competitive advantage — has helped Volkswagen Group of America create an environment where everyone can feel respected and appreciated, company officials said.

Mathis said much of her job is spent traveling and engaging with minority and diverse suppliers as executive leaders in the company participate each year in a diversity strategy conference to help shape Volkswagen’s diversity initiative.

Through Volkswagen’s Diversity Outreach initiative, the company has continuously sought opportunities to partner with community and diversity based organizations like the National Urban League, Out and Equal, NAMAD, TSMSDC (Tri-State Minority Supplier Diversity Council), NMSDC (National Minority Supplier Development Council), and The Chattanooga Chamber all whom they said share their passion in making a difference through inclusion.

“I closely coordinate with buyers and purchasing managers to ensure we have inclusion of our diverse suppliers within our purchasing processes. Diversity represents a different range of categories including minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned and LGBT. And, it’s not only identifying these suppliers, but mentoring and developing them to make sure they have the capabilities needed by Volkswagen,” she said.

For instance, the commitment toward supplier diversity is almost like no other company. If Mathis and, or, other Volkswagen officials find that some don’t have the capability, Mathis helps to develop that minority supplier to gain the experience and ability to become a Volkswagen supplier.

“My job is to support them. In most cases [request for quotations] have gone out when we’ve had really small businesses that wanted to participate in the bidding process,” Mathis said.

“I may tell them they can go through the process see what the scope of the work entails and they will know in future how they can build up their capacities to submit a proper proposal that meets the requirements,” she said, adding that she believes it is important to provide diverse suppliers the tools and feedback needed to be successful as Volkswagen suppliers and community members. Those tools include mentoring, training, feedback (positive and opportunities for improvement), networking, and one-on-one meetings with responsible buyers and business units. Also participating in the (COE) Center of Excellence through the TSMSDC is which Mathis is participating and has nominated two minority businesses this year. This process helps suppliers to identify their strengths and weaknesses, so they can build upon them.

She also coordinates several best practices that include increasing supplier diversity program awareness within the organization, working to keep top leadership committed and informed about the importance of the program, mentoring suppliers, and training new and current suppliers.

Additionally, Mathis works to build strategic partnerships and alliances with diverse suppliers.

“I can help suppliers even if it means partnering with them with a larger business that’s willing to work with them because a larger business can be used as mentors. We are always looking for partners throughout the year and there’s no cut off on identifying such suppliers, which is why I attend trade shows and trade fairs nationally,” Mathis said.

“About 60 percent of my job is travel all over the nation to look for qualified minority and diverse suppliers and to ensure that they are properly certified and registered to do business with Volkswagen Group of America. I follow up with suppliers and transfer information to the responsible buyers and purchasing managers so we are available to them and vice versa,” she said.

Volkswagen also has a “Partnering for Success” conference for suppliers that is held annually in Chattanooga and Mathis said she typically invites 100 or more suppliers. The conference includes workshops, panel discussions, and a matchmaker. All to inform suppliers on how to do business with Volkswagen Group of America and to discuss possible opportunities that may be approaching for these suppliers.

The conference is typically held in November and brings together Volkswagen’s Tier one suppliers with qualified MBE’s and to give suppliers access to minority businesses.

“I want suppliers to be able to have business opportunities with other large corporations in our area. As we grow, I want them to grow right alongside of us. In 2016, the Partnering for Success Conference was held at the Volkswagen Conference Center, where a plant tour and academy tour was offered. This allowed the suppliers to see how the plant is operated and giving them insight never disclosed or offered before. This can only assist the suppliers in discussions as to what they can offer to Volkswagen, so we can strategically place them on the proper (RFQ’s) Request for Quotes.

“It’s about economic growth and development for the long term,” Mathis said.

At Volkswagen, more than 10 percent of production purchasing has been awarded to minority-owned businesses and 10 percent for non-production in 2016. Mathis said there are always opportunities for suppliers; however, they must be properly certified, registered, and be competitive.

“Volkswagen has been working hard so that diversity and inclusion is a part of our day to day business,” Mathis said. “At Volkswagen, our goal is to be recognized as a top company for diversity and inclusion practices as part of being a top employer in our city,” she said.

To that end, the company formed the Volkswagen Diversity Advisory Council, which consists of leaders in the community for organizations that champion diversity like the Urban League, La Paz, TSMSDC, The Chattanooga Chamber. Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute and others, Mathis said.

They are also active in the community, providing financial support to the Urban League, 100 Black Men, Girls, Inc., Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise and others.

“We want our workforce and our supplier base to reflect our customer base, the area in which we live and work. Our outreach is constant, intentional, and growing larger as our young factory matures,” Mathis said.

“I’d like to see more women open doors for themselves, because statistics show that there is male dominance in a lot of manufacturing industries, including auto. With that being said, women tend to have the mindset of being “inferior”, because of this” she said.

“I’d like to see that mindset switch to “superior” and not limiting. Our women, especially our minority women, need to reach and grab for the stars. I believe Volkswagen Chattanooga is proud of me, as I am a positive product of Chattanooga and Volkswagen and what we have  to offer and what has been accomplished. I thank Volkswagen for not only choosing Chattanooga for the plant location, but for also choosing me and providing me the guidance and structure to become the positive influence that I am today within my community and family,” Mathis said.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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