By M.V. Greene
From the very start, the vibe between Toyota and Chime Solutions Inc. seemed to check all the boxes. Toyota was the giant automaker with a demonstrated commitment to supply-chain diversity. Chime was the upstart diverse supplier seeking to expand its footprint. The budding partnership met key business and operational objectives of both sides. Also, job creation and community investment were two desired outcomes.
Through patience, openness and sustained engagement, Toyota and Chime found common ground in a collaboration that is a model for forward-thinking corporate supplier diversity activity that optimizes the business case for procurement diversity spend.
In the win-win deal, Chime walked away with an initial three-year business outsourcing services deal with Toyota, while the automaker continues to address many of its corporate objectives, including bringing another diverse supplier into its formidable supply chain.“Our approach has been to recognize that there are some really mutually beneficial opportunities in working with diverse suppliers,” said Chris Nielsen, executive vice president of product support and chief quality officer,
“Our approach has been to recognize that there are some really mutually beneficial opportunities in working with diverse suppliers,” said Chris Nielsen, executive vice president of product support and chief quality officer, Toyota.
A new view
As a leading global automotive and technology giant, Toyota hardly needs an introduction. The Japan-based company has a broad footprint in the United States and established its new North American headquarters in Plano, Texas — a Dallas suburb — in 2017.
Toyota has long been a proponent of corporate supplier diversity, as noted by its annual sponsorship of the Toyota Opportunity Exchange for diverse suppliers, its board-level participation in the National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. and its status as a member company of the Billion Dollar Roundtable Inc. In BDR, for instance, Toyota is one of 28 major corporations that signify their bona fides in supplier diversity through annual spend commitments of $1 billion or more with Tier I diverse suppliers.
Toyota and like-minded corporate organizations view supplier diversity from a lens of competitiveness, strategic advantage, innovation and customer and community engagement, rather than as a benevolent exercise that early on characterized the practice.
“First and foremost, diverse suppliers that have been successful in gaining business with Toyota know firsthand that our expectations in terms of performance and capability are exactly the same for them as they are for any supplier,” Nielsen said.
Chime was founded in 2016 in Morrow, Georgia, near Atlanta, by entrepreneur Mark Wilson, its president and CEO. He has been intentional in ensuring that Chime is positioned as a supplier that can perform. The company provides business call center solutions designed to adapt to the individual needs of its clients — whether to reduce costs, increase revenue or improve customer contact.
Chime’s deal to support Toyota’s Brand Engagement Center business unit in Dallas for Tier I call center services commenced Feb. 1, 2021, and runs through Jan. 31, 2024.
Wilson is unabashed in articulating what he is trying to accomplish for Chime.
“I try to have our company out there to where we are fairly known, and we get to talk to all of [the potential clients] that are out there,” he said. In addition to the automotive sector, Chime competes in the areas of health care, financial services and telecommunications.
That Chime received an opportunity as a certified diverse supplier to compete for and win Toyota business was hardly a fait accompli. Bonnie Clinton, Toyota vice president and chief procurement officer, indirect procurement shared services, said diligence and hard work were required by both sides to create the contract match.
She said Toyota carefully vets all potential supplier partnerships, but it doesn’t stop there. It also values suppliers that can align long term with the company’s business culture and objectives, she said.
“Long-term relationships are established through getting to know each other and through mutual trust,” Clinton said.
Wilson said he was determined to show Toyota procurement executives that Chime would fit the bill during more than three years of interactions before signatures on paper would signify a deal. Chime withstood Toyota’s vetting process that included meetings, presentations, backgrounding, site visits and negotiations.
Clinton praised Chime for following through and showing Toyota that an opportunity existed to create that mutually beneficial relationship.
“We initially didn’t know if there would be a fit, but everybody stayed in touch. At the end of the day, the right opportunity presented itself,” she said. “A lot of it is around timing, and that can be very challenging. They were prepared and ready when the opportunity came about. They did not give up.”
Serving the underserved
In beating the bushes to get the word out about Chime, Wilson had a proverbial ace up his sleeve — a core value of the company that would align with the objectives of potential clients. As a diverse supplier, Chime seeks to place its call center operations largely in minority communities where unemployment is high, and the need is urgent for community investment and development.
Since its founding, Chime has established call center operations serving clients in typically depressed areas of Atlanta, Georgia; Dallas, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland, where the majority of its 2,500 employees are African American single women. In creating family-friendly work environments, Chime offers inducements to its associates, such as on-premises child care and transportation assistance, as well as free classes on repairing credit, buying homes and becoming entrepreneurs.
Chime’s approach clearly caught the keen eye of Toyota as it began to establish new corporate citizenry in the Dallas/Fort Worth area alongside other Fortune 500 companies like AT&T, FedEx, ExxonMobil, J.C.Penney, American Airlines and Frito-Lay North America.
Nielsen said Toyota learned of Chime through association with the Dallas Regional Chamber after relocating its headquarters to Plano from Torrance, California. One of the chamber’s goals was to increase economic activity in the depressed southern Dallas area. He said Toyota was happy to join such an effort as a key Toyota value is creating economic opportunity in areas where it has operations.
He said the chamber’s president introduced him to a property developer in southern Dallas who told him about Wilson and Chime, which had located operations to a mall in the area. Nielsen said he met with Wilson and was impressed with his vision for community development and referred him to Clinton for possible procurement opportunities with Toyota.
Joe Mossinger, senior manager, strategic sourcing, and member of Toyota’s procurement team, called the experience “eye-opening” when the team visited the mall to see Chime’s operations.
“We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘We want to be a part of this.’ It just resonated with us,” he said.
Based on Toyota’s current forecast, Chime will be employing 60 or more full-time employees by January 2022.
For his part, Wilson couldn’t be more thrilled with Chime’s partnership with Toyota. He described the collaboration as being in its infancy, with the opportunity for increased engagement going forward.
“They could see tangibly that the work they are providing us to perform was being serviced by people from the community. It was very visible for them to see and understand that we are putting people to work by virtue of the work they are providing our company,” he said. “All of these companies with supplier diversity initiatives are really supporting the diverse constituencies of those companies.”
To learn more about Toyota’s supplier diversity program, visit onetoyotasupplierdiversity.com.
To learn more about Chime Solutions, visit chimesolutions.com.