Michael K. Robinson - 2022 Global Supply Chain Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Hall of Fame

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself? 

A: I was born in a small town in the South in the 1950s, and I experienced racial intolerance firsthand. My parents knew that education was essential to move out of poverty. I attended Georgia Tech and then continued my education at Cheyney State [College, the oldest historical Black college and university; now called Cheyney University of Pennsylvania]. I obtained my MBA [Master of Business Administration] from [Clark] Atlanta University. From there, I started my career at IBM [Corp.].

Q: When and why did you become a supplier-diversity and minority-business-development champion?

A: I started my professional career at IBM within the procurement arena. From there, I cross-trained in areas such as planning, production control, manufacturing, logistics, materials, site procurement management and federal procurement.

IBM established its supplier-diversity program in 1968 but had not established itself as a leader in this discipline. The senior executive team — Theo Fletcher, [vice president] of procurement; John Paterson, [chief purchasing officer]; and Ted Childs, [vice president of human resources] — tapped me personally to turn around the program and to make IBM a leader in the field. 

Q: What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for minority business enterprises? 

A: Don’t become stagnant; continue to evolve. Develop short-term and long-term strategies; follow them while adapting to the changing environment. Understand the value-add of their products/services and what makes them competitive to grow. Know that this can’t all be organic; they need to acquire additional businesses or merge with other MBEs to expand beyond the boundaries that restrict them from becoming an international supplier. Embrace the emerging technologies around them and be the most responsive organizations in the world. 

These challenges can also be their greatest strengths! My last point is to remember that you do not GET business because you are diverse, you GET business because you are the Best!

Q:  What must MBEs do to participate in emerging technologies like AI [artificial intelligence], IoT [Internet of Things], metaverse and the globalization of supply-chain delivery?

A: Simple. Look into the future, which is now; understand/accept these technologies. Get involved and hire the skills within your organizations to compete.

Q: What is your vision for supply-chain diversity over the next five to 10 years?

A: I’ll answer this question in a different perspective because I see an urgent need, and it is that we develop leaders needed to move diversity to the next phase. These leaders must be committed and not in it for their own personal gain. They must NOT be afraid of their corporate structures and must be honest with MBEs.

Q: What would you like your legacy to be as a champion of supplier diversity? 

A: I want to be remembered as an individual who was committed to providing diverse suppliers globally with access to decision makers because it is the only way for MBEs to understand the strategic direction of corporations and their specific industries. Also that I was honest in providing an assessment of their businesses and what they needed to do to succeed — sometimes this [assessment] was taken with appreciation and sometimes it was not — and that I pushed the corporate establishment to be inclusive not only in words, [but] more specifically in their actions! Lastly that each and every MBE mattered, and that I was there to listen and advise. 

To learn more about IBM’s supplier diversity program, ibm.com/procurement/supplierDiversity.


Michael K. Robinson Georgia Tech Cheyney State John Paterson Theo Fletcher Ted Childs MBEs supply-chain diversity

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