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Merck Builds on Supplier Diversity Legacy with Innovative Programs

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By Melissa Lowery

Merck celebrates 35 years of supplier diversity at a time when reliable, inclusive supply chains have never been more crucial. As the novel coronavirus sweeps across the globe, supply chains have been disrupted and companies are turning to alternative sourcing, including diverse suppliers.

“It’s our goal to be the premier research-intensive biopharmaceutical company,” said Susanna Webber, Senior Vice President & Chief Procurement Officer. “Diversity is a mission, critical for innovation and scientific excellence, as well as for better decision making and cultural agility. People First is firmly embedded into the core values of Merck, and that is clearly reflected in our business strategy and procurement processes.”

In the past three decades, Merck’s Economic Inclusion and Supplier Diversity Program has shifted from a compliance-focused view to a focus on diverse suppliers as a source of business value. In 2017, the company was inducted to the Billion Dollar Roundtable (BDR) in recognition of spending more than a billion dollars with diverse businesses. Since then, Merck has nearly tripled its diverse spend through focused global expansion of the program.

“The year we reached the BDR, we achieved about $1.3 billion in diverse spend. Last year we achieved over $2.9 billion in global diverse spend. For us to triple our diverse spend within three years required commitment from the top down, reflecting Merck’s core values and focus on People First,” said Raul Suarez-Rodriguez, Associate Director, GSMG/Global Economic Inclusion & Supplier Diversity.

Pivoting during a pandemic

With its robust supplier diversity program and well-established relationships with diverse suppliers, Merck has a wealth of innovation and adaptability to draw on when needs change. Suarez highlighted one diverse supplier, Guy Brown, a certified minority woman-owned purveyor of office supplies and equipment, for their ability to pivot quickly.

When a significant portion of Merck’s workforce shifted to working from home during the pandemic, supporting their supply needs presented a challenge.

“Historically, an employee would buy through our normal ERP system, but we never had to figure out how to ship supplies to our homes,” Suarez-Rodriguez said.

Guy Brown team members met with Merck employees virtually and created a new approach for how employees could buy office supplies. A new, web-based store allows employees to register and link to the proper way of paying, then within 24-hours, they can buy directly from the web-store and have supplies shipped to their homes.

“This solution shows [Guy Brown’s] versatility, creativity and adaptability,” Suarez-Rodriguez said. “It’s an example of how you can figure things out even in a completely changed environment when you have a supplier who really understands your business and will work collaboratively to find solutions.”

Moving business opportunities online

Merck’s supplier diversity team had planned a celebration this summer to commemorate its 35-year milestone and provide opportunities for more partnerships. With in-person gatherings on hold for now, the team shifted the celebration online and created the Virtual Global Business Exchange Opportunity Fair, held June 17th.

“We set it up so that people will have an experience similar to attending an in-person event,” Suarez-Rodriguez said. “We have a theater where panel discussions and fireside chats take place, a lounge area where you might go for lunch to connect with other guests and a virtual exhibit hall where you can interact with vendors. All you need is a laptop and an internet connection.”

The Virtual Global Business Exchange Opportunity Fair opened with a fireside chat followed by a virtual exhibit hall. After lunch, Webber hosted a roundtable discussion with her leadership team from Merck’s procurement office. Other activities include a trivia challenge and networking opportunities. Representatives from various diversity councils were also available to talk with suppliers who might qualify for dual certification.

This day-long conference is in addition to Merck’s monthly webinar series geared toward developing the knowledge of diverse suppliers in the marketplace. These sessions provide information to help suppliers fine-tune their pitches, learn how to set themselves apart from competitors and ultimately win business.

Offering more virtual supplier development opportunities is one of many ways Merck is not only adapting to the era of social distancing but removing barriers for diverse supplier success. For the pharmaceutical giant, supplier diversity has moved beyond “the right thing to do” and become a business practice for building a strong, robust, innovative supply chain.

“Merck’s supplier diversity program will have to continue to grow and adjust in the global market,” Suarez-Rodriguez said. “It’s important that there are large, medium and small suppliers intermixed within our supply chain to bring balance to the various issues we face as a company within this global economy.”


Merck Rainbow Alliance, the company’s LGBTQ+ Employee Business Resource Group, recently purchased and donated copies of Zaylore Stout’s book Our Gay History in Fifty States to schools located in Southern New Jersey, where Merck is headquartered. The books were given to support and empower gay-straight alliance (GSA) groups and LGBTQ+ young people.

“We found that of all the areas within our state, these are the communities where LGBTQ+ youth are experiencing the most challenges at home, school and while out in their daily lives,” Suarez-Rodriguez said. “We hope this gift will serve as a beacon of light for them and help create awareness that members of the LGBTQ+ community are in every state and every county and are contributing towards the betterment of our collective society.”

Learn more about Our Gay History in Fifty States at gay50states.com.

Business Equality Pride (BEQPride) is the first publication from the BEQ family of national print and digital magazines exclusively addressing the needs of LGBTQ small-to-medium sized businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals.