Get to Know the WWT Board: Priscilla Hill-Ardoin Part II
This is the second time we have profiled WWT Board member Priscilla Hill-Ardoin. You can find the first Q&A here.
Hill-Ardoin came to the WWT Board following an illustrious career with AT&T. A true pioneer, she was AT&T's first chief privacy officer and diversity officer and helped lay the foundation for AT&T's exemplary culture of genuine diversity.
She established The Aaron Ardoin Foundation in 2005 to help provide funding for those affected by sickle cell disease. Hill-Ardoin also serves on the board of St. Louis-based Enterprise Holdings. Her community work includes board or trustee posts with Washington University in St. Louis, Haven for Hope and the Vanderbilt-Meharry-Matthew Walker Center for Excellence in Sickle Cell Disease.
There's lots of news about supply chain disruption and the effect it is having on businesses globally. Can you talk about the importance of establishing a diverse portfolio of suppliers and how that can have an effect on an organization's supply chain and operations?
Having a diverse portfolio of suppliers is nothing short of indispensable. If the pandemic taught us anything, it was the importance of having diversity among your supply chain and having more than one relationship that exists and more than one provider.
Think about it — the global economy is adversely impacted because of a disruption in the supply chain; the closing of national borders — some of it for health reasons. And because of all that, nothing is moving out. It's forcing us to think beyond those things and think longer term and in terms of what sorts of disruptions might happen moving forward. It's pushing us into having established relationships with various suppliers and that is value added in times like this.
What about WWT's Supplier Diversity program. What do you like about it? Where can it improve?
It's an area that is near and dear to me and it has come up in the board room more than once or twice. Not just in our board room, but in boards across the country — supply chain management is being discussed over and over. And supplier diversity programs specifically. I like WWT's. It's mature and not all supplier diversity programs that deal with small businesses and minority or women ownership and other elements of diverse ownership are mature. Many have just jumped on the bandwagon. That is the reality.
I have to give big kudos to WWT, which has always been recognized for supplier diversity because it is in our DNA. We entered the market as a diverse supplier. We are the largest African American-owned company in the country and there is a lot of pride of ownership throughout our 30-plus years of operating. We have a commitment to it. Supplier diversity sits right there on top. That is a strong foundation. We have a strong partnership and mentorship with our diverse suppliers. And it's not just our spend that I like about what we're doing and the fact that we have a commitment to growing it, but WWT is committed to growing the base of diverse suppliers to which businesses can have a choice from.
We help small businesses with business development plans, provide training tracks for them and there are even instances in which WWT acts as a subcontractor to a minority prime, which delivers great value to them and can allow them to land a contract because we may have certifications or access to capital they don't have access to.
WWT has been effective at connecting businesses with other diverse business suppliers. We are very active and I'm enormously proud of the fact we are devoting resources to expanding our capabilities.
What can WWT employees do to help further strengthen our Supplier Diversity program and outlook?
Every employee can help champion supplier diversity by making it a point to bring it up in meetings, talk about it with colleagues, customers and neighbors. Talk about it to those interested in joining WWT — supplier diversity has really risen on the chart of what potential employees value. It's value-added and one of the things that make us a great place to work for all.
Our last Q&A for the Chairman's Newsletter was in 2019 before COVID entered the equation. What's your perception of how WWT fared during the pandemic (even up to today) and what helped underpin that performance?
WWT executed on all cylinders during the pandemic. It was a tough time with lots of challenges and WWT just rose to the occasion in every instance. That is not my personal opinion. That is a unanimous endorsement and reflection of board sentiment. In terms of what contributed to that? I think it was a real team spirit. As an operator in the B2B space, WWT has it down in spades what it means to be a real partner to the customer. Employees – all the way up through leadership – stayed focused on the customer and recognized how critical a part we played in the ability of that customer to continue to do what it needed to do and serve its customers. It was textbook.
And there is one other thing I cannot overlook. This was not just a business disruptor. It disrupted the lives of people in extraordinarily serious ways. Jim Kavanaugh and the entire leadership team were laser focused on the health and wellbeing of every employee and doing whatever was needed to make the adjustments to keep our employee base healthy — both physically and mentally.
During our mid-year corporate update, Jim reported strong performance but a somewhat confusing market given a lot of outside factors (supply chain, war in Ukraine, environmental concerns). What are you seeing from the market?
The challenges and factors that are impacting the workplace right now are not getting less, they are growing. While it was anticipated early on the pandemic would pass, it is not passing as quickly as we thought. Variants are challenging. It has impacted the nature of how people work in fundamental ways. I don't see that changing in the next 12 to 24 months even.
I think the supply chain issues are going to continue and, as I said, it's going to create opportunities for businesses to look at growing their diversity in those areas. For WWT, it creates a challenge for us to look at what is going on now and anticipate what is going to happen in the future. Are there additional opportunities to mine as a result of all this? Are there ways we can provide more value to existing customers?
I would expect we're looking at a good three-year period of change and if we don't like it, we better learn to like it and learn to manage it and get to know it. There are growth opportunities for some and new opportunities springing up. But buckle up because it's going to be bumpy.
What is the WWT board discussing that might surprise WWT employees?
I'm not sure it would be any surprise to employees, but issues of interest to the Board include talent acquisition and retention, strategy and looking to what's next on the horizon for WWT, top-line growth, continuing to grow our customer base, new ways to add scale to the business and increasing brand awareness.