Establishing Relationships and Collaborations: A Formula for Diversifying Suppliers

Penn’s Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli spoke at the Diversity Supplier Forum and Expo on June 20. Below is a lightly edited version of his remarks about Penn’s investment in civic engagement and economic development.

It is a genuine pleasure to be addressing you at our third annual Diversity Supplier Forum and Expo. This event continues to draw crowds because convening on this important topic has value. That value comes from the learning we all get from the best practices and success stories from our great panelists. And, let’s be real…the networking at the Expo is awesome. I want to take this opportunity to share some reflections on Penn’s dedication to Economic Inclusion. Penn’s investment in civic engagement and economic development is a bedrock principle of this institution. Under our President Amy Gutmann, it draws new inspiration from the Penn Compact—our strategic vision.

The Compact is organized by the three I’s:




I believe a fourth I is relevant when it comes to supplier diversity, and that is Intentional. Now, I have intentionally used the word intentional. To be intentional is a powerful concept, and especially true for Anchor Institutions, such as Penn. It means we a take seriously our role as a fixed presence in Philadelphia, and one that is unlikely to move. As a result, we make deliberate decisions to enhance the community and city for the long haul. And just because we are a research university—does not mean this is an academic exercise. Quite the opposite—this is an action-oriented strategy, and it has been for decades.

In 1996, we began to formally set goals, track results and measure the impact of our local and diversity spend. And since then we have spent nearly $1 billion in aggregate, with more than 2,600 individual local and diverse suppliers. In the big picture, that is an impressive number.

However, I am equally proud of another data point because it demonstrates our team is not resting its laurels. Since 2014, we have added 635 new individual suppliers that are local and diverse.

Diversity Supplier Stories

As much as I like looking at the data, I am also very interested in hearing about the relationships and collaborations created in this space.

‘Relationships’ is not a traditional metric, but it’s critically important because relationships matter.

To that end, I thought I would share three brief examples:

EMSCO Scientific:

Eight months ago Penn awarded its lab equipment contract to EMSCO Fischer—a unique model of collaborative behavior. For the last 20 years EMSCO Scientific has been a leader in the competitive business of lab equipment, and a key Penn vendor. In 2018 it was time to take the business out to bid, and the RFP required every bidder to include a local and diversity element.

West Philly-based Fisher Scientific, a lab equipment company under the leadership of Lin Thomas, saw this as an opportunity to form a minority-majority partnership with EMSCO to serve Penn’s lab supplies needs.

Fisher drew on its other solid relationship with the Enterprise Center for expert counsel, and after an intense and competitive bidding process the newly formed EMSCO-Fischer won the contract as Penn’s first tier supplier of lab equipment.

It has been eight months and the EMSCO-Fisher model at Penn is operating smoothly and is ready to be scaled upward and outward.

As EMSCO expands its service model and scales beyond Penn, it is projecting the creation of new jobs focusing on West Philadelphia residents for the team’s first hires.

What I admire about this story is the creativity by both Fisher and EMSCO to see what was possible in building and forming a new relationship and thinking strategically about collaboration.   


Way back in 2014, Penn Purchasing took a meeting with the Enterprise Center, our partner in finding and working with diverse businesses, which revealed information about AppleOne—a women-owned, minority-owned workforce management company.

As I mentioned, we behave with intent, and it was clear that AppleOne was a company we should know more about, even if it was just a “get to know you” meeting.

In 2015, Penn’s HR department was bidding out its contract for a company to supply our temporary staffing services. The RFP required the contract go to a firm with demonstrated skill in setting and measuring diversity and inclusion metrics and the ability to partner with the West Philadelphia community.

AppleOne was invited to bid, and beat out 15 other companies for the Penn account.  How did they win? Was it competitive pricing? A track record of quality services? Sophisticated management systems?

Yes, yes and yes.

But what AppleOne had more than anything else was a core value and demonstrated skill of building relationships and a history of collaboration in service of diversity and inclusion.

AppleOne has built a location at 34th and Market Street, and for the last three years it has provided Penn, and the neighborhood, services to help local residents find gainful employment at Penn, and help Penn draw upon local talent.

Telrose Corp:

Let me take you back to the year 1995. Todd Rose is a West Philadelphia sales rep with Xerox, servicing the Penn account, with a dream of being an entrepreneur. Todd was familiar with the University’s culture and created an idea for a new company, Telrose Corp, which he would start in his apartment in West Philadelphia. His vision was for Telrose to partner with Office Depot and serve as a Tier 1 supplier of office supplies to Penn.

Todd’s ability to create win-win partnerships led to his expansion into office furniture and servicing multi-functional devices on campus. Not only has it worked well at Penn, Telrose is a vendor to other anchor institutions around Philadelphia. Telrose grew to 24 employees, with 75% of them living in West Philadelphia.

It’s no longer run out of Todd’s apartment, but has its own headquarters on Powelton Avenue. Todd himself gives back to the community by collaborating with the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative—one of Penn’s partners in the room today—as well as the University City District’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative.

What impresses me most about Telrose and Todd is their talent for collaboration which has created more opportunity and more jobs.


In wrapping up, let me point out that Penn itself focuses on building relationships around supplier diversity and inclusion. We are proud to support two city-wide efforts:

The Philadelphia Area Collegiate Cooperative, or PACC, is a procurement cooperative of over 20 colleges and universities in the Philadelphia region who collaborate to achieve best procurement outcomes for the collective.

The Philadelphia Anchors for Growth & Equity, or PAGE, led by the Economy League, advocates among Anchors’ and major suppliers to think creatively about how to grow diverse and local businesses.

As I reflect on Penn’s own performance I can point to some data on our local and diverse spend. For example, in calendar year 2018 the diversity spend across the city was $126 million. And the local spend in West Philly was $90 million. And as I have pointed out, we don’t achieve those figures and make that impact without first establishing relationships and collaborations. And we don’t achieve any of this unless we have talented people on both sides of the equation who are intentional about this work.