Posted: July 01, 2012
Diversity Corporation of the Year finalists 2012By
The Denver offices of Xcel Energy launched its diversity department in the early 1980s, back in the Public Service Co. of Colorado days, with one person. Now it’s a three-person office headed by Murugan Palani. Palani, manager of supplier diversity for Xcel’s Colorado operation, says the department’s growth has been complemented by the cultivation of a company-wide ethos. "Before we had one person who was a champion for diversity," he says. "Now every single person in the supply chain is a champion."
Nationwide, Xcel pushed $249 million out to diverse suppliers (meaning minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses) in 2011. "Whenever possible, we include a diverse contractor in every bid process," says Palani. "We provide a seat at the table. We don’t have a quota system. They win the contract because they are the right company for the job."
Palani’s office acts as "a single point of contact" for the entire bid process, he says, providing support for registration in Xcel’s supplier databases and other guidance and advice along the way. "We pretty much walk them through the whole process," says Palani. "It’s a world of difference for small, diverse companies."
One such company is Littleton-based civil engineering firm J.F. Sato & Associates: "A couple of years ago, we were their internal advocate," says Palani. "Now they’re one of the tiered contractors that we go to." It almost goes without saying that having an anchor client like Xcel can be a huge difference-maker for a small business.
Xcel has managed to bring in numerous construction businesses with diverse ownership. "Generally, the construction industry is a hard business to get diverse businesses into," says Palani. "We’re opening the door for a lot of companies."
On deck is a similar push to bring in small local businesses across the state. "In the future, we want to develop a program to maximize opportunities for local businesses," says Palani, whether they’re in Greeley, Pueblo, or any other point on Xcel’s Centennial State footprint. "We’re trying to provide opportunities for suppliers who are our customers. The more we can help our customers, the better off we are.
"Xcel Energy has a very strong tradition supporting diverse suppliers in the community, helping maximize their opportunities and mentoring them as they grow," says Palani. "We take a great deal of pride in that."
– Eric Peterson