Deciding to take a company global means assuming many risks in the supply chain. ConnXus founder and CEO Rod Robinson saw new opportunities, and his company now powers sustainable diverse global supply chains through software solutions.
By Valerie Gomez
Rod Robinson founded the African-American-owned IT company ConnXus after a career in supply chain management that led to a chief purchasing officer (CPO) position in Cincinnati. While in Cincinnati, the idea for the ConnXus platform was born – an idea that has grown into a global company.
The software company tracks diversity in supply chains, but that brief description does not do justice to the sophisticated buyer and supplier management solutions the company offers. Everything ConnXus does is designed to connect diverse suppliers with buyers in a way that promotes sustainable sourcing, minimizes supplier risks, manages supplier relationships, and advances supplier diversity and supplier development.
The many services the company now offers all began as a grain of an idea to create a forward-thinking innovative platform that enables diverse supply chain success through enhanced transparency of risks – risks like reliability, financial health, legal sanctions and all the others associated with the choice of suppliers. Now a global company, ConnXus is a leader in advancing corporate procurement functions as critical operations that need access to the data, analytics and technologies for good decision-making.
Turning Problem Solutions Into a Thriving Business
“When I was a CPO, I had difficulties identifying diverse suppliers. I had trouble collecting, tracking and monitoring data to improve the ability to meet corporate goals. ConnXus was started to solve the problem, but as I built a client base, I also realized that procurement often seemed to be at the bottom of the priority list when it came to investing in technologies, like data analytics,” Robinson said.
Beginning with diversity compliance, he expanded ConnXus to provide a broader supplier management solution. Instead of only identifying supplier demographics, he wanted to iterate solutions for customers that identified all the risks in the supply chain. From that point, he springboarded into helping suppliers connect with buyers, matching supplier capabilities with buyer needs.
“We started adding products and services that help suppliers connect with enterprise buyers, building each system from the ground up. We are different from other software companies in this field because we offer procurement solutions developed by procurement professionals. I have a full understanding of procurement, its problems, and supplier diversity and its relationship to the supply chain,” he said.
Supplier diversity, according to Robinson, has traditionally been treated like an afterthought – something tucked in between procurement and the supply chain. He has a different perspective in that he believes supplier diversity should be part of the corporate strategy and more suppliers of all sizes encouraged to compete for business.
A differentiating aspect of ConnXus is that it does not simply want to meet client reporting needs. The company wants to drive supplier success. In fact, ConnXus offers webinars and educational programs for suppliers, bringing experts to the table to talk about market trends, doing business with corporate clients, data security, technologies, and managing risks.
Bringing Procurement Into the Present
Managing risks is critical to business sustainability for suppliers and buyers. ConnXus landed a major contract with McDonald’s, and the staff reflected on the time and effort it took to get the large contract.
“McDonald’s had to decide to accept the risks of hiring ConnXus as a new supplier. Our approach is to compartmentalize risks. Some risks we will assume, and some we won’t,” Robinson explained.
“However, corporate buyers need to get away from the template approach to contracting and start thinking about ways to customize contracts to attract a variety of suppliers. This opens up more opportunities for small to medium–sized suppliers by addressing things like scaling and their ability to be adaptable and agile.”
Template contracting, in other words, excludes many diverse suppliers who are capable of providing required products and services, and of growing with their clients.
Robinson has found the procurement function has generally not stayed current with technology. Advanced technologies like big data and artificial intelligence are still not commonly used in procurement.
“We try to introduce new technologies to customers but often discover they are spending their time and resources on trying to get a handle on their spend on technologies across their organizations. Procurement does not take priority. We tell them we can make the job of sourcing and procurement easier, but they are focused on trying to manage the rapid pace of changes, like integrating spend due to mergers,” he said.
Procurement also tends to remain decentralized in many organizations, making it more difficult for ConnXus to get to the right people. It is one reason the company staff regularly attend NMSDC, ISO, CIO and other conferences to network.
Integrating Supplier Diversity Into the Supply Chain Systems
Asked what he sees as his biggest challenge on a day-to-day basis, Robinson says it is managing people.
As the company grows, he must constantly look at the organization’s structure and people. Some people may need to transition from one position to another. In some cases, the company outgrows certain positions, and the people who were needed to help ConnXus get from Point A to B are not the same people needed to get from Point B to C or D. Robinson finds this to be one of the most difficult decisions he must make – to keep, transition or terminate positions.
Supplier diversity is changing as a concept and in its relationship to the supply chain.
“I see organizations now integrating supplier diversity at a rapid pace into supply chains rather than maintaining it as a separate entity,” Robinson explained. “I see a shrinking supplier diversity organization, and I think integrating the function is the right thing to do. Supplier diversity is being brought under the umbrella of procurement, and that has helped ConnXus evolve and grow. Companies need transparency up and down the supply chain.”
Another trend that creates an opportunity for ConnXus is the increasing corporate globalization from a U.S. base. Companies are learning what diversity means globally, and ConnXus can offer the solutions for matching buyers and suppliers, and maintaining supply chain transparency on a global basis. The world is coming to the U.S., and ConnXus is ready to embrace the opportunities.
“We can provide insight into procurement dollars spent in economies around the world and track what is important to the customer in that area,” Robinson explained.
Always Thinking About Disruption
What is Robinson’s advice to fellow minority business enterprise owners?
“The best advice I have ever received is that great leaders hire people smarter than themselves, and they create an environment in which they can do their best work. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of hiring really smart people. Leaders have to know when to get in the way and when to get out of the way,” he said.
This is a common theme among entrepreneurial business leaders: learning to trust people and knowing when to let go. Robinson’s reward for coaching himself on trusting his staff is that he now has the opportunity to pick and choose the projects he wants to be involved in. This frees up his time to think about things like where he would like ConnXus to be three to five years down the road.
“It is like thinking: How would I disrupt ConnXus?” Robinson stated.
This is precisely the kind of thinking which has kept ConnXus growing and successful.