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cover10Story by: Darwin Campbell, African-American News&Issues

Houston Jewel Smith is manager of supplier diversity for CenterPoint Energy Inc.

She is responsible for providing strategic guidance and success towards enhancing the company’s supplier diversity initiatives and the integration of supplier diversity into the company’s overall corporate strategy and culture.

CenterPoint Energy Inc (Houston, TX) is a major player in gas and electricity transmission and delivery. The company has had a supplier diversity program since the early 1980s.

“There was a lot of activity around federal government regulations at that time, and that was the initial impetus for the program,” Smith said. “But over the last couple of decades or so it has evolved from a compliance-driven program to a value-driven one, as we see the benefits diverse suppliers have added to our bottom line! They’ve had a positive effect in terms of innovation, cost savings and partnering. There are numerous ways we’ve been able to see benefit from the program.”

Smith has a key role in the design and implementation of processes and procedures to grow relationships and business opportunities with diverse & small business enterprises at CenterPoint Energy.

Internally, she and her staff are on the front line of providing and overseeing supplier diversity training, communication, outreach, supplier identification, accountability, business case, best practices, and return on investment for this corporate initiative.

Externally, she uses her influence and expertise to bring attention and advocate the value adds of including diverse & small suppliers in supply chains across the nation.

She also serves on the Corporate Advisory Committee of the Women’s Business Enterprise Alliance (WBEA); is a member of the Leadership Team of the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council’s (HMSDC) SDAC Committee. She is Chair Emeritus of the Edison Electric Institute’s National Supplier Diversity Task Group. She serves as the Chair of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas’ (AECT) Diversity Committee. Jewel is an active supplier diversity advocate within the Utility Market Access Subcommittee of the National Association of Utility Regulatory Commissioners (NARUC).

Jewel also has over 30 years of utility experience, which includes the areas of power consulting, customer service management, and supplier diversity.

Smith has received special recognitions and awards for her work.

She is often called upon to mentor and advise new supplier diversity professionals and to share tips for strengthening the supplier diversity efforts of entities and corporations and frequently makes presentations, facilitates, and serves on diversity panels in her areas of expertise.

Some of her plans for increasing participation include the following:

Being Committed to supplier development

The company has a mentoring program, of course. Participants are selected on the basis of the value they bring to the business.

The company is committed to increasing spend with diverse and small and suppliers

CenterPoint’s diverse and small suppliers are found through online registration, databases, trade shows and conferences. Smith networks actively with potential suppliers, and gets referrals from other supplier diversity professionals.

The company requires certifications from organizations such as  WBENC, NMSDC and SBA.

Currently, CenterPoint Energy has achieve over 11 percent spend with diverse suppliers.

The company is on track to reach our 12-percent spend goal with diverse suppliers for 2014.

Oversight of Prime Supplier/Second Tier Participation 

CenterPoint utilizes goals and encourages its prime suppliers to initiate their own supplier diversity programs if they don’t have them already.

“If a major supplier doesn’t have a program we will certainly work with them in that area,” Smith said. “We concentrate on mentoring those prime suppliers until their supplier diversity programs are functioning at a satisfactory level.”

A Texas Southern University grad with a BA in math and a M.ED in math secondary education, Smith has over thirty years of utility experience in power consulting, customer service management and supplier diversity.

She and her loving husband James have two wonderful daughters J’Mill and Jennerette.