DAVID FELDMAN, CENTER, IS JOINED BY CHEVRON COLLEAGUES STAFFING THE COMPANY’S EXHIBIT BOOTH AT THE 2015 WBENC NATIONAL CONFERENCE AND BUSINESS FAIR HELD IN AUSTIN, TEXAS. Shellee Fisher, Shellee Fisher Photography and Design»
Bringing people together on the path to success.
David Feldman takes exception to the notion that supplier diversity is a practice. It is, in his view, a journey.
Not every corporate supplier diversity initiative will meet everyone’s expectations or match those conducted by other companies or rank among the best. “But every journey has to start somewhere,” says Feldman, who has spent the last seven years of his 37-year career at Chevron, leading its supplier diversity initiatives in the United States.
“You have to look at where you are now and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses,” he explains. “There’s no shame in having the opportunity to do better. But there is shame in not doing anything about it.” For global energy companies like Chevron, inaction is not an option.
DAVID FELDMAN DELIVERS A “SAFETY MOMENT” AT THE OPENING OF THE 2015 WBENC NATIONAL CONFERENCE AND BUSINESS FAIR IN AUSTIN, TEXAS. Shellee Fisher, Shellee Fisher Photography and Design»
The San Ramon, California-based company has exploration, production, refining, distribution, transportation or power generation operations in almost two dozen countries. Not all of them welcome energy developers with open arms. That makes delivering on Chevron’s supplier diversity commitments as important—if not more important—as its other social investments.
“If we’re going to be successful, we have to be prepared and willing to invest in our local communities,” says Feldman, who also coordinates compliance for Chevron’s global “local content” initiatives, which include in-country hiring, supplier purchasing and supplier development. “Our efforts have to be meaningful to those communities and benefit areas of mutual interest. In some cases, our buying power may exceed our ability to make charitable or social investments.” That purchasing power is not insignificant.
In the U.S. alone, Chevron has spent between $2.3 billion and $4 billion annually since 2010 with small and woman-owned businesses, as well as minority and other diverse suppliers. Those diverse businesses represent 15% to 25% of the company’s total domestic spend. For Feldman, though, maximizing the return on investment from that spend is a key measure of success.
“Basing our supplier diversity argument on current issues or past inequities isn’t enough,” says Feldman. “From a leadership perspective, we have to articulate the value of supplier diversity in terms of social, economic and business outcomes. That value is all about benefit and value based on what’s important to our communities and our business.” Defining what’s “important,” though, can change in a heartbeat.
The coronavirus pandemic, for example, threw a monkey wrench into the processes driving supplier diversity. Trade shows, matchmaking sessions and conferences were the foundation for networking and engagement between suppliers and corporate representatives. They were also time- and resource-intensive.
“COVID-19 is proving that a lot of what we were doing can be done as or even more efficiently through technology,” says Feldman, referring to online communication platforms and virtual alternatives. “We used to put enormous effort into the ‘external’ supplier side of the equation. We now have the time to articulate to our internal constituencies the value of what we do, which will increase demand for supplier services.”
Also transforming the operating environment is the seismic shift around race and equality. And it’s sparked significant introspection into how internal actions or inactions play into that dynamic.
“Chevron has been very progressive when dealing with social issues, particularly around diversity and inclusion. It’s why I’m proud to work here,” explains Feldman, who was a high school mathematics teacher and worked at a seismic exploration company before joining Chevron as a seismic processing technician. But, he acknowledged, “We’re not immune from what’s going on around us.”
“The events of recent months have had a profound impact internally. They’ve driven the kinds of leadership discussions and questions that haven’t previously been in the forefront. Those discussions have been uncomfortable for some, but they’re needed,” he says. “How do we recruit, and where? Do we apply our standards in ways that don’t create unreasonable, unfair barriers? Are we in supplier diversity being intentional about ensuring our supply chain reflects the communities where we operate? Are our decisions aligned with or contrary to our company values? We have to look closely at our processes, policies, practices and behaviors to make sure everything we do supports our values and commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
For Feldman, issues involving diversity and inclusion aren’t just about business. They’ve been part of his own journey.
In the 1960s, Feldman, then a self-described “fair-skinned, red-headed dude,” and his parents relocated into what is now inner-city Houston, Texas. The racial segregation he witnessed never set well with him and he was determined to not let his circle of friends mirror that image.
“I’ve been blessed to see the world from a unique vantage point, and it’s helped me develop a keen respect for other cultures,” says Feldman. “Bringing people together is an obligation I’ve felt throughout my life.”
“I’m in this to help people. When I think of success, I think of those who’ve competed for our business, won that business and have gone on to grow their firms into valued assets in their communities.”
And that may be the best return on investment of all.