While serving on the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Shan Cooper was planning to retire after a 15-year career as an executive with Lockheed Martin when she met Steve Voorhees, CEO of WestRock, one of the world’s largest paper and packaging companies.
That chance encounter altered her plans, and she joined WestRock in “the most exciting job in the company” or formally known as the chief transformation officer.
“After meeting Steve, I started asking him about the culture of the company, the vision for the company. I got really excited about what he was doing, and then, when he said, ‘Well, why don’t you come help me do this?’ I thought, ‘You know what? Why not?’ It was a newly formed company with tremendous potential. In a lot of areas in the company, there was an opportunity for me to come in and create. I like being able to come in and create something and build things.”
WestRock, based in Norcross, Ga., was created in 2015 by the $15 billion merger of MeadWestvaco and RockTenn. The company generates $15 billion in annual revenue and has 39,000 employees in 30 countries. It also boasts a commitment to diversity and inclusion that is reflected in its global employee base and the way it does business across multiple geographies and customers.
In addition to Cooper, Keya Grant, supplier diversity lead, and Stephanie Gaillard White, vice president, human resources, diversity and leadership management, are key components in the company’s drive to “mirror the markets [it] serves.”
Since joining WestRock, Cooper has focused on three top goals: Growing the talent, digitizing the company and allowing technology to drive it to the next level, and growing the company by identifying new business processes and new product offerings. Within those goals, Cooper has committed to developing more strategic and innovative partnerships.
“I’m looking for those suppliers who will, in many cases, co-invest. I invest; they invest—we invest to do great things together. Those folks who are investing in their people, investing in their processes, and investing in their products and can bring innovation to WestRock. I want strategic partners, in terms of our suppliers, who are thinking about innovation as much as we do, and will allow me to be the first person they call. I want to be their customer of choice,” said Cooper.
During her brief tenure, she’s begun the process by doing something most C-suite executives rarely do—holding face-to-face meetings with suppliers.
“I’m spending my time—WestRock’s chief procurement officer and I are going out, having those senior-level discussions with our suppliers, meeting their senior leaders to really understand where they intend to take their businesses. I want to ensure that when I say you’re a strategic partner, that they see the company’s commitment,” Cooper said.
WestRock believes that “having a stable and sound supply base is vital to [its] continued success” and the company relies on the leadership of Grant to ensure that happens.
According to Grant, who joined WestRock last year, the company’s supplier diversity program begins with a focus on three areas: company, customer and community.
“Diverse and inclusive supply chains matter to our clients. Through our supplier diversity efforts, we source and partner with diverse firms to foster strategic business relationships, which, in turn, stimulate the growth of small businesses. Stakeholders work across the enterprise to ensure commitment to diverse suppliers. By doing business with diverse suppliers, we are building bridges within communities where we operate and contributing to the growth of these companies,” Grant elaborated.
In gauging the success of the company’s supplier diversity program, Grant said that although the initiative is relatively new “we’ve seen tremendous growth with supplier diversity spend. We continuously identify areas of opportunity in our enterprise where MWBE’s would be a great fit.”
“Supplier diversity enhances our interactions with customers, colleagues and suppliers. It gives us broader market knowledge and a better understanding of customer and consumer preferences. More than that, it drives higher levels of performance, engagement and contribution by our co-workers. Put simply, supplier diversity allows us to be better prepared to serve our markets and increases our ability to solve our customers’ challenges,” stated Grant.
Echoing Grant’s comments about the importance of diverse businesses to WestRock’s goals, Cooper added “For the companies that we have that are considered small, minority businesses, they are great partners, and they are willing to work with us and partner with us to get us what we need. It is absolutely critical. We can’t do this work without minority business partners.”