NW Natural at Heart of Oregon Supplier Diversity

NW Natural's Edvige Fykes and Richard Kenney

NW Natural's Edvige Fykes and Richard Kenney

For NW Natural, supplier diversity isn’t just a company-wide practice; it’s a statewide practice.

The Portland-based natural gas utility has been on the forefront of supplier diversity development for the state of Oregon: CEO Gregg Kantor served as chair of the utilities industry working group for the previous governor’s task force on diverse suppliers and emerging small businesses.

But behind the scenes, NW Natural buyers Edvige Fykes and Richard Kenney are also change agents for supplier diversity in Oregon. Not only have Fykes and Kenney helped improve and expand their company’s supplier diversity efforts, they have helped build a community around supplier diversity in the state.

Both Fykes and Kenney have been with NW Natural for about 14 years, working on supplier diversity for the last six. “We used to have a group that would meet every quarter,” Fykes said. The group consisted of some purchasing staff from NW Natural and two local small businesses. “Then we asked ourselves, ‘How can we move supplier diversity forward and get other diverse business opportunities for NW Natural?’ ”

She and Kenney then started going to trade shows and hosted a networking event in 2013, which connected suppliers with business opportunities. Individually they formed relationships with diverse suppliers and introduced them to buyers not just at NW Natural. More than 80 people attended, Fykes said, “and it was successful—one of our buyers was able to identify three additional new companies to work with.”

They also explored other regional efforts, traveling to Seattle to participate in supplier diversity best practices events involving companies like Microsoft, Boeing, Nordstrom, and Starbucks.

In 2014, the two decided it was time to initiate such events in Oregon. With the help of Northwest Mountain MSDC President and CEO Fernando Martinez, they hosted a meeting to launch local supplier diversity best practices forums in their community. “Fernando was instrumental in helping us get that kicked off,” Fykes said.

Kenney and Fykes hope that their best practices forum will replicate the model created in Seattle and apply it to Portland.

“As a regional Council we need local support throughout our region, and [Fykes and Kenney] have been our stalwarts in the Oregon region,” Martinez said. “Very important to them and NW Natural is the executive support they receive from Ted Smart, NW Natural’s supply chain manager.”

Recognizing their efforts, Kenney and Fykes received a NW Natural Above & Beyond award in April 2015, for their work on behalf of the company’s supplier diversity program in 2014.

“For us, it’s about supporting the community,” Fykes said.