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Richmond Businessman William Cooper Leading University Of Virginia’s Diversity Purchasing Program

October 13, 2005 -- Small firms or companies owned predominantly by women or minorities may find it daunting to try marketing themselves to customers the size of U.Va., where purchase orders often top $50,000.

Mixing 25 years of business savvy with abundant enthusiasm, Richmond entrepreneur William Cooper is charged with taking U.Va.’s diversity purchasing to new levels of success, a large part of which is making these small firms successful at doing business with U.Va.

The backdrop for hiring Cooper as director of the newly named Supplier Diversity Program was Gov. Mark Warner’s 2004 executive order to increase the state’s purchasing from businesses designated therein as SWAM — those owned by small firms, women and minorities. Warner’s action last July came after an independent study found that total state spending with minority-owned firms in 2003-2004 was less than 0.44 percent. (U.Va.’s percentage of procurement was slightly higher.) Figures for woman-owned businesses weren’t much better.

The state’s Department of Minority Business Enterprise (DMBE) certifies the three categories — small firms, women-owned and minority-owned businesses — and provides other information and services. “Because larger companies get most of the state’s business, the idea is to help small firms to increase their economic activity, too,” said DMBE’s Shay Hope.         

It is clear that new strategies are needed, said Cooper, who serves on the Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council and came to U.Va. full time this summer. An alumnus with a Darden MBA, Cooper also earned two architecture degrees from the University.

He has consulted throughout the state in areas ranging from executive development to digital print solutions. He also is a member of the Richmond Renaissance Board of Directors Executive Committee and the Richmond Jazz Society Board of Directors. He chaired the Small Business Committee of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce from 2001 to 2003.

After taking on several business ventures over the years, from owning a beauty salon in Charlottesville, to owning Choice Communications, one of the largest black-owned printing companies, Cooper is not afraid to take on the challenges of improving U.Va.’s diversity procurement program.

“My years of being in business for myself have helped me understand how a place like U.Va. works. It can be overwhelming,” Cooper said. “Our goal is to have a world-class supplier diversity program.”

Cooper stresses that his function is to help companies get through the door to participate in the University’s procurement system, but they have to stand on their own and market themselves to get U.Va. business. Vendors need to think about matching up the goods and services they have to offer the University compared with other companies, who might be larger or have other strengths.

“Bill’s vast knowledge of the vendor base and his entrepreneurial attitude bring new vigor to our diversity program,” said Eric Denby, director of U.Va. procurement services. “His enthusiasm is contagious, and in his short tenure at the University, many projects are being exposed to the SWAM vendor community, stirring a great deal of positive interest.”

The University’s Vice President for Management and Budget, Colette Sheehy, added to that assessment, noting that Cooper has, “a practical business approach to supplier diversity, and the energy and desire to see the University of Virginia lead all institutions of higher education in this area.”

On Sept. 22, U.Va.’s diversity procurement program held a SWAM vendor fair, which was attended by 40 Charlottesville and Richmond-area firms. The program also will provide a training session on Dec. 6.

Quarterly SWAM contracts and a list of planned procurements are on the Web site at www.procurement.virginia.edu/main/diversity/DiversityProcurement.html. Information for businesses on how to get the necessary state certification and other advice also are provided.

U.Va. began its own minority procurement program about 15 years ago, holding annual vendor fairs to introduce the University’s offices and procedures to local and regional minority-owned companies. The previous director, Don Jones, is working on a history of minority procurement at the University and will retire in May 2006.

Editors, reporters: Bill Cooper can be reached at (434) 924-7174 or coop@virginia.edu.

Contact: Anne Bromley, (434) 924-6861

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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