The Boeing challenge
Making the team | How to land the right partners
- By Gary Arlen
- Nov 16, 2007
John Blacknall is blunt about how small
businesses should go about partnering with
"Just by registering on [our] Web site, the
chances are slim" that a small business will
get a call to participate in Boeing's $7.3 billion
worth of federal
Blacknall, senior manager
of supplier diversity
at Boeing's Shared
The challenges are
profound for small
companies that want
to team with big contractors,
he said. The
large players buy bigger things from fewer
Nevertheless, Boeing is always looking for
new suppliers, especially among small businesses.
"They are very innovative, flexible
and cost-effective compared to a big corporation,"
Once he identifies potential partners,
Blacknall tries to match the small company's
capabilities with Boeing's needs. "I have
more than 200 firms now that I'd like to find
work [for] within Boeing," he said.
The company monitors an array of government
solicitations for opportunities that
can involve small-business partners.
Boeing is considering about 80 potential
projects right now, Blacknall said.
With a database of more than 2,000 companies
and a roster of 22 mentor/protégé
relationships, Boeing has a clear commitment
to working with small businesses.
Its Shared Services Group manages those
partnerships and provides business infrastructure
for the whole company. The group
includes Boeing's commercial airliner manufacturing
and maintenance units and the
Integrated Defense Systems group, which
handles defense and intelligence projects.
IDS has about 70,000 employees, and its
Future Combat Systems group has huge
computing and network communications
requirements, Blacknall said.
The Shared Services Group is the entry
point for subcontractors seeking an opportunity
to work on commercial and government
Although online registration is the only
way to get onto Boeing's roster, Blacknall
said small businesses should also scour the
company's project listings to identify individuals
and business units they can contact
Blacknall said he looks for prospective
partners with technology that applies to a
problem Boeing is working on.
The company's needs include software
development, especially software embedded
in products. However, such projects usually
require subcontractors to become involved
early in the procurement process ? typically
during the proposal phase. Once Boeing
successfully partners with a company on
one project, it frequently turns to that company
for future endeavors.Seeking service-disabled suppliers
Blacknall recently concluded that Boeing
has the hardest time recruiting small businesses
owned by service-disabled veterans.
"There are not enough people in the
kinds of business we subcontract to," he
said. "It's our hardest target," especially
given Boeing's need for new products.
The company spent more than $2 billion
with minority- and woman-owned firms in
2006. It was inducted earlier this year into
the Billion Dollar Roundtable, an organization
that recognizes public companies
that spend more than $1 billion with
minority- and woman-owned businesses.
Boeing has several long-term relationships
with small businesses. One partner is
Wildwood Electronics Inc., a small,
woman-owned business in Madison, Ala.,
that provided electronic components, cable
harness fabrication, environmental testing
and quality assurance for the Arrow,
Avenger and Ground-based Midcourse
Defense systems and the Surface-
Launched Advanced Medium-Range Airto-
Air Missile system.
Another partner, Phacil Inc., of Camden,
N.J., is working with Boeing on the Future
Combat Systems program. And World
Wide Technology Inc. started its relationship
with Boeing as a small, disadvantaged
business reselling Dell computers.
Despite those long-term relationships,
Blacknall and his team continue to scout
for new partners. Boeing employees
attended 14 conferences last year for businesses
owned by service-disabled veterans
and sponsored about half of them. The
company is also active on the National
Minority Supplier Development Council
and the Women's Business Enterprise
National Council, Blacknall said. "We try
to have a list of people we can use."Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications,
of Bethesda, Md. He can be reached at