Cookie Preferences

Beyond Purchasing: Building the Capacity of Diverse Suppliers

Community |  2.23.2021

In a business as large as ours, developing an inclusive supply chain requires a complex, long-term strategy. Across North America, our annual spend with small businesses and diverse suppliers exceeded 15% in FY2020. This network of small and diverse suppliers is over 5,000 strong, and we’re deeply committed to growing our spend with them to 25% by 2025.

However, awarding contracts is only half of the supplier diversity equation.

“Financial spend with small and diverse businesses is one component of creating economic impact,” says Natily Santos, Vice President of Specialty Supply Chain, whose team supports our sustainable sourcing, local procurement, and supplier diversity initiatives. “By expanding opportunities for capacity building, coaching, and business development among these businesses, we enhance our supplier diversity efforts.”

What’s more, we take a flexible approach to our supplier diversity efforts. Each client’s supplier diversity plan is adjusted to meet their business needs, reflect the geographic areas we serve, and make the best use of both enterprise and local resources.

"Financial spend with small and diverse businesses is one component of creating economic impact. By expanding opportunities for capacity building, coaching, and business development among these businesses, we enhance our supplier diversity efforts."
- Natily Santos, Vice President of Specialty Supply Chain

To put these notions into practice, Santos turned to one of our top markets for supplier diversity: Chicago. Close to 50% of our small and diverse spend in Illinois is with Chicago-based companies owned and operated by minorities, women, and other diverse populations. By late 2019 Santos was in touch with Neda Sharp, Director of Program Development for ChicagoMSDC, a regional affiliate of the National Minority Supplier Development Council, of which we are a corporate member.

Chicago is one of our strongest markets for supplier diversity, making it a natural fit for this pilot collaboration.

 What happened next was a case study in how corporate-nonprofit partnerships can deliver measurable community impact.

Building a PIPE-line

Santos and Sharp quickly honed in on ChicagoMSDC’s Progress, Insight & Performance Education (PIPE) Program. This eight-week advanced business management course provides local diverse-owned companies with the skills and knowledge to optimize their businesses.

We signed on as the PIPE Program’s first official Presenting Sponsor in July 2020. Twenty-one businesses—many Black-owned and recommended by Aramark clients in the area—received scholarships to enroll in the fall 2020 cohort, doubling the program’s typical reach. “Having a strategic corporate partner like Aramark really helped us take the PIPE Program to a new level,” says Sharp.

ChicagoMSDC’s Progress, Insight & Performance Education (P.I.P.E.) Program helps small and diverse-owned business leaders improve their companies’ performance.

Given the timing, ChicagoMSDC needed to adjust the PIPE Program to account for the COVID-19 pandemic. “This was a scenario companies have never encountered before, much less considered. There was definitely a focus on how we can better equip Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) to strategize for business continuity,” Sharp explains. She adds that the program has long encouraged cross-business among participants, which can help them weather challenging economic times.

The pandemic also meant changes to the program’s format, made infinitely easier by ChicagoMSDC’s preexisting relationship with the University of Phoenix. The weekly classes pivoted to 100% virtual, as did the graduation ceremony held in December 2020.

A Nimble Curriculum

The PIPE Program was created with minority and diverse women-owned businesses in mind. Classes cover topics such as goal setting, business ethics, and project management in ways that can be immediately operationalized.

Rubullah Mahdee, President of RamPro Facilities Services, appreciated the chance to get outside his comfort zone. Enrolling gave him tools he could quickly apply to his business, which provides janitorial and fire prevention services in the Chicago and Milwaukee metro areas.


“My biggest takeaway was the importance of building out logical processes,” Mahdee shares. “It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the complexity of running a business. Process mapping helped RamPro speed up some new initiatives.”

The PIPE Program has a strong mentorship component as well. Calenthia Torrence-Harper, Founder and CEO of the commercial cleaning company City Wide Jani, was particularly drawn to the networking. “Being in the presence of so many other entrepreneurs really made a difference in my business,” she says.

The PIPE Program curriculum is both comprehensive and flexible. As a corporate partner, we had the opportunity to adapt the content to align with our expertise—and in turn, better prepare the suppliers for potential Aramark opportunities across the Chicago area. For example, two weeks were dedicated to supply chain management, with contributions from our specialists in that very field like featured guest speaker, head of Aramark Global Supply Chain Autumn Bayles. The speaker lineup also included members of the Aramark employee resource group LEAD (Leaders and Employees of African Descent), many of whom continue to serve on ChicagoMSDC committees.

“Being able to draw from Aramark’s vast knowledge in the food and facilities industry was a huge benefit for participants,” Sharp attests.

Torrence-Harper looked forward to the class on strategic planning, knowing she wants to focus on recruiting new customers while retaining existing ones. She has had her eye on large companies that could further expand her business capacity—such as ours.

“Working with Aramark would allow City Wide Jani to employ more people. I can’t wait to show them what we could do together,” she shares.

Our supplier diversity initiatives generate jobs, income, and local taxes within each community for an economic ripple effect..
Santos was pleased to see things come full circle. “We’ll continue to consider PIPE graduates for future opportunities to collaborate with Aramark on business opportunities. We want them to grow as we grow,” she states.

A Community Multiplier

The PIPE Program is designed to be as evidence-based as the content it teaches. Participating businesses have their revenue monitored every six months to gauge the program’s impact. The long-term results have been historically positive, often generating new jobs for the local community.

Now that PIPE is entering its fourth year, Sharp has seen how the program infuses new life into participating businesses: “It helps build confidence and vision to move forward, whether it’s improving customer service or the bottom line.”

We’ll fund the Chicago program for a second time in fall 2021 and will develop similar programs with the Philadelphia and Southern California affiliate councils of NMSDC. “Aramark is excited to continue this relationship-building and to help these business owners advance, especially MBEs,” says Santos.

Some 20 years ago, Torrence-Harper was inspired by a piece of advice from “The Oprah Winfrey Show”: The key to running a successful business is to do something you love and would do for free. For her, that something continues to be cleaning. She now wants to take City Wide Jani regional, and she’s re-energized to meet these new goals.


Amid the pandemic, the program feels more relevant than ever. As Mahdee puts it, “We’ve pivoted our way thus far, and we will continue to add value for our customers. And we’re not done yet.”