Cigna’s Carlos Guzman on the Company’s Efforts To Support Diverse Suppliers Through Its Supplier Mentor Protégé Program

Originally published at Carlos Guzman is Cigna’s managing director of category management. Cigna ranked No. 33 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021.


It’s no secret that diversity brings new ideas and innovation to the workplace, which is critical to growth and success. That is why Cigna is committed to creating and supporting a diverse supplier base — one that is reflective of our customer base.

As a Fortune-13 company, we’ve acquired deep knowledge and know-how that we want to share with our diverse suppliers to help them grow because when we help them become more competitive in the marketplace, we are also supporting the communities in which they operate.

That is why we’re excited to expand our Cigna Supplier Mentor Protégé Program (CSMPP) with the selection of the program’s second cohort. CSMPP was established in 2016 to assist minority suppliers by pairing them with Cigna executives for 18 months to help develop and grow their businesses. It also positions them to strongly compete for contracting opportunities with Cigna.

This expansion supports our goal of $1 billion in diverse funding by 2025 goal, as highlighted in our Building Equity and Equality Program.

To talk more about the CSMPP and our how it fits into Cigna’s overall DEI strategy, we spoke with Carlos Guzman, managing director of category management at Cigna.


When and why did Cigna first launch the Supplier Mentor Protégé Program?

We launched the Supplier Mentor Protégé Program in 2016 to help diverse suppliers expand their capabilities. Prior to that, we experienced great success in partnering with a number of diverse suppliers on local government requests for proposals (RFPs). But when we decided to expand our relationships with those suppliers, we learned that their experiences were primarily with local small entities. We were also challenged to identify diverse suppliers that had experience in working with large organizations like Cigna. We launched the program in October 2016 with five protégé companies, and they completed the program in September 2018.

As a large organization, we are committed to having a positive impact on our local communities. Our sole focus with this program is to help diverse suppliers develop and grow and to become more competitive in the market. We know that for every dollar spent with a diverse supplier there is a 2.6 multiplier effect in local communities. This program not only helps support the economic sustainability of local communities, but it also helps Cigna develop highly qualified suppliers and supports our mission of having a supplier base that is reflective of our customer base.


What’s the strategy behind it?

The strategy is simple. We want to see diverse suppliers grow and win. Cigna is a Fortune -13 company with enormous knowledge capital and amazing talent that can be shared with diverse suppliers. We know they bring flexibility and innovation to our business solutions. What better way to ensure we have qualified diverse suppliers positioned to support our business needs than by directly supporting their growth and development?


Can you share some highlights in terms of what the program was like/and what suppliers got out of it from our last CSMPP, which as you’ve mentioned was completed in 2018?

While there is no guarantee of a contract opportunity with Cigna, we believe suppliers are better positioned to compete and grow with Cigna and other companies like us as a result of their participation in the program.

Highlights from our previous cohort:

  • Cigna revenue increased with three of the five protégé companies.
  • One protégé company attributes its ability to transition to work at home quickly during the pandemic as a result of the topic being introduced to them during participation in our program. This is an affirmation that one less minority-owned business folded during the pandemic.
  • Another protégé company shared with us that it was awarded a contract with the Veterans Administration for the first time as a prime supplier. The company attributed its success to participation in our program, which led to them crystalizing their sales pitch and focusing on their value proposition and helped position them for the win.
  • Another protégé company received direct feedback from Cigna subject matter experts regarding technology/security infrastructure industry standards. This input lead to the business investing in system upgrades, which saved them thousands of dollars in consultant fees. These upgrades brought the supplier up to industry standards to position them to be on par with their competitors from a data-security perspective.


For the 2021 program, how did we go about choosing the protégé companies?

Our Procurement and Sales teams nominated about 30 protégé companies. A Request for Information (RFI) was sent to nominees to get information about product offerings, company size, areas of opportunity, etc. From there, we narrowed the list using insights regarding future pipeline opportunities and supplier markets. We also ensured there would be no direct competitors in the program.


What’s new about this year’s program?

One obvious difference is that we will be conducting the program virtually. While our preference is face-to-face meetings, we want to ensure everyone’s safety while still offering an amazing program. We have also expanded the number of participants from five to seven for this session. And instead of one mentor supporting each protégé company, we have expanded the support team to include a sponsor and additional members to round out a “mentoring team.”


Why is it important for Cigna to have diverse suppliers? How does this fit into our overall Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategy?

Just like having a diverse workforce leads to better-performing organizations, having a diverse supply chain also has tremendous benefits. When companies invest in supplier diversity, they help to increase the pool of possible suppliers and promote healthy competition, leading to better product quality, more innovation, and potential cost savings. Again, the impact to local communities can’t be ignored.