Delta hires supplier diversity executive

By Maria Saporta and J. Scott Trubey
Friday, July 24, 2009

Delta Air Lines Inc., recently criticized by African-American leaders for its diversity record, has taken a key step.

The Atlanta-based airline has hired Karmetria Dunham Burton as general manager of supplier diversity, a position that has been vacant for more than two months.

While pleased with this move, black leaders are waiting for more evidence from Delta to demonstrate that it is truly committed to diversity within its ranks.

Steve Gorman, chief operating officer of the airline, said in a July 21 telephone interview that this is just the beginning.

“I think we have a lot of momentum,” said Gorman, who also chairs Delta’s Diversity Council. “We view having a diverse supply group as a win-win for the company and a key objective for the company.”

In her new role, Burton will work with small, minority and women-owned businesses to ensure they have an opportunity to provide goods and services to the airline. She will oversee and expand Delta’s supplier diversity program with the hope that the airline will be an industry leader.

Before joining Delta, Burton was senior manager of supplier diversity for InterContinental Hotels Group Plc, manager of supply chain for BellSouth Corp. and a senior buyer for Xerox Group.

“I’m happy to see that Delta has followed through on getting someone to oversee diversity,” said Tommy Dortch, a leader in the African-American business community who is a past chair of the Atlanta Business League and founder of the Georgia Association of Minority Entrepreneurs. “It sounds like she has got great credentials and experience.”

Joe Beasley, human resources director at Antioch Baptist Church North who serves on a committee working with Delta executives on diversity issues, said he still has some concerns.

Because less than 1 percent of Delta’s business is with African-American companies, Beasley said Burton “has a huge job to do” to increase the airline’s relationships with minority vendors.

“Good intentions don’t help us out,” Beasley said. “We need to have empirical numbers that we can measure.”

Both Dortch and Beasley said that it was important for Burton to report directly to Delta’s top executives, particularly CEO Richard Anderson.

But Gorman explained that Burton can be more effective reporting to directors in the supply chain group who report to the vice president of supply chain management.

“They are the leads on the purchasing,” Gorman said, adding that the people making decisions on contracts and suppliers are at the middle-management and vice president level.

Gorman also said that Anderson and Delta’s top executives are committed to improving their diversity profile.

In May, after Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that black leaders were unhappy with the airline’s diversity record, Delta amended its 2009 Flight Plan, the management’s guide to all of its operations, to include a mandate to increase diversity in leadership with specific actions and policies.

“As we increase the diversity pool, we can retain diverse leaders,” Gorman said.

He went on to explain that all salaried employees, from managers to the CEO in their midyear and annual reviews will include an evaluation on how they are improving diversity within their ranks.

Gorman said Delta plans to set specific diversity goals in the near future, but he stopped short of saying the airline would adopt benchmarks or quotas. But he repeated that enhancing diversity at the airline has the backing of the senior leadership.

One example he mentioned is that the top officers of the company, including Anderson, will meet monthly to examine every open position at the director level and above to make sure the interview pool includes qualified candidates with diverse backgrounds.

“I am listening [to concerns within the community] and getting the right people in the company to listen,” Gorman said.

Dortch said he and fellow African-American leaders “will be watching Delta’s progress” to make sure it lives up to the standards expected from Atlanta’s corporate leaders.

Beasley said the community council, which includes civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph Lowery, will continue meeting with Delta’s top executives.

“I hope they will create the kind of atmosphere at Delta that will make Atlanta proud,” Beasley said. “Right now, they’re not making Atlanta proud.”

Dortch, however, said that having a general manager of supplier diversity is a good beginning.

“Supplier diversity is a key area, but we also hope to see significant progress in the diversity among executives, management and the board,” Dortch said. “Many of us stand ready to assist in any way to help Delta reach its maximum success.”
Karmetria Dunham Burton

Current job: General manager of supplier diversity, Delta Air Lines Inc.

Previous jobs: Before joining Delta, Burton was senior manager of supplier diversity for InterContinental Hotels Group Plc, manager of supply chain for BellSouth Corp. and a senior buyer for Xerox Group.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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