Aug 15, 2011 • By

Connecting globally with suppliers

For years, the status quo for scientists and engineers at many companies, including General Mills, was to shield their exciting projects from the outside world in order to protect the confidentiality and competitiveness of their work.

Even a company’s suppliers were kept in the dark about company strategies for growth and the types of new technologies or solutions that could drive the company’s business forward.

While this approach certainly protected the ideas of scientists and engineers, it had numerous drawbacks, including limiting a company’s innovation power to the number of people it could hire. It also kept the companies from tapping into the solutions and technologies of millions of inventors, suppliers, academics and entrepreneurs around the world.

Fast forward to today, and companies like General Mills have adopted a much more connected and collaborative approach. We believe employees should truly think of the world as their lab, rather than the lab as their world – and that we should be more open and specific about the challenges we’re looking to solve and the types of partners and experts with whom we’d like to collaborate.

A reflection of this cultural shift at General Mills is the Supplier Summit, held this summer at our world headquarters in Minneapolis. The event brought together 40 of General Mills’ key suppliers to network and hear about the company’s business strategies and learn about partnership opportunities for new technologies or manufacturing solutions.

The more open and direct we can be with our suppliers about what we’re looking for, the higher the quality of solutions we can expect, which benefits us both.

At the last summit, in October of 2009, General Mills presented suppliers with seven specific challenges that we were looking to solve. We received more than 200 submissions. Of these, 76 were considered further and 15 of the proposals are now active projects.

Executives at this year’s Supplier Summit challenged suppliers to think internationally in scope, because General Mills has employees developing and making new products throughout the world for our international businesses.

Jodi Benson, vice president of Research and Development for General Mills’ Yoplait division, was one of the co-chairs of this year’s event. I interviewed Jodi to get her perspective on the value the Supplier Summit brings to General Mills.

Connecting with suppliers is just one way General Mills is connecting more inside and outside the company to drive innovation.

Researchers, inventors or entrepreneurs interested in learning more about the company’s potential partnership opportunities can view specific technical challenges posted on the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network’s portal.