Corporate procurement strategies are helping to drive the spirit of transformation in Chicago Public Schools
OK class, time for a pop quiz: What do Eliot Ness, Harrison Ford, Amelia Earhart, Sean Dockery, Kanye West, and five Nobel Prize winners have in common? If you said they were products of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), you get an A+ and permission to sleep in on Saturday.
The next wave of this country’s change agents is currently attending the 644 schools that comprise the third largest public school system in America. But don’t take our word for it; here’s what the CPS 2019-24 Vision Plan has to say about the quality of a CPS education:
“Our students are making historic academic progress according to leading education researchers at Stanford University and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). A Stanford study found that CPS students learn at a faster rate between third and eighth grade than 96 percent of school districts in the country; the equivalent of learning six years of content in five years of school. And, a recent study from UIC found that CPS students outperform their Illinois peers in every demographic group.”
CPS dominated U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 list of the country’s best high schools, scooping the top five and all but two of the top 10 rankings. Nine schools in the system are among the top 350 schools in the United States.
Responding to the accolades, CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson and then Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated, “CPS continues to represent the best schools in Illinois and is among the ranks of the greatest schools in the country, which is testament to our students, families, and dedicated staff. These schools represent just a sampling of the many high-quality schools throughout our great city that prepare students to succeed far beyond graduation.”
In 2016, Emanuel implemented an educational equity initiative to make sure that every child served by CPS has the opportunity to succeed. That equity focus threads through every aspect of CPS management, and has taken root in what may seem at first glance to be an unusual place — the procurement department.
Applying corporate principles for the public good
In the private sector, procurement has evolved from being a clerical function to becoming a vital strategic partner in corporate success. Pockets of the public sector have lagged behind in the adoption of the key processes and attitudes about purchasing and supply chain management that corporations leverage to their benefit.
“One of the things every good organization does is understand who their customers are and what their needs are. How do you best fill them? How do you surprise and delight them with things they may not even know they need or can't anticipate? The ultimate customer for what we do is 361,000 kids and their families. Eighty percent of these kids are from economically disadvantaged households, and 90 percent are minority students. The best, first chance for them to reach their potential is through a good education,” said Jonathan Maples, Chief Procurement Officer for CPS.
“The first thing I did when I came here was visit at least two schools in every section of the city and meet with the grade school and high school students, to see these bright-eyed, energetic, enthusiastic kids. The talent, the capability is everywhere in Chicago, but the opportunity is not. That's so much of what we do, to try to create opportunity for every single child.”
Maples brings 37 years of executive and entrepreneurial expertise to his role. As an executive with the former Chrysler Corporation, Maples co-created and directed the implementation of the game-changing supplier benchmarking and relationship program, SCORE, which emphasizes collaborative relationships as the key to success.
That early career experience came full circle when Maples joined CPS in 2017.
“One of the things that happened at Chrysler was the recognition that we don't know everything,” he recalled. “Every organization isn't complete unto themselves. When Lee Iacocca built a new headquarters, it was an open concept building where engineers were commingled with purchasing, which was commingled with design. It really encouraged cross-functional collaboration and teamwork versus silos of skilled activity. It may have slowed the total process down, but the end product was much better because everyone was involved, everybody brought an open-minded attitude toward it, and everyone tried to understand the skills and limitations in terms of helping the process work.
“When I got to CPS, I observed a very siloed approach. A lot of groups wouldn't necessarily talk to each other. Procurement was viewed as a transactional group, very low value added, and the first thing I needed to do with the group was to change the culture.”
One of Maples’ first moves was the introduction of “the procurement spirit,” an approach to organizational management and process improvement that emphasizes the humanity at the core of every worthwhile business endeavor.
He explained to his team, “We are here to be diligent. We are here to go the extra mile and do the right thing. We are here to be humble and to serve others, to be passionate team players, to treat our neighbors like ourselves. That’s the whole concept of humility. And the other thing is just to be better. You learn to innovate because innovation is the culmination of thinking and analyzing and learning. The other thing is to be positive. Be grateful for the opportunities we have, have an attitude of faith and just bring positive energy to each day.
“It's been rewarding to see how people have taken to that. When I got here, no one liked the procurement group. They weren't respected, weren't engaged. And I thought it could change for the better because there is a valuable role for supplier management and the solicitation process to assure that we get the best quality goods and services for the best price by reinforcing those concepts that are embedded in that approach.
“I had a really rewarding and successful career in the private sector,” he continued. “The SCORE program was about engaging suppliers to control costs through collaboration versus adversarial relationships.” That became Maples responsibility at Chrysler after several trips to Japan in the 1980s to learn some of the now ubiquitous CI strategies that at the time were making Japanese automakers wildly successful.
In the first year of implementation, the company set a $150 million-dollar savings objective and yielded $175 million. “We got really good feedback from everyone. In three years on a $35 billion spend, we had identified in present vehicles or future vehicles $2.5 billion of savings by collaborating versus being adversarial,” he revealed. “That principle is powerful, and it's the same thing that's embodied in the spirit approach. It is about being humble, being better, going the extra mile, and being a positive force.”
When it comes to equity, it’s all about KIDS
CPS invest 96 cents of every dollar in their students. Sixty-three cents of every dollar are applied to costs such as teachers and instructional materials, and 33 cents per dollar are spent on direct support to schools through citywide services. In the 2018-19 academic year, CPS launched the district’s first online vendor rating and review site to “help encourage stronger vendor performance and allow schools to make more informed purchases.”
In tandem with creating a culture of collaboration, Maples launched Keep Improving District Services (KIDS), a program designed to “improve the quality, delivery, technology, and cost of the services and goods they provide to the district.”
KIDS aims to improve a series of measurements that include eliminating waste, economies of scale, improving efficiency, encouraging innovation, and increasing philanthropic support.
Another key focus of KIDS is ensuring diversity in the supply chain by partnering with as many
Chicago-based minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWOBE) as possible. “If the parents of our students are either unemployed or underemployed, the household they come from is less able to support them in their educational endeavors. If we can recirculate the tax money that comes to us and spend it in our community with the people who are our community, we're going to be better off. It's a win-win-win,” he said.
CPS’s goal is to have 30 percent of business come from minority-owned enterprises and 7 percent from women owned businesses. “Out of our $5.8 billion total budget, about $1.2 billion goes out to various providers, and included in those providers are charter schools that we channel the money to, so there's about $800 million that we call addressable spend,” Maples explained. “That’s where we can really make choices on where the business goes. The good news on that is, against our goal of 30 and 7 percent we are at 29 and 6 percent. It’s been great. We're delighted with that, and we can do better. It's really rewarding.
“As custodians of all assets, we make sure we comply with all laws and get the best value. That's Purchasing 101. On the other hand, when we look at where we are spending our money, where it is impacting and who we are working with, in some regard we have an $800 million economic redevelopment agency. We look at every dollar we spend and say, ‘How do we get that money into the community?’”
He added, “Whether it's increasing MWOBE or on the philanthropic side to encourage our providers to sponsor schools, do mentorship programs, and give opportunities for our students to visit their facilities, the impact of that can be huge on a child's life.”
After trading his life in the corporate world for public service, Maples has been asked how he musters the enthusiasm to take on the hefty work of transformation.
“It’s easy to do here because we are serving 361,000 kids,” he replied. “If you can’t get motivated about that, get an echocardiogram done to see if you actually have a heart.”
Chicago Public Schools is the third largest school district in the United States with more than 600 schools and serves 361,000 children. Its vision is that every student in every neighborhood will be engaged in a rigorous, well-rounded instructional program and will graduate prepared for success in college, career and life.