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White brings talent, energy to PPPL’s small business program

Last August, Arlene White looked at the agenda for a conference on small businesses the night before the event and received a sudden jolt. Not only was she a panelist at the conference, she was listed as one of two guest speakers at the luncheon and she was introducing U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. 

White, who heads PPPL’s Small Business program, wasn’t flustered. Instead, she leaped into action, incorporating additional data about PPPL and ITER into her remarks. After ending her workday at about 11 p.m., she was ready to go. “I was delighted,” she said. “Being prepared and talking about small business is what I do.”

White’s invitation to speak at the conference came about through her networking skills. On a recent business trip to Tampa, Fla., White had re-introduced herself to John Hale, the director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU). This agency oversees the DOE’s small business achievements. White said she gave Hale “my personal introduction into what we do in Princeton.”  A few days later, Hale phoned with the invitation to represent the DOE at the event featuring Rep. Payne, sponsored by Rutgers Business School in Newark.  “I believe in relationships,” White says. “That’s what makes me so resourceful in my position.”

A model for other programs

White’s leading role at the conference also reflects her reputation as one of the go-to experts on buying from small businesses at national laboratories. She is known as a dynamo inside the Lab, where she has worked for 37 years. Outside the Lab, she has developed a reputation for running a stellar small business program that takes its mandate to work with small businesses seriously and has served as a model for other programs.

Under White’s guidance, PPPL has received numerous awards for its small business program. White and PPPL received the Department of Energy’s “M&O Small Business Special Recognition Award” at the DOE’s Small Business Conference in 2011. Prior to that, PPPL received the U.S. Small Business Administration Award of Distinction in 1998 and 2005 for the program. In 1999, PPPL received the Dwight D. Eisenhower Award, the federal Small Business Agency’s most prestigious honor. White was awarded Princeton University’s President’s Achievement Award for her work in 1999.

White’s work has also been recently recognized by PPPL. She was recently promoted to the management position of supervising procurement specialist. She directly supervises some employees and provides training and mentoring to other staff members.

“She is the consummate professional,” says Andrea Moten, associate HR director, who has been friends with White since Moten joined PPPL 16 years ago. “She is always very conscientious about the work and making the Lab look good. She is a team player.”

Small business protégée plays key role in NSTX upgrade

White was the first to start a mentor protégé program as a pilot program with the DOE in which PPPL mentored Zenex Precision Products Corp, a small family-owned machine shop in Paterson, N.J. White and Larry Dudek, head of Fabrication and Operations, and quality assurance engineer Frank Malinowski toured the company’s plant and advised the company how it could improve its quality control processes. They also recommended that the firm’s management purchase a water jet cutter. White further advised the company about how to put in bids on federal requests for proposals.

When PPPL was designing a more powerful center stack as part of its $94 million upgrade, it needed flexible connectors that would be flexible enough to absorb the expansion of the innermost conductors due to the extreme heat during experiments. Robert Wronski, Zenex’s owner, suggested flexible copper bars and PPPL engineers agreed with his solution.

In the end, Zenex won a contract to produce 74 of them at $5,000 each for the Lab. “It’s a small business in Paterson but its owner Rob Wronski is pretty sharp on manufacturing methods so he’s recommended methods to us and helped us on some things that have been difficult to fabricate,” Dudek said.

Dudek credits White with discovering firms like Zenex that offer an ideal partnership between PPPL and other companies. “She’s very good at finding suppliers, very aggressive at tracking down suppliers that meet our needs,” said Dudek, who has worked with White for more than 20 years.

Other national laboratories have hired Zenex, including Oak Ridge and General Atomics and it recently got some work on ITER components, White said.  Zenex was awarded the HUBZone Contractor of the Year in 2006 by the DOE Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization in Washington, DC.

PPPL also mentored  officials at A. Pomerantz & Co., a furniture business owned by a disabled veteran in the Philadelphia area.. PPPL awarded a $60,000 contract to the company in fiscal year 2013.  The Lab no longer serves as its mentor but still does business with the company.

White points out that PPPL and other laboratories have to follow federal guidelines mandating that federal facilities buy a certain percentage of goods from small businesses.  PPPL has an obligation to purchase products and services from small businesses as part of its contract with the DOE. PPPL has concrete goals to meet each fiscal year on what percentage of its purchases will be made from small businesses. That category includes disadvantaged businesses, women-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, businesses owned by disabled veterans and businesses in urban areas labeled HUB Zones by the federal government.

Exceeding annual goals

In fiscal year 2014, which ended Sept. 30, PPPL’s goal was to make nearly 27 percent of its purchases from small businesses or about $12 million in purchases. PPPL far exceeded that goal – making 40 percent of its purchases from small businesses and exceeding its goals in each category.

“If you look at our achievements, we have an extremely successful program,” White said.  “Princeton is one of the smallest laboratories with one of the smallest budgets. I just say we’re the little engine that could and big things come in small packages.”

Other national laboratories haven’t always had the same success and many program leaders have called on White for advice on how to create a successful small business program.  PPPL has long had best practices that have contributed to its success, she said. For example, White works in the Procurement Department so she gets to see all the purchasing requests from staff at various departments at PPPL. That gives her the opportunity to approach various staff members with ideas for small businesses that could provide the goods or services they’re looking for.

White has also spent decades educating PPPL’ers about the advantages of buying from small businesses. “I have worked tirelessly to dispel the myth that when you do business with small businesses you pay more than you normally would – you pay a premium,” White said. “You do not pay a premium and I’ve shown that.” Small businesses that manufacture   goods can often provide a better price than a business that acts as a go-between to sell goods, White said. And small businesses often offer more personal service. “Small businesses have better buying power,” she said. “They’re small and they care about Princeton.”

Going to the top for the best deal

White has no trouble going to the top of the chain to speak to executives at small businesses if it means getting the best deal for PPPL. “I will talk to the president or the owner of the company in a heartbeat,” she says. When one company wanted an additional fee for something the company was shipping, for example, White called him up and asked, “Can I not pay you for that?” The executive agreed and PPPL avoided the fee.

In more than three decades at PPPL, White has also worked on areas outside of the procurement arena. She is currently a member of the Lab’s emergency response team and has worked on committees examining issues in safety and diversity, among many others.

White may draw her energy from her free time, from her daily gym workouts with routines that include 14-mile treadmill walks.

She has lived in Lawrenceville since she was in fifth grade. White has strong family ties and delights in visits from her daughter Kysha and  Kysha’s husband, Holden Pierre-Louis. They live in Potomac, Md., with their two children, Holden Jr., 9, and Cole, 5. White’s grandsons call her  “Ma Mere.” Last summer she took them to Paris. While showing them around one of her favorite places, she also was able to practice her attempts at fluent French.

PPPL is “family”

Though she has worked at the Lab for years, White enjoys coming to work daily. “There’s a reason I’ve been here 37 years,” she says. “It’s the people in the Laboratory. It’s a family. It’s definitely a family.”

As for her speaking engagements, White’s invitations continue to mount up.  She is scheduled to once again represent the DOE at small business conference in Washington, D.C. later this month.   And her work with small businesses never stops because she always is striving to “make something happen.”  “This is my philosophy,” she said.  “Keep your feet moving and make something happen.” 

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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