Voice of Supply Chain – Feb. 2023
Featuring: Susan Harrison
Welcome to the Voice of Supply Chain, brought to you by ISM New Jersey and SourceDay. The purpose of our show is to tell the stories of people in supply chain doing extraordinary things. I am your host, Sarah Scudder. I oversee marketing for SourceDay. Our software prevents late part deliveries for manufacturers to prevent their production lines from shutting down. If you want more intel on what’s happening in the supply chain manufacturing world, you can connect with me on LinkedIn and follow my two hashtags: #manufacturingmaven and #womeninErp. Today, our guest is Susan. I’ve known her now, gosh, I want to say for at least a couple of years. We’ve been LinkedIn friends and have got to know each other, particularly over the last year. She’s part of a supply chain meetup group that I run globally, and I asked Susan to come on the show today for a couple of reasons. One, she’s a rock star single mom, and I feel like a lot of people can relate to the struggles of managing work, raising a child, and all the things that go along with that. And the second thing is she has spent her entire career in the Food Service space, which we’ve not yet had a guest come on that’s built out such a niche career in that industry. So those were two of the reasons why I asked her to come on the show. I think she can add a lot of value in both of those areas.
So Susan, this show is gonna walk you walk through kind of all things that have happened in your life from childhood through today. So we’re gonna go back in time and start with some childhood memories and stories. And while we do that, I want to encourage those of you who are with us live to drop a note in the chat, tell us where in the world you are joining us from today and what you had for lunch today. Kind of random, but what’d you have for lunch and where are you joining us from? Put that in the chat. And then if you have any questions that come in for Susan, anything that pops into your mind, just drop that in the chat as well, and we’ll make sure to address and get to any of your questions. Hello, Tiffany, who is joining us from Vancouver, Washington, with Control Tech. Tiffany, what did you have for lunch today? Drop that in the chat as well.
So Susan, favorite childhood memory? Well, first of all, thank you, Sarah, so much for having me. You know, like you said, it’s wonderful that we have these networks and these connections we can make through other friends and through other connections, and it’s really been great getting to know you as well. So thank you again for highlighting me in this little session, and I’m looking forward to it.
Yeah, you know, for me, my favorite childhood memory—I grew up in a really, really small town in Northwestern PA. It was called Union City, Pennsylvania. It’s a town of maybe 3,000 people, maybe, so this question, is there a stoplight? There’s maybe three, if I count right, and we had just one main strip, and that was about it. So I think for me, the favorite childhood was we could roam anywhere. You know, we didn’t have to worry about this was a long time ago. I’ll be 55 this year. So, you know, the fact that we could just roam around, we could go to neighbors, we could go, my best friend lived maybe a mile, two miles away, and I could ride my bike over there, or, you know, we just had this freedom. So that part of living in a small town, I definitely just, some of my great memories were, you know, my mom’s main line was just be home before the street lights come on. So that was just, you know, we just knew to be home before street lights came on. They just knew I was out and about. So, I wish my son would have had that because he grew up in, you know, Atlanta, and we didn’t, you know, I didn’t let him out of my sight. So, I’m very thankful for those memories of having freedom.
We’ve got Greece joining us, and he is having water for lunch. Tiffany is starving, has not had lunch yet. Tiffany, I have not had lunch yet either. I plan on having lunch after the show. Hank had leftover steak and pasta. Yeah, Rebecca had chicken, and Rachel is joining us from New York. Lunch today was empowering a supplier to set up a supply challenge. Love it.
So, Susan, it’s funny that you say you grew up in a small town. Our guest last month on the show, Michael, grew up in a small town as well, and they had one stoplight. So, I actually think he has you beat, coming from an even smaller town. Absolutely. What in your childhood would you say shaped you to be the person you are today? You know, I’ve been very fortunate. My parents, in April, will be celebrating 55 years of marriage. And, you know, I, my parents went through a lot. They both came from not the best families. And so they met in junior high, and they stayed at it all through junior high. My dad had to quit school in the eighth grade because of a family. He ended up having to work to help support his other siblings, and then he got drafted at 18 to Vietnam. So, it was a very, you know, of course, difficult time. But my mom just kind of kept waiting, and luckily, he did come home. And it was funny, because I think I was 12 or so, and I realized, I was like, because my parents, I came from a very religious background. So, I was about 12, and I said to my mom, I was like, “Well, wait a second. You were married in April, and I was born in October. That’s only six months. Were you not, you know, how did you have me?” And she joked, then, of course, she’s like, “Well, we weren’t Christians then, and we were living in sin, basically.” So, but yeah, I was basically, I think, like a lot of children born in that time, you know, as soon as people come home from war, we seem to have an uptick in child, you know, and child, so I was born almost nine months later, to when my dad came home. So, I, I feel like they both had such a strong work ethic. They both came from very humble beginnings, very, very poor families. And I’m really thankful that my parents kind of broke the chain and kind of broke the cycle and kind of got us out of that. But they worked so hard, and so I just feel like a lot of my work ethic, a lot of what I do today, is based on what they did to get us where we are today. So, definitely have to thank my parents for the resilience and just the strength that they had, both, both, you know, neither went to college. I was the first out of like 20 cousins, the first to ever go to college. So, it was a pretty big deal. So, I’m again, definitely, my parents have shaped me, you know, where I am today, for sure.
Most influential person in your childhood? You know, I would have to say my grandparents. They, again, because my parents had a pretty rough upbringing, they were kind of on their own, and they got involved in a local church, and there was this older couple that kind of took my parents under their wing. They wanted to adopt my mom as their daughter, but you know, all the legal work and the paperwork, they just decided we don’t need a piece of paper to say we’re family. So, you know, from when I was even born, those were the grandparents that were at the hospital for me. Those were my grandparents that I always knew. Again, not of blood, but those were the people in my life.
So they were just so hardworking. My grandmother, unfortunately, she had cancer. She had breast cancer, and it was back in a time where we just didn’t have the treatments we do, and she suffered. So, it was tough watching that, especially as a child. I was 12 when she died. She was in her home, and I just remember her shriveling up to nothing. And to this day, I mean, here I am, 50 years, whatever, 40 years later, and it still hurts because I just, you know, she had so much more life to give. She died very young, and, you know, we just prayed that God would take her because she was suffering. But again, I remember her. She loved, oh, she made the best buttermilk pancakes homemade. She had this typical, you know, the ’70s kitchen with yellow and green everywhere, and she had, it sounds like my Grandma’s kitchen. Yes, yes, the mushroom canisters, you know, the Pyrex dishes. I mean, it was just, just all these wonderful memories. And then we would sit at their little kitchen table and play dominoes. My grandfather was a carpenter by trade, and I remember going into his workshop, sitting on a stool, and just watching him tinker around. He was, you know, came up in the Great Depression. So, I’m an ice snob, and I love ice in everything. I want it super cold. Well, he never put ice in anything. He never put, like, salad dressing, condiments. And I’m a condiment person, but he said back then they just didn’t have those things. So he said it was a luxury, so he just never really ever used them. So I just, there’s just so many things about my grandparents that I look back on and just think, again, all the things they overcame, and I take so for granted to go to my refrigerator and hit that little button and get my ice out, you know, versus getting an ice block and having to chip away. So I, I just give so much credit to them and what they overcame in their life. So definitely a big influence for me. Cancer sucks, so on a mission. I feel like so many people that I know now from college and who are young are getting cancer, and it’s absolutely awful. Yeah, my best friend’s husband died at 44. Their kids were a freshman and senior in high school, and it was awful. Just awful. So it’s just, it’s just a sad, just, it’s just awful. So yeah, I think unfortunately every one of us can probably name somebody in our life that’s been affected by that disease. So hopefully in our lifetime, we get something that’s sufficient, at least, so people don’t have to suffer so much. Absolutely.
So, what is one thing that you learned as an adult that looking back on your childhood now you wish you knew as a kid? You know, I was thinking about that. I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s such a loaded question.” And I kind of took it the other way around, was kind of like, you know, what are things like that I learned from kids? You know, and kids are just fearless. You know, the thing about kids is they try new things. They are like, you know, they wear their emotions on their sleeves. They’ll tell you anything, and it does not matter. Like, there’s no filter. Where with us, it’s like we’re very careful about what we say, and we’re very careful about how we say it the right way. And, you know, I just wish sometimes we had a little bit more of their free spirit and a little bit more of their just no care in the world. And they should, because they’re kids. But now that we become adults, it just, you know, it just changes life completely. So I think for me, it was to go back and have that carefree life and that sometimes that, you know, just carefree of just everything you want to do.
So, you mentioned that you are one of the first people in your family to ever go to college, which is awesome, rockstar. Congrats to you. So, how did you come about going to college, first part of my question, and then the second part of my question is of everything you could have chosen to major in, why did you choose music?
Yeah, so you know, I think about college, my parents again, I go back to, they were such big supporters because neither of them had that opportunity, and so it was just kind of always instilled in me. You’ve got to get an education, you’ve got to keep going, you’ve got to keep trying to better yourself, you’ve got to get out of this little town. I mean, they just really always encouraged my sister and me to get out, and so it just in my mind, I always knew that I was going to go to college. And the reason the music kind of came about was I always thought I was going to be a teacher. I loved because my birthday was always late in the year, so like senior year, I had just turned, I was 16 my senior year, just turning 17. So I was always the youngest one in my class, and but I always because I could never get a job because of my age. So plus, there’s very limited jobs in our little towns, so I was babysitting at like 10 or 11. I was watching little kids, and so I’ve always worked with kids. I loved kids. So in my mind, I was going to always be a teacher. Well, I also love to sing and play the piano. So I’m like, well, why not, you know, do what I enjoyed doing, which was singing and playing the piano and teach kids how to do it? So in my mind, I just always thought I’m going to be a music teacher. So that’s kind of how the music teacher, music got in my head. And then the reason I kind of ended up at the college I went to, again, we were heavily involved in our church, and every year we would have this group that would come as a representation of this college. It was Toccoa Falls College. It’s up in the Northeast Georgia Mountains. What’s the name? It’s Toccoa, T-O-C-C-O-A. Okay, Toccoa Falls College. And it’s called that because there’s actually a waterfall on the campus, and it’s actually slightly higher than Niagara, but we’re talking it’s like a little trickle compared to Niagara, of course, but it is, it’s a beautiful waterfall. And they actually had, there was a dam above the waterfall that actually broke back in ’77. It came down through the campus, and unfortunately, about 38 people lost their life, and a lot of them came through the men’s dorm, basically. So, but yeah, so it was just a small, non-denominational college, but they would bring a group, and it was a singing group. And so they would come, they would perform at the church, they would talk about the college, and then give, like, a little devotional. So when I was a little girl, I thought that was, like, the coolest thing. And in my mind, I’m like, kind of like, I’m being, like, a musketeer. Like, I’d watch Annette Funicello, and I was like, “Oh, I want to be a Mouseketeer.” Well, this was kind of the same. In my mind, I just thought that was the coolest thing. So I just always knew I was going to go to Toccoa College and major in music. And sure enough, you know, I graduated, and that’s where I ended up. So how many students in the whole school right now? Right now, when I went there, there were only about 650, maybe. A lot of high schools, yes, yes. And then today, I think they’re up to a little over 2,000. So, but yes, it’s a very small college, but it’s, it’s… The professors know you. The professors invite you to their house for dinner. You know, they, it’s just a more intimate, you know, again, they, you’re not just a number. So, and it’s a very… To be honest, the big joke was most of the women were there to get their Mrs. degree, because a lot of them are becoming pastors, a lot of the, the, you know, we’re gonna become missionaries, and so you were there to find yourself a husband and become a pastor’s wife. But I’m very… I’m very independent, and I was definitely not on that path. So, needless to say, I did not leave college with my Mrs. degree. So, I was in a sorority, AGD, and that was kind of a joke as well, that people would assume that you joined a sorority to find a husband, which was absolutely not the case for me. I am 39 and still not married and very independent and have my own career. But I can relate. Yes, yes. So, you were at this super tiny school. You thought you were going to become a music teacher. What was the most important thing you learned during your undergrad program?
You know, I tell you, undergrad, and I think for a lot of us, we can probably look back on whether it was college or whether it was trade school or whatever we did when we were much younger. But I think it was just the resilience of being able to juggle so many things. Like, I again, my parents would have helped me if they could, but again, they, they didn’t make a lot of money. So a lot of it was on me. So I was working, so I was taking 18 hours of class because one of our graduation requirements was 30 hours of Bible before you graduate. So, on top of taking, like, my regular, you know, your general courses, plus I had to throw in, like, an intro to theology, intro to music, but then I’d also take, like, Life of Christ. So, we had to take some Bible courses within that. Plus, being a music major, you had to spend so many hours in the music practice rooms. So, I’m practicing piano, I’m practicing voice, so I’m studying the Bible, I’m taking class. Well, then I had to still pay for school, so I was a bookkeeper at the local grocery store. So, I would go there from three to eleven, do bookkeeping, and then get home from campus, study, maybe go to bed at three, get right back up at seven or eight, and keep doing it. So, how I made it through, I have no idea. But I think I was just young and I didn’t know any better, and you just do what you’ve got to do. And I think that’s where so many of us, you know, especially now, as even as adults, we just make it happen. But I think back then, I just didn’t need as much sleep. So, but I just, I made it happen. So, yeah. And then on top of that, you want to have friends and some sort of a social life, too.
Well, and I did. I am very thankful that I did. Now, I wasn’t your typical music student, I will say, because a lot of the students, I mean, they lived and breathed the music room. They were in there all the time. And I, to your point, I was still that college student. I wanted to have fun. So, I also played volleyball. I was part of a couple intramural sports. I, you know, we also, as part of, I kind of was able to do my childhood dream, and I actually was part of the music group. So, for three years, and that’s also what helped pay my tuition. So, my freshman year, it paid 50. I did it my sophomore year. That was 75. And by junior year, I paid full tuition by touring with this musical group. So, I also toured with the group and did exactly what, you know, I saw as a little girl. So, it kind of came full circle for me. I feel like a time management course is in your future, teaching people how to juggle and manage so much.
I am very good at time management, absolutely. People always laugh because I’m like the gatekeeper at meetings, because I’m like, I put people on a schedule. It’s like, okay, you’ve got two minutes, you’ve got 50 seconds, you’re done. So, senior year, you are preparing for graduation again. You had originally thought you wanted to be a music teacher. What were you planning on doing when you graduated?
So, really, that was totally what I had planned. I was going to teach music for a few years, and then in my mind, I thought I would eventually go back to school to become a principal. I always liked business and leadership. And so, I really thought eventually down the road, I would move from teaching into a principal role. But, you know, after college, again, because I worked so much, I just was so tired and burned out. And a girlfriend of mine was, she called her, and she’s like, “Well, hey, I’m going to go to Connecticut to be a nanny.” And I’m like, a nanny? Like Mary Poppins nanny? And she’s like, “No, for these really great families.” And so, I thought, well, I like kids. Why not try it? So, I did. I ended up taking about a seven-year break, and I lived in Connecticut for a few years, worked with this wonderful family. They were first-time parents with a six-month-old. I lived with them. I think that’s what kind of got me into the mindset of food service, because she was actually VP of Marketing for Pepperidge Farms. And it was back when Pepperidge Farms was just testing their croutons. So, she would be bringing these bags of croutons home, and her husband and I would eat croutons and give our feedback of what we thought of the croutons. So, it’s like Wilton on Danny and food tester.
Yeah, and it was… It was crazy, because, like I said, 30 years ago, and it’s just mind-boggling to me that, you know, I’m now in food service. So, what’s really sweet is her and I still stay in touch, and Alex, who was six months old, is now, like, 30 and married with a four-year-old. So, I feel extremely old, but they’re just a wonderful family. And then from there, I actually took a job down in Miami, where I worked for a family. There were two attorneys, and they had a 13-year-old. So, they just needed somebody to keep her company and somebody to take her to the mall. And so, again, it was a great position. Then she was ready to drive, so they really didn’t need me. And so, I ended up moving to Atlanta, where I worked for a family with two kids. But that’s when I, you know, kind of met my son’s father and decided, I guess I need a real job. And that’s really when I, again, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I think if I would have gotten into teaching right then, I’d probably still be teaching now. But I ended up taking, like, an office manager position. And then I was, so, for about 10 years, I was an office manager and executive assistant. And it was, it was good skill sets. I mean, again, because I have very good time management, organization, you know, I juggled multiple tasks. So, I was able to do the job no problem. But one of my companies I was with was having some layoffs. They were closing our office. So, I unfortunately was losing my job. So, that’s kind of what ended that part of my life before I took the next step into this next part of my life. So, layoffs suck, but I feel like they teach a lot about resilience and can help catapult us in other ways in our career, which it sounds like that was the case for you.
So, how did you get your very first purchasing job? So, that’s where this kind of ties into that. So, I was, yeah, I was looking for a job and I was in Atlanta, and a temp agency reached out because I was, again, just looking anywhere. And she’s like, “Hey, I’ve got this purchasing coordinator,” and I’m like, “Okay, what does that mean?” And so she said, “Well, it’s for a company called our Co-Op, and our Co-Op is the supply chain cooperative for Arby’s Restaurant Group.” And I was like, “Okay.” So, I went and interviewed. It was, like, 3:30 in the afternoon. Or no, I think it was, like, 10 o’clock in the morning. I interviewed with, like, their VP of supply chain. And there, well, his title was VP of purchasing. And then there was a VP of distribution. They didn’t have a president at the time. So, I interviewed with these two men. And then, like, three o’clock in the afternoon, I got a call that they offered me the job. I was like, “Okay.” So, I didn’t… I wish that was the case this day. I feel like you have to interview with 25 different people and it took months to get a job. Now, well, here I am, 23 years later. And I’ll tell you that story. But, yeah, so, basically, sure enough, I got a call. So, I come in to work as this purchasing coordinator. I had no clue what supply chain was. I just thought somebody hands a bag of eight-dollar food out of a drive-through window and you go on your merry way. But I had no… It just blows my mind to this day how many people it takes to make that eight-dollar bag of food. Supply chain is just… It blows my mind. Food doesn’t grow in a grocery store. No, it does not.
So, it was… But that’s kind of what got my foot in the door. That’s really where it started as a coordinator, doing, you know, supporting a supply chain team. So, one of the things that I find interesting about that part of your life is you stayed there for what I would consider a long time. I think you were at Arby’s Corp about 15 years. So, why did you stay so long, and what did you do to continuously get promoted? Because that’s pretty impressive that you were able to move up and elevate yourself throughout your time there.
Yeah, so I was there. It’s actually, you were close, it was 12 years. But still, I… You know, when I started again as a purchasing coordinator, and it was pretty much a predominantly male field, you know, it was all men. They were all our purchasing managers, the VP, the two VPs were men. The purchasing managers were men. So, I really felt like they saw me just as a secretary. I was just there to pull all the papers. I was there to pull the numbers. You know, back then, which is so hard to believe, when we would get pricing in, it came over the fax machine. Like, I can’t even fathom that. I mean, no, I think fax machines were not even a thing in my childhood, let alone pagers or all of these, these crazy old-school processes. Yeah, so we’d get the pricing in on the fax. I could get the pricing sheets, come to my computer, enter them into the system. Well, then also, like, again, with food service, if you’re running a promotion, you know, you need to know how the LTO is doing, you know, how much is your inventory. Well, I would have every… This was 14 distribution centers at that time. And each one of them would basically send me a report. You know, luckily, it was an email, like an Excel spreadsheet. They would send me the report. Well, none of them were in the same format. So, I would have to take all 14 reports, basically consolidate them into one main report just to get an idea of how much was on hand, how much was on order, how many, you know, all of that. Well, by the time I did all of that, it was a week later. So, you’re always, like, a lag, a week behind, you know. And so, once we had… I want to say it was back in maybe ’04, we had a company approach us called Aerostream. And Aerostream basically was a company that was working with food service and different companies on a data management program. But what we had to do, and that’s why I always chuckle whenever I see our one friend Susan come on with the data, because I think of her all the time, because it’s so true that dirty data, you know, I mean, so we literally had to start from scratch, because dirty, you know, bad data in is bad data out.
So, we really started from the very beginning and had to enter all of our information to get clean data. So, we ended up bringing in a couple temps because, I mean, at the time, Arby’s had a little over 3000 restaurants. So, you can imagine the skew count and imagine the amount of information we had. So, it took a while to get it set up but once we did, oh my gosh, it was like Earth-shattering, you know? We had inventory from like midnight the night before, so I could go into the system and see like, ‘Oh, so I had this many cases in Chicago, I had this many cases in Florida.’ I mean, it was literally mind-boggling because, again, we went from one to two-week lag of getting data to having it at our fingertips, and that was literally, I mean, it changed how we did business. So, it was really quite a remarkable time just to kind of see that happen, but yeah. So basically, kind of jumping around a bit, but what also happened during that time and those kind of the first five years that I was there, September 11th, and so, you know, when that happens, our whole country just shut down, you know? I mean, there was just not a lot of movement, a lot of jobs, and I wasn’t real happy. It was an okay job, but I was like, I feel I can do more because I was doing all the RFPs. I was getting all the data together, I was pulling all the specs, I was pulling all the info. I just wasn’t doing the negotiating. So, I really felt like, I know I can do this, why aren’t they giving me an opportunity? And luckily, we had a new president come on board who, you know, truly saw my potential, and he hired a new vice president of procurement. And again, same thing, they’re like, ‘Susan, you’re this overpaid secretary. You’re so much smarter than anyone’s giving you credit for, you know? Would you like to be a buyer?’ I was like, ‘Well, I’m already doing the job anyway. Hello, where were you five years ago?’ Yeah, so I think part of that was, I had to be patient. I didn’t leave. Maybe again, it’s because September 11th had hit. I had been married but unfortunately was going through a divorce, so a lot of things were happening around that same time. So, I was going through a divorce, I was about to be a single mom with a two-year-old. September 11th, I was miserable at the job. I was barely making what, 32,000 maybe? So, there was just emotional, I was an emotional wreck, to be honest. But I stuck with it. Luckily, when those, you know, those to this day, I thank them both that they gave me the opportunity because then over the next six years, you know, I kept proving myself. I got promoted from buyer to senior buyer to manager to senior manager. So, over my 12-year career, you know, I really felt like just somebody gave me the chance, and I think sometimes that’s where I think companies kind of miss out on some really solid people. And, you know, maybe somebody who is kind of maybe not as vocal or maybe somebody that doesn’t, it doesn’t mean I didn’t want it, but maybe it wasn’t the person, you know, that was out front. But I know I could make it happen, and I did. So, it was a great career. I really had, I think because I had that foundation of supporting both the supply chain, the purchasing team as well as distribution, I was really able to understand the whole facet of supply chain. And my primary focus with Arby’s was their packaging at the time. I want to say it was about 100 million in spend just their packaging alone, between fry cartons and sandwich wrappers and coffee cups and salad bowls and all this packaging. You know, one year we were really big on changing graphics because we thought, you being a marketing person, you probably will agree, but they wanted to always change the packaging. So, like one year, I think I had 89 graphic changes across all different packages. So, were they running like A/B testing in markets? And then, no, no, to be honest, what sales were kind of struggling, and so it’s like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to change the marketing. So now let’s go and promote it this way. Oh, that didn’t work. So now let’s go promote it this way.’ And I think it was just grabbing at straws, you know? And every time they did, they felt we had to change the message on our packaging. So, you know, I really look at companies, which I’m sure some of you have heard of some of these, but like In-N-Out, Chick-fil-A, they don’t change their packaging. I mean, In-N-Out’s have that same white cup with like the red palm trees. Chick-fil-A has their cup with just their chicken logo. But they still have a lot of sales. So, to me personally, as long as that cold cup is keeping it cold, that sandwich wrapper is keeping it hot or cold, all the pretty graphics doesn’t matter. It just, but again, that’s my opinion. So, and because every time they would send me a, you know, something with graphics, all I would see would be money because the more ink was more, it would cost more. And if you think of a sandwich, all you really care about is what’s on the top. Everything else gets wrapped and tucked under. So put all your branding here or if you think about eating a sandwich, you open it up on your plate, put it on the inside of the wrapper. That’s where everybody’s seeing the messaging is on the inside. So, I could go on and on about, I would argue that In-N-Out and Chick-fil-A, what I call in, in SaaS product lead companies, meaning they have superior products, then their products speak for themselves. Other companies who don’t have as solid products have to have other ways, right, to drive sales. That’s a very well, well point. So, very well spoken. But yeah, so that’s just what, like I said, I was able to learn from some really solid people, some really good leaders, and very feel very fortunate that I had such a great career with them. So, you were there, not 15, you were there about 12 years, you said. Then your next role, you transitioned into the casino space for a little bit. So, why the change? You know, again, I was, by that time, my son was about in fifth grade. His father, we won’t get into all of this here, but he, you know, elected not to be in his life. And so, I was basically a single, truly a single parent. And I had always kind of stayed in the Atlanta area because I thought, you know, his dad would want to be part of his life. But a recruiter found me, and there was this opportunity to work for Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas. And here I was in Atlanta, and I’m like, I am not going to Vegas. I’ve never even been to Vegas. And so, I was just, but you know what, I think in my life at that time, I’m like, I have been so focused on my son, which I always will be focused on with my son, but I finally was like, Susan, and this is an opportunity to finally do something for you. And plus, you know, it was a pretty hefty pay increase as well as a free location. You know, there was a signing bonus, so it was really too good to pass up. And you know, I spoke with my boss at when I was with Arby’s, and he was so supportive, and he’s like, you know, Susan, I wish we could give you that because you are, you know, but we just can’t afford, you know, it sounds like a great opportunity, and we would support you 100%, you know, and we think, you know, that would be a good step for you. So, I did, I moved 2,000 miles away, went out to Las Vegas, and yeah, so crazy hot, yeah. But you know, like, I know this is a cliche, but it’s a dry heat. I know it’s still hot, but like Atlanta, it can be 80, and the humidity is off the charts, and you’re sweating like crazy. We’re out there even at 110, yeah, it was hot, but the humidity’s not there, so it’s a very different meat. But yeah, so I did, I moved out to Las Vegas. So, I stepped into the casino hotel side, which I learned very quickly is very different than what we call National Counselor on the Food Service, the casino side is very, I felt very transactional. It was just, let’s get people in, get them back, of course, get the low price we can get. On the Food Service, on the restaurant side, it’s very more strategic. You really are working with your suppliers to build your brand, you know, what can you do together to make it a win for each of you. And you know, it took a while to get projects across the line because there’s a lot more layers, and I feel sometimes at the casino, the hotel side, it was, you know, they had a very specific spec, they had a very specific item, so it was a little quicker to get it in and out. So, I was kind of struggling with that type of business model. I was there about six months, I guess, and I in my mind I’m like, oh my gosh, what have I done? But I met some wonderful people while I was there. I know one of the folks that is part of your group, Giana Rigel, I mean, yeah, you know, so yeah, so I’ve had some other people through my life that I’ve met that I pulled from there. So, even though I was only there a short time, it was, it was a good, I’m glad it went, you know, that’s one thing I think I learned, but yeah. So, when I was there, I was on the packaging side again, and I had some food items but primarily packaging. And one of my main responsibilities, well again, my main responsibility was the packaging side, but one of the big projects I worked on was, you know, in trying to reduce SKU count. But for those that are here with us today that maybe don’t have a food service background, why is SKU reduction so important? Yeah, so what happens is our distribution centers, PFG, Cisco, US foods, a lot of the independents, you might only be allowed so many SKUs. So, like one of the restaurant companies I was with, we had almost 400 SKUs. So, if you think in a warehouse, you know, they’re only allocating so much space. They’ve only got so much space for every customer. So, you know, if you’ve got something that’s very slow-moving, they’re not going to give you space
So, you know, if you’ve got something that’s very slow-moving, they’re not going to give you space. So we had to really plus a lot of our restaurants. You know, if you bring in one SKU and it’s only on like one menu item, you’re not going to have a lot of movement, so we really try to consolidate. So, you know, if you’ve got a restaurant and you can use an item at like an ingredient in multiple recipes, then you can justify a space in a warehouse. But if you’ve got one item, one recipe, and the movement isn’t real strong, it’s going to be hard to justify space. So that’s why on the Food Service side, SKU counts, we try to keep it to a minimum as much as we can. You’ll have proprietary SKUs, and those are the ones that you might negotiate with your Distributors. So you’re allowed so many proprietary, and then the other ones might be more general, like we can all share. You know, like with Caesars. So what project was we used plastic Cutlery, you know, just for takeout and delivery and so forth? We had like 40, 40, 50 different plastic pieces of cutlery because there was white and black, all different colors. There was medium weight, heavyweight, polypropylene, polystyrene, there was all of these different SKUs across we had 40 properties across the U.S., and so my, you know, task because I felt, you know, if we could all come together and on efficiency agree on one set of cutlery, let’s get one knife, one fork, one spoon, maybe a soup spoon and get that across all 40 properties. So I brought in a ton of samples, had all these different products coming in. We basically narrowed it down to a black medium weight polystyrene, and so we pretty much had every all of all the 40 properties, they were all on board, except we had one that kept giving us the push back and of all places, and darn outlier stakeholder. Oh, and you know who it was? The swimming pool. Seriously, the Caesar swimming pool felt that it wasn’t upscale enough. I’m like, it’s a swimming pool. It should be, it just because they wanted to use, you know, there’s that, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s basically it looks like silver but it’s actually plastic, but it also cost almost three times as much as like a regular plastic knife or, you know, plastic fork. And so I felt it was, you know, it should have been a no-brainer, but we ended up going a couple senior levels higher than me to actually present it to somebody else to say, listen, we can reduce our SKU count from say 40 down to six, we can improve efficiencies here, was the cost savings. I mean, there was everything was a plus, and so finally we finally got them all to agree, and so everybody was finally able to go to, and it’s just the again the efficiencies, the distributors were happy, the price was better, I mean, it was really a win-win across the board. So that was probably my short time I was, I wasn’t there long, but it was a project that I was able to at least execute, get off the ground, and make happen before I kind of moved on. So I feel like that’s a huge savings opportunity too because when you drive that much efficiency, there’s tremendous savings that you can present to executive leadership. Yeah, well even one of my other companies, which we’ll get to in a bit, but there were seven restaurant Brands and we must have been using like five different Ranch dressings. Why do we have five different Ranch dressings in the system? Just Ranch, not even like avocado ranch or Southwest Ranch, but just plain old Ranch, you know, five different types. So again, let’s all work together to find a comment that we can all agree on. So, you were at Caesars a lot shorter stint than you expected. You weren’t super happy there. You mentioned it was a lot more tactical, not as strategic as you would have hoped. So your next gig, you got quite a, at least from a title perspective, a pretty nice promotion. You were the director of purchasing for a restaurant chain. So how did you land this role? So again, like I said, I was about six months in the Caesars, and I was like, oh, what have I done? You know, I’ve moved across the country, and it just didn’t seem like the right fit. And so, I wasn’t looking to leave immediately. I just thought, let me try to at least put two years in, you know, just so I can not jump around jobs, you know? So, but a recruiter was calling on the east coast to some restaurants, and I, there was like three people that kind of gave the recruiter my name and said, hey, there’s somebody that lives out in Vegas because this position was in Vegas and said, you know, she would be great. So, sure enough, I got a call, and the position was for director of supply chain for a smaller company. It was an emerging brand. They had 110 restaurants in 15 states, and that was Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop. So, I interviewed with them, and I think, you know, again, there was no relocation. I was right there, but it’s such a great story. So, after about, I think just 10 months at Caesar’s or maybe I was there just about a year, but I decided to take this new role because it brought me back into food service. It brought me back into more of the type of business model I was used to at Arby’s, and I think that was more of my comfort zone. So, it kind of got me back, but what was great also was I was like a one-woman show. I was buying everything. So, I went from primarily focusing on packaging the first 12 years of my career to now I was buying everything from all because Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop. So, you know, these amazing subs, we do expand your skill set, just kind of get thrown into the fire. Absolutely, and we, you know, what I really liked about that kind of business model as well, like we were all super supportive. Like, we had a VP of training and operations, but we were all just, we all wore multiple hats because you only have so many people. And when you have a very limited crew, you’re jumping in. I mean, everybody wants to see it succeed, everybody wants to see it, you know, move forward. So, we were all working extremely hard because again, multiple hats. So, I was buying everything from the proteins to the bread, so I mean, literally everything to run the restaurant was filtering through me. So, if I had my hands full, it was really busy, but I loved it. I mean, the guys, their story is amazing. If you’ve never heard of their story, but basically, these two college guys had just graduated college. They were, I think, 26 and 24, and had this opportunity to buy this brand with about 40 Restaurants. It was back in ’08 when the economy, you know, we had just gotten hit with a recession, but they were able to scrape together had like 20 investors, people that believed in them. So, it’s really a cool story, and then they recently acquired another company. So, if you have a chance to check them out, I, I highly recommend them, but it was a great learning experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was with them about a year and a half, and to be honest, I would have, I would have loved to stay, but my parents who had since retired, and I was the, I was the one with the only grandchild, so I was getting a lot of pressure to maybe come back to the east coast, get closer to them, get closer to my family. So, I decided that before my son hit high school, that I was going to try to go back to the east coast. So, that’s kind of why I made the decision to leave. It was a hard decision because again, I really loved the company, I believed in their products, I loved the people I was working with, so it really was a great experience, but because of personal reasons, I did decide to make that decision. So, I started, you know, again, because I had a good network. I started reaching out just like we have with our supply chain, and you know, even in yesterday’s happy hour, I love that you started making some suggestions to a couple of our friends, and you know, folks that are looking, and you know, that’s what this is about is helping each other out.
So yeah, luckily I reached out and sure enough, there was an opening with Honey Baked Ham. So they were able to relocate me back to Atlanta. So, I moved back to Atlanta where I worked for Honey Baked Ham. And at Honey Baked, I was a senior manager. And so, at that point, I decided, you know, it was a decision because again, I’ve been kind of a director. But even though it may have been a step down in title, I was still getting paid where I was. So to me, it was kind of a lateral move, but it got me back to Atlanta, which I wanted. So that was, again, a personal decision, and I was thankful for the opportunity. Great product, it’s a very different business model. So, 70% of their annual sales are six weeks. So, between Thanksgiving and Christmas is basically, talk about make or break, a stressful holiday season. Absolutely. And, you know, we had to align ourselves with suppliers, distributors. They weren’t going to make a lot of money from us until like November, October, November, December. You know, we would start placing POs. Like, one of our examples, you know, we do all the different side dishes, like the macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato souffle, and you know, all of those. I would go to the supplier like June 1st with a forecast and I need around 125,000 cases of all these different side dishes. But we had to give them that four-month or whatever window to be able to produce and store it for us so we can start building the supply chain. October, so November 1st or so, the stores were ready to sell. So, it was a very, very different type of business model. It was good. We weren’t allowed to take any time off during the holidays, so for the three years I was with them, I took not one day off. We had like Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, that’s it. You were not allowed to take any personal time, but we knew that when we got hired, because again, that was that was our butter. You know, that’s the money we needed for the next year. So, very, very different business model, and it was okay. They were a family-run company, so they were kind of, I think, in my three years I was there, we had four different kind of CEOs. So, I think they were just kind of having a hard time finding their way to see kind of what was going to fit. So, I had another opportunity that was a director position with a very large restaurant company. So, that’s when I decided to make that move. Again, it was a company based in Atlanta, but it was called NDCP, which is the Dunkin’ Donuts Cooperative. So, I stepped into that position. That was a probably one of the biggest learning curves for me. I was only there for four months. You know, I think it was one of those lessons I learned, ‘Grass is and always greener on the other side.’ Maybe what seems really great wasn’t the great fit for me. Why wasn’t it a good fit? This will kind of go into our discussion about a worse Boss versus the best boss. And, you know, the environment… I love seeing your post about SourceDay and just… it’s all about your environment, it’s about the how. I really learned the importance of your work environment. And maybe it’s me getting older, maybe it’s me as I… as I, you know, aged over the years, but the culture of your company, the type of leadership of your company, it just wasn’t there for me at the time. And so, it was, to me, for me personally, it was a very toxic environment. So, it was a mutually agreed upon that, you know, I left after four months. You know, I was given, like, a 30 after 30 days. I was on a performance plan, which never in my career had I been on a performance plan. So, it just wasn’t the right fit. But again, I’m so thankful. I kind of cut my losses and got out when I did. But they’re in a really good place now. They’ve got a great team, a really good leader, so I am very happy for them now. But it was… it was tough. I really hit a hard time in my career. I really thought about leaving supply chain at that point because that one person really had such a negative impact on me in such a short time. So, it was… it was hard. But I just, again, I was independent. I knew I could do it. And I was like, ‘Susan, you just gotta pull up your big girl panties that you gotta move on.’ So, I just… I did. I got the feelers back out and, you know, looked for that next opportunity. So, so you are at Blooming Brands now. You’ve been there for, I want to say, just around two years. Yep, next month will be two years. Most difficult part of your job. What have you struggled with? You know, the thing about… I think sometimes it’s, to be honest, it’s sourcing suppliers. You know, like I had one of my… one of the chefs came to me and he was looking for a product, an ingredient. I’m like, I have no clue what that is. So, I got, you know, I mean they kind of told me, but I got online and kind of looked it up. But it’s now, who do I find for that? I mean, how do you know? So, of course, I kind of get online, but the biggest thing, because I’ve been in the in the food service industry for 23 years, I called my network. You know, I’ll reach out to my friends that are VP of, you know, they’re VP of supply chain for… I know somebody almost probably just about in every kind of larger restaurant. You know, I’ve got friends still at Arby’s. I know people at Wendy’s. I know people at Red Lobster. I know people at Chick-fil-A. I know… So, I really have a great network, so I… I rely on them. I go out to them a lot, and I like… I’m getting ready to do an RFP, and I went to a few folks and say, ‘Hey, who do you buy this from? Who’s some people you’ve worked with in the past that maybe you could recommend?’ So, I really… Because for me, I guess, finding the suppliers is sometimes the challenge. So, that’s probably one part of it, I think, that’s been a little challenging. And then I think on the restaurant side, too, and this is probably with any of it, it’s that’s what the other thing I love about this group that we have with the happy hour, because it’s people in different industries. And even though we come from different industries, we’re all struggling with some of the same challenges, whether it’s… especially like driver shortage or getting a truck or, you know, the logistics side of it. We’re all struggling with a lot of those same things. But I think, for me, it’s probably an ingredient, you know, trying to source that ingredient and where to find it. That’s probably some of my biggest challenges. And then I think, too, on food service, and I don’t know if this is this way with some of our other industry folks, but it’s really tough to get things across the line. Like, because we will bring in a product, the chef will try it, well, let’s tweak it a little bit, you know. Oh, it needs to be a little sweeter. Okay, well, what does little mean? Are we talking 5%? Are we talking 20%? So, it’s just getting sometimes the chefs, you know, the folks that are making the decisions on what that flavor profile should be. So, we might go through like… I’ve got a product now. I think I’ve brought in 14 different iterations of a sample. And I’m like, ‘Okay, if we’re not there yet, we’re probably not going to get there.’ So, sometimes projects can take a little longer. And that is one of our objectives this year is, what can we do to get a project across the finish line quicker? You know, we either want to move forward or move on. So, if it’s not going to work, let’s just move on and get on to the next project. So, one of the things that I… I think about when I think of you is you do… you get so much done every single day. How do you prevent burnout? It’s something that a lot of my friends struggle with who are parents, who have big jobs, working no matter where you are in your career, in our industry, I feel like things have been really, really stressful the last couple years. Yeah. You know, to be honest, I would say before COVID, I never really felt burned out. I truly was… the food service industry, we’re like a big family. We all know each other. Like, I said, I know all these different people. I know a lot of the sales reps because they just kind of jump from food service company to food service company. So, I think before COVID, I never really experienced it, to be honest. Yeah, it’s stressful at times and I’m… you know, I have a lot of spend that I manage, but I truly love the people and what I do. But I always have to say, from COVID, it’s been tough. I mean, you know, I’m not gonna lie. It’s put a lot of stress, especially cost of goods and inflation and finding secondary sourcing and the labor. And it’s never… it’s probably the worst now than I’ve ever seen it. Now it’s slightly getting… getting slightly better. But the last two years were tough, especially for supply chain. I mean, if there was a time that I think people would want to get out of our industry, this probably would have been it. I think if we can get through this, I think we’ll be better and it’ll… I don’t think it’ll ever go back to how it was, but I think it will be better. But yeah, these past couple years, they have been tough, for sure. So, it’s time to move into our Spitfire round. I’m going to ask you a series of questions and you’ll respond with a word or phrase that first comes to mind. Okay. Accomplishment you are most proud of? Yeah. So, back when my son was in elementary school, I was part of a group… And, oh, you said one or two words. But yeah, we basically were in a… an elementary school and I was part of the PTA, and we won a $100,000 grant from Kaboom. And we basically were able to work with local companies like Home Depot, Bell South, to build a brand new playground, outdoor space for this underprivileged school, basically. So, it was a huge, huge career win for me. So, and it was on the personal side. Quality you admire most in yourself? I think resilience. I’ve really… I have… I know a lot of people have been through a lot and I feel like no matter what happens, I just figure it out and I just make it happen. So, I think just the can-do attitude, no matter what. I just get it done. What’s your dream?
My dream, this is a loaded question. So much, you know? I don’t need much to be happy. I think for me, it’s everyone just to love that unconditionally. You know, my favorite Tim McGraw song is ‘You’ll Always Be Humble and Kind.’ And I think if we just, we’re all kind to one another, I think the world would be a much better place. So just, you know, everyone love each other. Love should be colorblind, you know? Whether you’re, no matter where you’re from, no matter what color, no matter what size. I don’t know, I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, but that’s one thing I would always hope for.
So, we have two minutes left. We had a question come in from the audience from Rodrigo, so I want to make sure that we acknowledge the question, and if you can keep your response pretty short, Susan. Great listening about your career. Based on the different positions at different firms, where have you found the best onboarding process and what made it a great experience?
You know, I think, to be honest, my current company, Bloomin’ Brands, you know, they… I think when you get onboarded, it’s like when you get there, your desk is set up, you know, you’ve got everything ready to go. They have an agenda for you. You are meeting the different people cross-functionally of who you’re going to work with. I think, for me, that’s been the best. I mean, there’s nothing like walking into a new place and it being a little disorganized. You really… you know, that first week, you’re just not sure what you’re doing, where you’re going to be. But I just felt like I fit right in immediately. So that really helped me a lot to be very organized right from the beginning.
Our next show takes place in March. Barb Sexton with Omnia Partners is going to be sharing her personal journey, so make sure to tune in. And if you are not yet connected with Susan, I encourage you to reach out and send her a connect request on LinkedIn. And with that, Susan, thank you very much for coming on our show, and I want to wish everyone a wonderful afternoon.