By Stacy Ward
Editor in Chief
TriMark Orange County’s Vice President of Operations
Everyone has a story about how they fell into the foodservice equipment and supplies industry, says TriMark’s Vice President of Operations Keri Llewellyn. Why fell? “It wasn’t so much that I chose foodservice, rather I stumbled upon it,” says the former Staples district manager, now blistering toward her 13th year in the industry after a recent promotion and move to TriMark Orange County in Southern California.
“Foodservice is not an industry you graduate with a degree in,” says Llewellyn. “It’s a niche industry and I don’t come from a family that owned a dealership, so it wasn’t a natural progression.”
Her roots start in Westlake, Ohio, where her parents, Tom and Dee Hirz, owned a small grocery store called the Convenient Food Mart for 30 years, before selling the business and retiring. Somewhere around 12 or 13, Llewellyn began working in the store’s deli after school and on Saturdays. “My Mom is a customer service master and has a way of connecting with people and making them feel comfortable,” she says. “My Dad was an excellent operator who expected commitment and others to take pride in their work. That foundation made me appreciate the pride that these TriMark family businesses have had over the years.”
She credits Mark and Steve Fishman, the former owners of one of those businesses—SS Kemp—with formally introducing her to the industry and meticulously outlining its merits. “The more they described their organization, their goals and the industry, the more intrigued I was,” says Llewellyn. “I believe they saw my abilities and aspirations and took a chance on me and, for that, I’m grateful.”
Learning from the experience, now she’s the one who enjoys the process of plugging newcomers into the TriMark culture and “coaching them up.” Mentorship, coaching and continuous training are part of TriMark’s DNA, Llewellyn says, adding that similar scenarios, like the one that sold her on the industry, have played themselves out across multiple divisions. “TriMark is strong on the people piece,” says Llewellyn. “We spend time to get to know our employees, personally and professionally.
“Strong leadership is able to time-compress the talent identification process by simply understanding employees’ goals and what motivates them. Each division has their own strategy; however, I believe most would agree that we’ve been successful by tackling people, culture and strategy in that order.”
Leading vs. Managing
Llewellyn, herself, is an interesting study in leadership. She’s high-energy and full of the grit required of any leader to take on the demands of E&S—growing sales, developing employees, creating and maintaining a culture of discipline, building lasting relationships across the business silos that make up the channel. Yet, that resolve is harnessed with a humility that elicits buy-in.
“Those things take passion, energy and follow-up,” says Llewellyn, who spent her last seven years at TriMark SS Kemp first as a regional sales manager before serving as vice president of chain and contract sales the remaining five. “One of the things that people know about me is that I’m going to do what I say. And, just like I’ve been held to high expectations throughout my career, I have high expectations for those who work with me.”
Per the division’s code, Orange County runs on the “OneTeam” mentality. “We win together, lose together, accomplish goals together,” explains Llewellyn. “TriMark Orange County’s President, Scott Moore, is a driving force behind the OneTeam mentality,” she adds. “Transparency and accountability are key. We recognize the need to be able to challenge each other’s thinking and think outside of the box. Leadership is using the team’s strengths, and not being concerned about taking credit for the idea. Instead, the emphasis is on the execution and success of the initiative.”
Fashioned from the contract divisions of three TriMark companies, TriMark Raygal, R.W. Smith and Robert Clark, TriMark Orange County formally introduced itself to the industry in January 2018 as the distributor’s “heavy-hitter” Design, Build and Contract division. Llewellyn, one of the industry’s shooting stars, is part of the Orange County senior leadership team charged with developing an operational model bent toward continuous growth and asserting the division as the dominate player in the West. “We’ve got a new president, a new division, and a new leadership team, and I accept the challenge that comes along with that,” she says. “Being involved in these three companies becoming one and transforming it into a high-functioning machine operationally, is a great opportunity.”
For her part, Llewellyn is over a team of 125 divided among three departments, drafting, project management and contract administration. It’s a good fit for someone that spent years in contract sales and project management learning the heavy equipment and design side of the business. The leadership component comes from managing teams within and outside of the industry.
“Prior to TriMark SS Kemp, I was part of managing and leading organizations at a very young age,” says Llewellyn. “As early as 25, I often went from working in the team to managing and running the team.
“Strategic planning and leadership were key areas that I was motivated to develop my skills in, so when I realized that Kemp had a strong leadership team, led by my now friend and mentor, Tom Wienclaw, I knew it was an environment that I could learn from and excel in. I asked a lot of questions. I built relationships with key players within rep groups, our manufacturing network, and throughout the TriMark organization. Those conversations and working relationships gave me the exposure early on to be impactful in organizations such as FEDA.”
Their Method for Building Leaders
Tom Wienclaw, TriMark’s executive vice president, Midwest region, is passionate about identifying talented young professionals and grooming them for advancement. Llewellyn’s success speaks to the wisdom of having a talent management strategy, and padding it with a continuous flow of resources to keep an organization moving forward. Already a proven leader in another industry, and vocal about her desire to lead, she was tagged as a promising management candidate.
“I was given a lot of exposure to the big picture early on, which gave me the opportunity to understand the organization from the top down,” says Llewellyn.
To keep the pipeline full, Wienclaw developed a leadership development class, attended each year by eight to 10 managers and up-and-coming leaders. “We spent a full day off sight discussing best characteristics of management and leadership,” says Llewellyn, who helped with the class. “Among those are managing with grace under pressure, being process-driven and developing financial acumen.
“We discussed and shared articles by legends such as Steve Jobs and Jack Welch to drive home the message with real-life examples outside of our organization.”
As for legends within the industry, Llewellyn believes in the litany of proverbs that insist that your degree of success is tied to the company you keep. “I continue to judge myself by surrounding myself with great leaders that are strategic, and I can learn from,” she says.
That list includes veterans like Director of Sales Doug Irish, recently retired from Kemp after 33 years. “Bob Butler and Jeff Darrow, who have both passed, also were impactful in my career,” says Llewellyn. “Each would take me on sales calls, introduce me to key players, and taught me the foodservice design and construction process.
“One of the things I learned, and I coach it now, is the last five percent,” she says. “We are no better on any project or any customer interaction than our last percent. Anyone can finish 95 percent, but can you execute and close it? That’s how we strengthen existing relationships, earn new business and onboard new national clients.”
“I continue to judge myself by surrounding myself with great leaders that are strategic, and I can learn from.”