Three Rising Industry Leaders Discuss their Current Projects and Mentoring the Next Generation While Sharing their Hopes for the Industry

TriMark's Keri Llewellyn is an example of the success the company has had in identifying talented young professionals and grooming them for leadership.
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"I continue to judge myself by surrounding myself with great leaders that are strategic, and I can learn from." — Keri Llewellyn, TriMark Orange County

HOW have you benefited from your relationships with other division leaders?           

Keri Llewellyn: I have tremendous respect for the senior leadership team within TriMark. Because I was able to attend various buying group meetings, NRA, FEDA and other industry events, I was able to interact with leadership. I never hesitated to reach out to them on various topics on anything from advice on strategic initiatives to their perspective on certain industry topics. Those relationships have:

  • Sharpened my vision and understanding of the industry,
  • Clarified and provided strategies and goals of the industry,
  • Made me a better leader and strategist… (I welcomed advice, became a good listener and a student of the industry.),
  • Helped guide and support my career path, and
  • Helped me to better understand the values and goals of the organization.
Beginning his career during the Great Recession taught Jacob Morgan the value an academic degree has in providing opportunities for advancement.

"I think part of growth in any organization is putting someone in a position to be uncomfortable and seeing how they handle the situation." — Jacob Morgan, TriMark Strategic

HOW can channel partners in our industry improve the way they communicate with one another?

Jacob Morgan: I am a big proponent of technological advancements, especially with the antiquated and inefficient systems currently in place. Similarly to what we have been able to do with transportation invoices, I think EDI or API data sharing could allow both manufacturers and distributors to increase visibility and efficiencies throughout the entire supply chain. With the way of the world leading to automation and immediate visibility, the industry has to accept the demand for it and accommodate.

As part of her professional development, Emma Stamm has taken courses at the Wisconsin School of Business and participated in the University of Innovative Distribution.

“I’ve been able to reach far outside of my realm of formal work responsibility and gravitate toward what interests me.” — Emma Stamm, Lakeside Manufacturing

What’s got you excited NOW?

Emma Stamm: I am honored and excited to be one of three manufacturer co-chairs, along with three reps, for the MAFSI conference in 2020!  The conference will have a heavy focus on the future in areas such as customer service, sales management, marketing, and executive level topics.

By Stacy Ward
Editor in Chief
stacy@feda.com

Keri Llewellyn
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.”

Jacob Morgan
TriMark Strategic’s Supply Chain Manager

Lean on your resources. That’s the advice that Supply Chain Manager Jacob Morgan would give to industry newcomers, or others looking to advance in their careers. “It comes back to the people,” he says. “There are a lot of tenured professionals in this industry that have a great amount of experience and, given the opportunity, they would love to sit down and talk to you about what they do, how they do it and how they got there. They can help you figure out how to navigate your career path or give you insights into something you didn’t even know you had an interest in.”

Morgan credits his mentor at ISI Commercial Refrigerator, where he worked part-time as a preventative maintenance technician, with helping him etch out his path after graduating from the University of North Texas. His first job out of college was in sales at a forklift and warehouse material handling company. Courtesy of the impending economic downturn, life did not go as planned.

“The Great Recession made me realize business was tough and a commissioned paycheck was even tougher,” says Morgan, who turned to his mentor for guidance. “I’ll never forget the conversation we had about navigating through corporate America and the reality that a piece of paper, like a degree, could provide future opportunities for advancement. I decided shortly thereafter to go back to school and earn my master’s degree in strategic management to guarantee I would never be dismissed from an opportunity because of educational qualifications or lack thereof.”

In 2012, that degree eventually helped him secure a job at Strategic as a corporate financial analyst. A year later, TriMark acquired his old employer, ISI, and Strategic. What’s surprised him most about a career in the industry is the variety, along with the many opportunities for growth, something he says just isn’t on the radar of most potential college recruits.

“Our department is very active in campus recruiting at the various universities in the Dallas area,” says Morgan. “We successfully developed an internship program in 2016, hiring our first full-time employee from the program in May of 2017. Distributors often get overshadowed by the customers we serve and assumptions are made that we all work long hours, weekends, and nights. In our conversations, we are quick to point out that we work normal work hours, but get the perks of working in the same industry. We try and talk about how we get to entertain, attend industry events, the companies we get to work with, the great food we get to eat, and the various people we get to interact with.”

Another key selling point is the growing potential for advancement as more boomers ease toward retirement and E&S companies look to replenish their reservoirs of talent. Corporate financial analyst, senior business analyst and logistics coordinator—Morgan, promoted to supply chain manager this past May, has had the opportunity to take on multiple roles during his short stint at TriMark Strategic. As the distributor’s supply chain manager, he works directly with the department’s vice president to improve productivity, quality and efficiency of operations in the areas of purchasing, inventory and logistics.

“I think part of growth in any organization is putting someone in a position to be uncomfortable and seeing how they handle the situation,” says Morgan. “Fortunately, I have leadership that trusts me and has given me the opportunity to put myself out there and demonstrate my ability, which has allowed me to grow as a person and as a leader within the organization.”      

To date, the greatest testament of that faith has been Morgan’s move from finance to transportation, where he had a hand in building Strategic’s new logistics department. “Part of my personality is to interject myself in situations that I may not be the subject matter expert in,” he says. “When I came from finance, I knew nothing about transportation, logistics or supply chain, so there was a lot of on-the-job training involved. You start with claims. Then, you figure out how to read a tariff and eventually work your way toward negotiating with carriers…. By the time it’s all said and done, you have a whole transportation department dedicated to minimizing the impact of increasing transportation costs.”

Rising transportation costs, coupled with a reliance on one carrier, dictated the need to diversify operations and put a process in place that would allow the distributor to establish relationships with a network of carriers and rate shop on a case-by-case basis. To support the effort, the department added a dedicated accounts payable person and a supply chain analyst. “We tried to model our department off of the services a third-party logistics firm would offer,” says Morgan. “The first obstacle we had to tackle was finding a solution that would allow us to rate shop our lane rates with all our carriers so that we could simultaneously compare our options.”

They settled on an online source that uses both EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and API (Application Programming Interfaces) to enter shipping information, connect with carriers and exchange data. Then, they turned their attention to streamlining the payables process. “Prior to our new process, each carrier invoice was hand keyed into our system, with each shipment being its own invoice,” says Morgan. “TriMark Strategic has more than 35,000 less-than-truckload shipments each year alone. I was determined to use technology to help streamline the process so we could reduce the billing cycle to customers. I studied up on Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and determined it was a good opportunity to expedite our carrier invoice payments, so I began the steps to implement new software and back end system processes to accept EDI invoice files from our LTL carriers. The turnaround time from delivery to paid invoice is now only days.”

Which is good news, considering the impact inefficiencies can have on the bottom line. “If you ask a salesperson, many will tell you that they could win or lose a job based on freight,” says Morgan. “With the way things are going in the online world, people offering free shipping or flat fees, we have to become more competitive with freight transportation costs because that’s a line item charge customers all see.”

“I think part of growth in any organization is putting someone in a position to be uncomfortable and seeing how they handle the situation.”

Emma Stamm
Lakeside Manufacturing’s Customer Service Manager

Emma Stamm lives by the “Flip It” philosophy. As customer service and associate product manager at Lakeside Manufacturing, she’s intentional about leaning toward the positive and coaching her team of eight to do the same. “I always try to look at what we can do instead of telling a customer what we can’t,” she says. “Simple things like starting a conversation with, ‘Thank you for your patience,’ opposed to ‘I’m sorry for your delay,’ can make all the difference. Flipping it changes the tone of the conversation.”

Which is what the team leader turned manager suggests the industry should do to address the lack of diversity in E&S. “Our restaurant owners and chefs are not a traditional bunch but, on the equipment side, we don’t match our operators,” she says. “They’re more diverse. They’re creating the trends, and we keep talking about why we can’t get people.”

For Stamm, turning heads starts with changing the message, as in acquainting potential recruits with the depth inherent in being part of an industry involved in feeding the masses.

“When people think foodservice, they think restaurants, but being in foodservice is about more than just restaurants,” says Stamm. “We’re feeding tomorrow’s leaders in school cafeterias, B&I companies, healthcare, and in the Googles of the world. Food is everywhere.”  

The affirmation surfaced during her first months as an account executive for inside sales. “When I started at Lakeside, I wanted to know everything, and I still do,” says the Concordia University grad. “I wanted to be in the kitchen, go to the schools and healthcare communities… see how the equipment worked, and I was encouraged to do that, which was a huge benefit.

“If you’ve never worked in a commercial kitchen, you don’t have a true sense of the various functions and flow. It’s hard to understand how the equipment is being used. A lot of our equipment is used in motion and there are certain challenges that come with the distance you’re traveling, the weight that you’re carrying and the size of the equipment doors, so getting out is a good thing.”

Interestingly enough, Stamm says “with its extensive dealer network and number of manufacturers and reps,” the foodservice equipment and supplies industry is more “sophisticated and nuanced than clinical medical.”

As part of the family of Sandstone companies, Lakeside offers mobile and storage solutions for the healthcare, foodservice and material handling industries. Stamm and her team migrate among the three divisions and provide customer service and support for all the Sandstone brands: Lakeside, Geneva, Alluserv, Multiteria and Lakeside HealthCare. She’s also responsible for leading inside sales and working with marketing.

“I like to say we’re in the year of marketing because we do a lot of marketing and product positioning work,” says the associate product manager. Recently, Lakeside overhauled all of its websites, upgraded its CRM software and doubled down on efforts to retool its marketing automation platform. All have come with their own set of challenges, notes Stamm, still choosing to eye the process through a positive lens. “We’ve accomplished a lot in the last 30 days by focusing on what we can do,” she says.

Matching Talents with Needs
Seven years ago, when Stamm began her career at Lakeside, the demographics were different. “Back then, there were a lot more team members who had been there 25-plus years,” she says, commenting on the wave of transition taking place in multiple industries.

According to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, millennials became the dominate generation in the workforce in 2016. Lakeside seems to be making the most of the trend. “Now, there are more employees who have been here five years or less,” says Stamm. “That has helped give us a shot in the arm in terms of ideas and new ways of approaching things.”

What hasn’t changed is the manufacturer’s culture of perpetual learning, a corporate value that asserts itself in an investment in leadership training and other formal employee education programs, routine 360-degree assessments, and a willingness to feed new interests. “Lakeside is really good at matching talent and passions with the needs of the organization,” says Stamm. “I’ve been able to reach far outside of my realm of formal work responsibility and gravitate toward what interests me. This time last year, I was managing accounts receivables as part of my job. Now, I’m attending CPG [buying group] meetings and wearing my product manager’s hat in an effort to understand how our products can help fulfill our dealers’ needs.”

To support the drive, Lakeside provides hungry associates like Stamm with a number of opportunities to skill build and grow. She’s attended professional and executive development courses at the Wisconsin School of Business, participated in the University of Innovative Distribution program and “went through a transformational leadership course” offered by the Management Association MRA. Part of MRA’s certificate series, the “Principles of Leadership Excellence” training is comprised of six courses covering everything from aligning goals and strategies to managing conflict. The total time commitment is 12 days.

“It was a really great springboard into my first leadership role in the organization,” says Stamm, who was a member of a customer service roundtable facilitated by the MRA for several years.

In terms of her leadership style, Stamm likes to joke that she might hold the record for the consecutive number of why questions in a meeting. “I’ve been known to ask why three or four times in a row to get people talking,” she laughs. “It’s a nice way to walk them down how they arrived at a decision. I also do a lot of communicating on my end; there is value in team members understanding my point of view instead of just giving them the answer.”

Internally, the manufacturer refers to its efforts to develop employees—and match talents and passions with the goals of the organization—as the Individual Development Plan (IDP).  The process is tailored to the needs of each employee, and involves coaching, 360-degree assessments, benchmarks, and trainings, explains Stamm. “A unique aspect of our IDP,” she says, “is that the company also acknowledges the value of each of us in the marketplace and is very transparent about where we each fit within that yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

“Our HR director and COO have done a good job of building a formal program.”

Per the IDP, associates and managers are required to connect on a regular basis, so Stamm meets once a month with each team member for an hour. “We talk about current projects and their challenges, and at the end of each meeting, I always ask, ‘What do you need to know more about to be successful at your job? What are you interested in learning more about and what do you need from me?’”

Thinking back to the days when she was a newbie, and pondering similar questions, Stamm recalls her first months in E&S. “It was incredible and intimidating,” she says, “and seven years in, I am still awed by the vastness of our industry.”