Executive Spotlight: Donette Beattie, VP Supply Chain, Toppers Pizza
Executive Spotlight: Donette Beattie, Vice President of Supply Chain, Toppers Pizza Inc.
Interview conducted by Amanda Pape, 2nd year MBA Student at Texas Christian University
June 25, 2019
Amanda Pape (AP): Thank you for meeting with me today. To get started, I was hoping that you could tell me a little bit about your background and the roles that you've had that led you to where you are now.
Donette Beattie (DB): Well I didn’t start out thinking I was going to be a supply chain professional and at the time there was no degree or course work in supply chain. I changed my major three times and landed on being a dietitian, so my formal schooling is in nutrition and food science. After college I started as a counselor doing weight loss counseling and exercise programs. It was rewarding work, but didn’t pay the bills. This lead to the restaurant world and I started my operational background with Ground Round going through their management training program. From there my Sysco (food distributor) sales rep recruited me into food sales. My contacts in sales led to many more opportunities as I moved on to Country Kitchen, Culver's, Steak n’ Shake and my current position at Toppers.
I found over the years it was invaluable to embrace the opportunities in front of me with an open mind. I chose Toppers because they’re a fun, up and coming brand with a youthful and edgy vibe. As you move through your career you get to know yourself and where you thrive and enjoy your work. I wanted to play in that smaller, fun, edgy and less corporate space. While I followed a very non-traditional path to get into supply chain for me it was a question of “which widget?", And for me the best widget was food! I really have an affinity for the food side of the business and moving food through the supply chain.
AP: That’s ultimately related from your original degree plan.
DB: Exactly. I've encouraged a lot of young dietetic students to not lock [themselves] into a hospital role because it can be limiting. Whereas the supply chain side of food is so diverse and there's so many aspects and ways you can approach it [with a nutrition background]. I also feel the earning potential is excellent. It’s in high demand now because there's a gap with the boomers exiting the field and younger people just entering the job market. We have older highly experienced supply chain professionals and we have younger highly educated supply chain professionals, but we’re kind of missing that middle area. Those coming into supply chain now can build on the systems in place and with advancing technology take it to a whole new level.
AP: Since you mentioned that you had mostly on the job training, unlike myself or my classmates, I was wondering what skills you feel are the most important for us to have in order to be successful in this field?
DB: To start you must have knowledge of the supply chain area you're working in. For example, I'm in food and every day I'm using most everything that I learned about food science. So to me it’s equally important to know your product line and the industry nuances that you're working in.
The second thing would be communication skills. Technology has moved us away from quality communication and supply chain is very cross-departmental or cross-team functional. You must have the ability to communicate across a broad group of people. In my case, I'm dealing with farmers, suppliers, processors, distributors, and all of my internal stakeholders whether it's marketing, finance, operations, franchisees, general managers, and store operators. Plus we're also dealing with customers, the final bite where the food lands. For a lot of people it's all about the technology and while everybody coming up in supply chain will need that piece, communication is equally critical.
Public speaking is another piece that I would align with communication, because the ability to talk to a large group and articulate your ideas is important. For example the work that I'm doing with the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) group, on the food service side, is related to how we link everybody together. Everyone says technology is the answer, which is ultimately correct, but before the technology we first need to communicate on the different needs and goals so the final product will serve all users present and future.
AP: How do you stay up to date with the industry and make sure your organization isn’t falling behind industry standards?
DB: One way is reading. I know there’s not always a lot of time to read, but for me I’ll just follow a path based on the current work I’m doing. For example, if I'm thinking about vegetable-based proteins, then I’ll read articles about them. If I'm looking at third party aggregators and how they're impacting the flow of our groceries then that’s what I'm reading about. You’ve got to read constantly and stay current with the news of the day, your industry and outside forces that can disrupt your world.
I also stay involved through industry organizations. The IFMA group I referenced really encourages students and executives to get involved. They have many committees that participate and drive different agendas. Right now I'm working with them on a small chain initiative. How Toppers as a smaller company runs their supply chain is different than how a 500 or 1,000+ unit chain operates. We're looking at the differences in those supply chains and what the need sets are. So definitely embrace opportunities to be involved in committees and be on the front end of what is happening in your industry of choice. The more connections you make and the more networking that you do, the more opportunities will come to you.
Every industry that's selling anything has a supply chain. So what fascinates you—is it airplanes, cars, makeup, vitamins, food? You can follow your passion and impact it in the future. My nutrition background has continued to serve me because of the work around nutritional labeling, clean label initiatives, sodium reduction, allergens, sustainability and those types of things. So you can still follow your passion within supply chain and help to specify and evolve what those products are. I think it's a really cool field to be in and empowering to drive positive change.
AP: I would agree completely. That's why I'm studying it. On behalf of all of the pizza lovers everywhere, I thank you for making pizza healthier. I was hoping that you could walk me through an average day in your shoes. For example, what are your primary responsibilities and initiatives as Vice President of Toppers Pizza’s supply chain?
DB: It's ever-changing and it's a little different every day. I can group my work into four areas. One is the purchasing piece. That piece is working on contracts, talking to our vendors and distributors, negotiating prices and reviewing products. The second area is innovation and product development. As part of our innovation team we review and develop new products for roll out to our system. The third area is quality assurance (QA). Which can be either proactive looking at products to confirm they meet specifications or reactive in response to an issue in the field. The last piece we work on is risk management to insure uninterrupted supply.
AP: Are there any other ways that you foresee your job or the industry changing in the future?
DB: Now more than ever, we are looking at things that save labor and/or that can simplify a process. We’re seeing labor costs increase and availability of labor decrease. Another hot button for the restaurant industry now is the third party aggregators. This would be companies like Uber Eats, Grubhub, EatStreet, etc. They remove some labor because they deliver the order for us, but the technology to bring that order into our system is somewhat clunky. Each company has its own tablet sending orders to our stores which we in turn have to re-key into our system. In the future we need to see that process streamlined. Long term we should see some labor reduction and increased sales but it’s in its infancy right now. Other drawbacks are the cost for such services which need to come in line for restaurant operators as well the loss of customer data which they capture but formerly would have come to us.
AP: I sure do appreciate your time and willingness to speak to me today. In closing I was hopeful that you might share the most influential piece of advice that you have ever received.
DB: I was fortunate early in my career to be working with leaders who didn't solve problems for me. When I brought them a problem, instead of saying “Here's what you do” they would ask me, “What do you think we should do?” This gave me early critical thinking skills and made me lay out the solutions for them. They would give input and we would discuss what the best possible solution was. I would say the other piece of advice I would give is to embrace change because [supply chain] is constantly changing. If you embrace change and get comfortable with it, I think you'll be more successful because you're willing to look at and listen to new ideas and you're willing to have your mind challenged or even changed.