Executive Spotlight: Bart McClean, Director of Procurement at Potbelly Sandwich Works

Professional Development

SCS: Tell us about your background and roles that you've had that got you to where you are now.

BM:   Well, I have always had a passion for the restaurant industry, and I began my journey in high school working as a barista and server.  I continued serving in college and ended up at Chili's my senior year. Upon graduation from Bradley University, my career search led to multiple sales and retail/restaurant management opportunities; ultimately, I decided to take a manager position and continue my tenure with Chili's. I then focused the following 5+ years utilizing my problem-solving and versatility skills to assist multiple Chili's throughout the Chicago area in need of operational support, providing me with broad experience managing all aspects of full-service restaurants.

From there, I was recruited by Potbelly to help open the first drive through unit in the chain’s history.  Soon after, I was promoted to General Manager.  Having had great success as a manager, in 2012, I was presented with an opportunity to go into multi-unit management or join the business side of Potbelly. I chose to go into supply chain and started off managing the indirect procurement spend. I quickly learned procurement and started taking on food and beverage responsibilities the next year. For the last 10 years, my procurement knowledge has expanded vastly, and continued to grow as a leader through my various roles.  I have been in the Director position for the latter half of that time.

SCS: How has your job has changed in the last two and a half years?

BM:  In the early phase of COVID, we had fewer resources and more supply issues than ever, and everything became much more challenging. For me, it required a stretch assignment to run all the procurement operations and help with the distribution side of the business. I was able to get firsthand working knowledge of distribution that you can only learn with a hands-on approach. I had cross-touches before that, but not actively involved in distribution up until that point.  Suddenly, we had an all-hands-on deck approach to keep our supply chain moving forward.

SCS:  Can you offer any insights from the craziness of the last two and a half years?

BM:  Despite having fewer people, we had a great core team with decades of combined experience in the chain. We utilized our expertise and our network of resources to keep things moving. It was a big test of our team’s resiliency with all the supply issues that we did have. However, we became much more reactive than ever before.  Living in a world of reactionary response versus a proactive approach is not the place we wanted to be, nor could it be sustainable for the long term. 

Through hard work and perseverance, we accepted the challenge to stay proactive and improve our situation. Something that we started years before COVID was a secondary supplier program where we implemented dual supply on every essential item in the pantry. That initiative has continued and even had to be bolstered through the pandemic. In some categories, we had three or four suppliers lined up and leveraged those relationships to maintain supply. Having more qualified suppliers in the network that could flex as we needed them, helped us through those trying times. Looking forward into the future, we're continuing to build a bench of qualified suppliers, and that's key to making our supply chain effective.

Now, we're back to being fully staffed, and have new people in new positions. We have adapted and become nimbler, staying ahead of the challenges. With all the pricing challenges this year, staying knowledgeable on commodity trends is critical.

SCS:  How much does technology help you manage your day-to-day?

BM:  Technology is no doubt one of those things that can help us be more efficient. One of the things we have implemented is cloud-based contract and document management software. We are leveraging that through a process that includes a more seamless document flow versus antiquated Office documents being transferred via email.  Beyond that, I see traceability and supply chain visibility technology as very important and being implemented in our industry. When discussing the subject with other industry leaders, better supply chain visibility is a common theme.  We continue to evaluate technology that can create more efficiency within our system and, when appropriate, implement those tools.

SCS:  Aside from experience, what skills do you think can help the most for a person who wants to develop their career in supply chain?

BM:  I've got three 'H' words:  stay hungry, stay humble and be helpful. To stay hungry, look for ways to grow. Look for those stretch assignments that can broaden your business acumen and build upon skill sets that you already have. Look for ways to grow as a leader. Be hungry for those opportunities. To stay humble, remember there's always something new to learn. When you realize that you don't know everything, it allows your mind to learn from others. Be an active learner and act with humility.  And then the last one, helpful - helping others creates a bond. Teamwork is a value at Potbelly, which I've embraced throughout my career. Being helpful not only makes me feel good, but I think it also makes other people feel good.  I’ve always respected helpful leaders and I try to embody that throughout my life.

SCS:  If you could put your Nostradamus hat on, how do you see your job and supply chain changing in the future?

BM:  Well, I have been known to be a guy that wears many hats, both literally and figuratively; unfortunately, fortune telling is a skill I have not yet mastered.  However, we've learned that things can change, and quickly affect everyone, no matter how many years in the industry. Change is inevitable, and I am ready to embrace it when things deviate from the set path. At Potbelly, we're about to enter another period of growth. I've seen that throughout my career at Potbelly and we've more than tripled in unit count since I started with the company fifteen years ago. Moving forward with this next growth phase brings a lot of change to the supply chain. Personally, I look forward to continuing to learn and grow as a leader in the industry.  Opportunities to share my knowledge and experiences with others, like this interview, are something I will revel in the future as well.      


Author: Supply Chain Scene