Executive Spotlight: Matt Cosson, SVP - Direct/Indirect Procurement & Logistics, ARCOP, Inc.

Professional Development

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

MC: I grew up in a family of successful agri-business entrepreneurs which formed my business perspectives and work interests. I learned early that running a business was tough and you couldn’t take for granted your customer’s trust.  Ultimately, you must continuously strive to prove yourself to your customers, and without them, you can’t survive. I learned that sales revenue is king and everything else in business exists to deliver on whatever drove the revenue. I believe I also gained a healthy subconsciousness for a fear of failure, which I think every business owner has in the back of their mind. You just can’t ever pause or else the business will quickly hemorrhage cash flow. I knew early on that I enjoyed the planning, development, accounting, and analytics side of the business which I ultimately studied and pursued in school.

Early in my career, I was very fortunate to have a tremendous mentor by the name of Mark Godfrey who was the CFO that I reported to in my first accounting roles. We worked in the automotive parts and plastics industries. Mark took me under his wing, developed my accounting interests, and showed me that true cross-functional business development could be achieved in any role, including accounting. Together with a myriad of others, we divested businesses, developed strategic planning activities, implemented ERP systems, improved reporting, and generally made businesses more efficient and profitable. As a result, I’ve been bringing together cross-functional teams to grow sales and profitability ever since.

About nineteen years ago, I changed fields and got involved in the food industry. I entered the poultry industry and fell in love with the complexity and challenges of a vertically integrated business. In that industry, you must do everything from push grain down the Mississippi River, to mill feed, to grow and process your own birds. I was heavily involved in the business development for both fresh and further processed products in the foodservice market segment industry.  While I was in the poultry industry, another leader named Bas Hofland, challenged me to expand my horizons when I wanted to pursue an MBA. He said I already understood business and that his company needed people who understand food, so he challenged me to obtain a master’s in food science. Initially, I was a bit surprised and confused but it ended up being the greatest challenge and most rewarding experience in my career. As a current leader in food procurement, I continuously rely on this technical training to address problems and challenge my teams.

Fourteen years ago, David Cox, ARCOP President, was in the process of developing a new professional supply chain team for the Arby’s brand and brought me into the mix. During this time, I’ve been in various roles overseeing promotion management, distribution, logistics, indirect sourcing, and direct sourcing. Arby’s is truly an amazing brand that has evolved greatly in the last decade. It’s been extremely challenging and rewarding to both drive and support a myriad of strategic and tactical projects for this brand. My career at ARCOP has been especially fun when you enjoy the people you work with and the leadership team is aligned in the pursuit of a vision of the company.

SCS: Your Position is SVP Direct and Indirect procurement and logistics. That sounds like a lot of responsibility.

MC: Ultimately, you must enjoy what you do and who you work with within the organization. I greatly enjoy challenging people on my teams and seeing them both grow and achieve their goals. Ultimately, the brand wins in all that we do.  There are two verticals within ARCOP.  My counterpart manages all promotion management activities, technology, and distribution for the Arby's brand, which is a lot of responsibility also. Donna Eskew is a fantastic leader and person.  Each of us has a tremendous amount of experience in each other’s vertical which allows us to rely on and trust each other. We have quite a bit of overlap in all our project work. Very little of what we accomplish regarding cost reduction, driving sales, or ensuring the security of supply is done individually. You must have great teammates and counterparts across the organization that you trust, enjoy working with, and see the value of differences that they bring to the organization.  ARCOP has a fantastic culture which we don’t take for granted.

SCS: We can't have a supply chain conversation without mentioning COVID-19. How have you been affected in your role and what things were in place when the crises hit that you were grateful for when things got really tough?

MC: So much occurred early in the COVID days to prepare for the unknown. The ARCOP leadership implemented a tremendous amount of communication to our restaurants, suppliers, and distribution partners. We prepared for the worst and addressed countless supply issues. We micromanaged many supply challenges which included roast beef, pepperoni/salami, shake mix, cups, bags, various PPE, soap, sanitizer, gloves, and toilet paper just to name a few. As many companies did, we focused on many items that never needed to be micromanaged previously. Our early safety stock planning and communication paid off in a huge way. The entire ARCOP team came together and worked countless hours to avoid any significant supply breaks. 

We were very fortunate that all our restaurants had drive-thrus. Although sales dropped off considerably in March, they bounced back just as rapidly in April when the business environment stabilized. I generally believe restaurant chains found out quickly how professional and mature their supply chains were. If you were a restaurant chain with a very tactical approach to supply management and didn't have strategic partnerships with key suppliers and risk management strategies, it was difficult just to operate and not break your continuous supply of products. We had great supplier relationships already in place. So, when challenges occurred, we were able to come together and solve the issues. Many suppliers had to choose who they wanted to support. If you weren't a partner of choice, then you probably weren't going to get the full amount of product demand that you needed and required.

Addressing COVID was the most challenging and difficult time for any one of us in our careers. It was by far the most emotional and technically taxing time for all of us. However, we the team, came together in such a special way to successfully support the strongest year Arby’s has ever had. 

SCS: Do you feel like there were changes you made that will probably be permanent going forward? I understand there were a lot of discussions overall about holding more inventory and moving from Just-In-Time to Just-In-Case. 

MC: There were some supply chain practices that were re-evaluated. However, most practices that had been in place were simply reinforced. Early on in the process, we started by utilizing our disaster recovery crisis plan. We looked at what strategic core items were needed to be in place just to keep our restaurants open. We implemented continuous discussions with our suppliers to understand what their safety stocks were and increased them as needed. In some cases, additional holding costs were needed in order to ensure that we had sufficient product going into the fall and winter, which was anticipated to be the most difficult time for our suppliers. At the same time, we’re monitoring distributor inventory and communicating concerns. Additionally, we’ve provided inventory safety stock holding direction to restaurants so they can get through unanticipated supply or delivery issues.

SCS: Can you speak to the technology you're using in your role and how you see future developments in procurement tech benefitting you?

MC: The utilization of technology has always been a big part of how ARCOP has operated. Visibility within the supply chain is the biggest ongoing challenge for most restaurant companies because it’s a fragmented industry.  We’re one of the first adopters with ArrowStream. They provide critical visibility of product movement in our supply chain from our distributors through our restaurants.  Because ArrowStream is so strongly ingrained in our activities, we’re in a great position to understand, predict and react to where supply challenges may occur.  Once companies address this as a foundation, then they can move onto tackling more sophisticated challenges like network optimization, freight management, GS1 tracking and tracing, S&OP forecasting, supplier sourcing risk management, and hedging management to name a few.

SCS: Over the course of your career what skills have helped you the most get to where you are now? Do you have any advice for the next generation coming up behind you that want to follow in your footsteps?

MC: I would say the first advice is to be proactive and selective to work for either a company or a leader who will challenge you to work toward something that is greater than yourself. There really isn't anything that's more rewarding than to successfully pursue something difficult that's bigger than yourself. Make sure your leader knows that you’re available to take on any challenge and be eager. We’re all going to have long hours at work and time away from family, so it must be worth it. There are many leaders that don’t know how to challenge their teams to pursue continuous improvement. So even if it takes making several changes, finding the right fit is critical to one’s career. Just make sure you’re making a change for the right reason because our minds can trick us into convincing ourselves of a situation that’s not true.

No team operates without conflict, so proactively try to understand the root cause of the conflict by talking through it with the people involved to resolve it, rather than ignore or cause the conflict to fester. Always pursue making the team better by actively contributing to solving problems. 

No one ever gets better without stress. It is a critical key to our professional growth that most people want to avoid. Everyone needs to learn to manage stress but never to avoid it altogether. There is a limit but the more stress you take on, the more you’ll improve. Learn to enjoy working with people who require the most from you and who have high expectations from you. They see something within you that they are trying to develop. 

Lastly, those who I’ve seen succeed have always been business curious. Don’t ever stop asking questions. Always provide solutions to issues that exist or socialize potential solutions if you're not quite sure it’s the right one. Push to find the solutions to challenges and issues and never stop being able to adapt, especially when somebody gives you the advice to take a different path. Ask questions, find solutions, take initiative.

SCS: Anything else you'd like to add?

MC: I'm really impressed with the next generation of supply chain talent and their understanding of how to work with technology. The supply chain industry has become very, very complex with the rapidly growing use of technology, all of which is improving the industry and our functions. However, what's missing is relationship management lessons for the next generation. The supply chain absolutely has to have relationship management in order to make sure suppliers are choosing you as a customer of choice. This activity is critical in managing risk and managing the continuous supply of products. Incorporating soft skills with technical training make for a very powerful leadership combination of the future.

When things got difficult during the pandemic, we had suppliers very clearly communicate to us, "We chose to run your product. We're down on people today because of COVID but we're going to run your product and we're going to take care of you. We're going to keep you in supply because we know that we are important to you and you are important to us."  True supplier partnerships are a lasting critical competitive advantage to any supply chain organization.


Author: Supply Chain Scene