Executive Spotlight: Sol Rypin, Supplier Quality and Safety, Supply Chain, Chick-fil-A
SCS: Tell us about your background and the roles you’ve held that led to where you are now.
SR: By education, I am a Chemical Engineer and while I was in school my main focus was the oil industry. However, at some point while I was in college, I became very interested in how food was made. So if you think about cereal and ice cream and chocolate; that interest led me to pursue a career in the food industry and later get my master's degree in Food Science and Technology at the University of Georgia. While I was in school I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Washington, D.C., working with a consulting firm, Schramm, Williams, and Associates. I did an internship with them specifically focused on FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act,) along with general federal produce policy. That sparked an interest in regulatory work and food safety and quality. After graduating I worked as a Quality Assurance manager in a beef plant in South Georgia. In that role, I had the opportunity to work on safety and quality programs, but also got a deep understanding of manufacturing and how different functions work together. Production, Quality and Safety, Distribution, Transportation & Logistics - all the cross-functional work that ensures quality and safe products go to stores on time.
While working at the beef plant I had the amazing opportunity to come work for Chick-fil-A. That was 10 years ago. In my current role as a Senior Principal Team Leader in Supplier Quality and Safety, I have the honor to lead a diverse team of professionals that ensure products delivered to our restaurants meet specifications. Our function is part of Supply Chain and within the Supply Chain, we work very closely with other functions in the department. We work very closely with Sourcing, Inventory and Logistics, Distribution, Data and Analytics, and also other departments outside of supply chain to make sure quality and safe foods are delivered to our restaurants and served to our guests. That's how I got to where I am today.
SCS: Through the lens of COVID, how have things changed for you in the last few years? What do you see now that's different and are there any opportunities that came out of disruption?
SR: What our team has experienced is very similar to what other supply chain teams have experienced through COVID. We have become more flexible and faster in trying to find solutions and support all our teams to ensure safe, quality products are delivered to the restaurants. We have taken a deeper look at our programs and we have asked ourselves questions such as how can we be more agile? How can we streamline processes? How is our team working with other departments at Chick-fil-A and where can we add value? I think collaboration and cross-functional relationships have been key. They have always been important, of course, but that has been especially true during the last couple of years.
I think the disruptions have accelerated our team's growth and continue to challenge us to evaluate how effective we are supporting the organization and our Operators. We have taken a deeper look at our processes and also how we can utilize different methods while achieving our goals. I have personally learned to question and challenge the status quo in how we can improve the way we work without compromising safety and quality, which is our team's number one priority.
I've also learned how complicated supply chains can be and the domino effect when there is one link in the supply chain that's broken, which could happen at any level. It could happen at the supplier level, distribution or transportation, and then the whole effect that brings to the industry and how that affects getting products in time to all restaurants.
SCS: Safety, quality, and uncertainty - how did you navigate that without actually being able to travel or to be on-site during the pandemic?
SR: One specific example is how we get eyes into the manufacturing facilities that make products for Chick-fil-A. While in the past it always included an in-person visit, during COVID we had to reimagine and transform the way we worked. So we leveraged technology like Teams calls or Zoom calls with plant personnel. They would walk us through the whole process, and we would tell them specifically where we wanted them to take us, or what specific parts of the plants we wanted to see. We see that as a great opportunity today. We believed in the past we had to be in person one hundred percent of the time. Now we can utilize a hybrid approach where we may have in-person visits when necessary, or we could also do virtual meetings when that's appropriate.
The other example is our partners have also experienced a lot of challenges with COVID such as labor shortages and disruptions. That could affect quality and safety and how they are complying with their own programs. We have been looking at how we can partner together and have open communication about what's happening in their facilities, how that is impacting the actual product and the compliance to specifications, and then how we can work together to mitigate risk and ensure quality and safety.
SCS: With creative workarounds for onsite visits using technology, do you see that continuing beyond the pandemic?
SR: I am a firm believer in building relationships and trust, and one way to accomplish that is by meeting people in person, getting to know our partners, and talking to plant employees. For new partners that we're bringing on board, we want to visit in-person, and have our own set of eyes in the facilities. For ongoing relationships, if there is an issue or a corrective action that we need to follow up on, that is an in-person visit. But also, in- person visits are important even when there aren’t any issues. It’s part of our culture to build strong relationships with our suppliers and distributors, and we do that through in-person connections. I don’t think that would ever be replaceable. In other cases, a virtual meeting, and a virtual walk-through the plant may be sufficient. I see our team utilizing the hybrid approach moving forward.
SCS: It's so much more efficient now, isn't it?
SR: That's right and I don't think we would have ever thought about doing it. We used to believe we had to be there but then we went a full year where we didn't have any in-person visits and we definitely learned a lot from that experience.
SCS: How is advanced technology helping you in your role and is it changing the way you work? I've spoken previously with supply chain people who mention how much tech has affected what they're doing.
SR: Yes, definitely. Our team looks at ways in which we could leverage data to work more efficiently and make better data-driven decisions. We work very closely with our Data and Analytics team as well as our DTT (Digital transformation and Technology) team, sharing what our needs are, what our requirements are, and discussing how we make sense of the data available through better reporting. How could we have more accessibility to the data that may not be readily available? How do we get faster data from the restaurants so we can address issues promptly? Another topic that's big in our world is traceability. How can we leverage our existing technology to gain more visibility into the supply chain? Ideally, we want to know with a high degree of accuracy where product is and how much there is of the product. For our team, this ability is key to make better decisions more efficiently.
SCS: Switching gears a bit. Apart from experience, what skills can help the most in developing a career in supply chain? How can a student or young person really stand out?
SR: I think both technical, as well as interpersonal skills are important. The fact that Chick-fil-A has built great relationships with our partners over the years is what helped us get the supply that we needed and continues to help us during current supply chain challenges.
The ability to build and maintain relationships is key.
On the technical side, I've talked a lot about data in this conversation, so I do believe that it's very important that students understand data and make good data-driven decisions. Leadership skills are also vital. The ability to influence others, find common ground, and collaborate cross-functionally is essential to being successful in this field.
There are a few ideas that I have found helpful personally, like reading leadership books, attending conferences, finding a mentor in school or in the industry. I would add that there is a lot of value in leading in the community or in your school, being able to work with people from different backgrounds, different personalities, and rallying people to have everyone working towards the same goal is great practice that can help students prepare for the future and for our future supply chain.