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Podcast: Climbing the Supply Chain Leadership Ladder – with President of McLane Grocery, Chris Smith

By Published On: October 31, 2023

Hosts: Rodney Apple and Chris Gaffney

In This Episode:

In this episode of the “Supply Chain Careers Podcast,” we sit down with Chris Smith, who has a rich background spanning from Walgreens to McKesson. Chris got his start at Home Depot has climbed the ranks to become a venerated and dynamic leader in logistics and operations.

Chris dives into his problem-solving approach, emphasizing the significance of six sigma, lean principles, and ground-level operational insight. He shares invaluable advice for rising professionals, highlighting strategic vision, risk understanding, and operational efficiency as key to advancement.

Reflecting on the lessons learned from challenges, Chris points out the unexpected opportunities crises can present. He wraps up with sage advice on recognizing the potential in others and the importance of clear communication, leaving listeners with actionable insights for their supply chain careers.

Who is Chris Smith?

Chris Smith is president of McLane Company’s Grocery division where he oversees all aspects of McLane Grocery, including Operations, Sales, and Merchandising. Before joining McLane, Chris served as senior VP and chief supply officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance, and was the executive vice president and chief supply chain officer at C&S Wholesale, the largest grocery wholesaler in the country. Chris also held senior leadership positions in distribution and logistics with McKesson. Chris started his career in finance at Home Depot and eventually found his way to the logistics area of the business which set the course for his career. Chris has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and serves on Phillips Pet Food & Supplies board.

[00:01:55] Rodney Apple: Chris, welcome to the Supply Chain Careers Podcast. It is a pleasure to have you on today.

[00:02:03] Chris Smith: Yeah, really happy to be here, Ronando. We’ve talked about this for some time and it’s glad today’s finally here. So looking forward to it.

[00:02:10] Rodney Apple: Likewise. Same here. Chris, I’m going down memory lane. When the two of us sat a few doors down from the corporate headquarters or the store support center in Atlanta for the Home Depot, back when it was tremendous growth wild west type of environment In those time frames and back then, you led the finance function for the at the time Global Logistics Department encompassing transportation and international supply chain and all those things.

So It’s been a pleasure to watch your career blossom and how you’ve just moved on up the ladder and I know we’ll get into some of that today on this conversation. One of the things we wanted to start out with is, how you got started on your career journey and what was that pivotal moment? I think I remember when you raised your hand about wanting to switch over into the Op Side, but I’d love to hear your story because you’re going to be the one that tells it the best. So if you could share that with the audience, that would be great.

[00:03:06] Chris Smith: If I think back to how I started my career. I certainly never would have imagined I would have had the career trajectory that I did. I did not start off in a supply chain capacity. I did not go to school for engineering or supply chain studies. I have an economics degree and my career off at home depot in the accounting department, which doesn’t necessarily tie into, why I’m in a supply chain professional.

About midway through my career at Home Depot, we were going through a change where, Bernie and Arthur, who were the longstanding, founders of Home Depot were exiting the business, Bob Nardelli came on board. We were going through explosive growth.

We were finding ourselves adding a store. I think at one point around every 24 hours or a new Home Depot store was being put up. And over time, what we found was. These stores had, less and less annual revenue because we were opening up smaller and smaller locations. And we found ourselves with the supply chain that was not feeding the stores quite the way that they needed to be, that level of profitability.

Bob Nardelli, when he came on board put together A team of folks led by Wayne Gibson, who at the time was the chief supply chain officer of Home Depot. And it was really a cross functional team that was assigned to take a look at three different categories. And I still remember it.

It was something where I was the finance representative and there was representatives from other functions. And it was, in that experience where I got to meet Wayne and other leaders, build a rapport with Wayne. That, served over those six or eight months on that project that led for me to build a rapport with him for me then to follow him after that project to be his director of finance for the global supply chain and logistics organization.

And it was really that project that changed my. Professional career and probably my life in terms of how things shaped up. And it was ironic because I remember after the first meeting , cause at that time I was not an officer of the company. I was either a manager or director. And I remember going into the CFO’s office Carol Tomei, who’s now at UPS.

And I remember knocking on her door to spend just a few minutes with her. Because what I was reflecting on was I think I was only one of three non officers part of this project. And I looked at Carol and I said, Hey, listen, I think you might have the wrong person. I don’t know if you actually really meant for me to be part of this project team, and she asked why, and I explained why, and I remember her feedback was this, she said, sometimes in a person’s career, we’re going to ask you to do something where you’re above that job to take that department to the next level, and sometimes we’ll ask, people to do things where that experience is above them to grow them.

They said that, she said, that’s what we’re doing for you. And she was exactly right. It was a project that was beyond my means at that point. That stretched me, grew me and literally changed my life. And I remember reaching out to her after I got this job here at McLean, thanking her because it was really this experience that put me on a completely different career path.

[00:06:06] Rodney Apple: That’s fascinating, Chris. That’s a very good breakdown of how that came to pass in that transition. Shifting gears just a little bit, though, coming from finance, moving into operations, supply chain. What do you feel attributed to your success when you made that transition?

[00:06:23] Chris Smith: I felt for me the way that I led the financial function for supply chain at that time is I immediately had this general curiosity and interest in the business, not just the numbers, but actually the business of supply chain. And every opportunity that I could, I would be meeting with people and our vice presidents and directors and managers and talking about the business.

Every opportunity that I could, I’d be out there at one of our stores. I’d be at a distribution center. I’d be in the field learning firsthand. And I think it was that kind of natural and immediate curiosity and interest in the business that really blossomed a fire in me to do more of it and more of it.

And I think over time, because of that, I think the leadership within the supply chain organization. You viewed me more than just the finance person, that viewed me as a strategic partner and helping to solve problems and get involved in strategy beyond just the numbers. And I think it was, in that type of experience getting into the field and Being seen as a business partner, not just a finance partner that got people comfortable that they could eventually see me moving beyond finance partner and into actually getting into the business.

And eventually that’s actually what happened is Wayne asked me if I’d ever thought about I think he said coming to the dark side and coming into the business and that’s exactly what happened. He took a shot on me, a person that had never grown up in transportation and logistics and distribution supply chain and gave me my first shot. And it was because of a couple of years of experience of working with me that it felt like I had some of the skill sets that were transferable, into that capacity.

[00:08:05] Chris Gaffney: Chris we always talk about agility in terms of being an enabler to, to success.

So obviously you made that functional leap and succeeded, but you’ve also worked for a lot of, premier companies. And so you’ve been able to be agile, moving. To different types of businesses from Home Depot, to McKesson, CNS Wholesale, Walgreens, and now McLean. You’ve obviously seen a lot in those different settings, culturally, what works.

When you think about what you’ve learned as you’ve gone through those different environments, particularly from a leadership standpoint, what are some of the big lessons as you went? To those different environments that have shaped your thinking and philosophy around leading today.

[00:08:50] Chris Smith: Yeah. Some of these companies have given me experience that have truly shaped how I lead today. And as I thought about this or a number of examples of Ronnie, actually, you said one already, as you talked about your time of where we sat at Home Depot, you talked about being at the store support center.

Okay, that there was not a Home Depot logo on that building. It’s because you came in every single day knowing who your customer was. It was the store and the customers they serve. And I think as a supply chain professional walking in every single day to the store support center has wired me in terms of how I think about my role as a supply chain professional.

It’s supporting the stores that I serve, the customers that I serve in, in their ultimate end customers. So I think that’s, one example. At Home Depot and I think another one was at McKesson, there’s something is when you’re in the pharmaceutical supply chain where operational excellence means something different that if you miss pick something, you know it truly can be life or death.

If you don’t handle a recall, it can be life or death because of the types of products. If I’m late, it’s not an inconvenience. It could actually delay somebody’s surgery. There’s really a couple of things I took from McKesson, I think, beyond just being a really great cultural company that cared about its customers, communities and its people.

I learned what it was like to drive for operational excellence and to measure defects by DPMO or defects per million. Because that’s the level of accuracy that you want. And I also learned, in that business, the importance of continuous improvement. And that’s something that I’ve taken continuous improvement in Six Sigma principles and lean principles into other businesses that I’ve managed. And then, finally, Walgreens I’ve learned a lot about servicing the community and the role that you play servicing a community. Cause I was there during the height of COVID at a point in time where there was more footprint foot traffic into Walgreens and in a long time, because people were coming to get shots in arms because of the vaccine and we were trying to reduce the number of trips shopping. So people were shopping the center store of Walgreens too. And I just learned the importance of around partnering with manufacturers that were also struggling, keeping up with demand, coming up with really, ways you can collaborate to make sure that you could service the communities, that you’re doing business in, because truly at that point in time, it made a huge difference for the folks that we serviced.

[00:11:15] Chris Gaffney: And so bringing all that into McLean, which is obviously another different environment how have you seen that all come to life in terms of as you’ve engaged with the new team as you’ve come into this role?

[00:11:25] Chris Smith: I think first it wasn’t completely brand new because I had the benefit when I was at Walgreens as their Chief Supply Chain Officer, the way that I even got introduced to McLean was they were one of our largest and most strategic business partners.

McLean was and continues to be an important partnership, with Walgreens providing, food service related items to the Walgreens store. And I think, that’s when I got to meet several of the operational executives and business leaders at McLean.

For me to be able to see that, culturally and leadership wise, and just, in terms of doing business, I really had a high regard for Tony Frankenberger and others, in the organization here. And I think for me I was able to, come into a new company by doing something that I’ve always done.

And when I take, kind of new challenges, I have been taught by some of my mentors in the past to always do a handful of things, number one, talk to people above you. And in this case, talking to my boss, Tony, in terms of what’s going on, what do we need to get better at. Number two, talk to the people below you, talk to your teammates.

Find out what’s going on. What do they need from you? Go to your left, talk to your customers, go to your right, talk to your peers, and then, look inside too, look inside with what you want to bring into the company. And it was really doing those five things, talking to those, four different people around me, above me and surrounding me.

Plus, some of the things that was important to me to bring in here that we’ve been able to set forth a business strategy that’s been supported by work that Tony and the enterprise is doing to, set off really some nice improvements that we’re making in the business to support our customers.

[00:13:00] Chris Gaffney: We always get nuggets out of our sessions and we’ll get many from you but that’s a great one. So thanks for that, Chris.

[00:13:10] Rodney Apple: Yeah. And so Chris, I think for our audience, when you look at the companies you’ve worked at and look at the sheer size and complexity of these operations, factoring in the number of distribution centers, their size, the employees then you meld that, especially in the last few years with all kinds of supply chain disruptions, inventory bloat running out of , and many related challenges.

From your vantage point, how do you tackle that? How do you approach problem solving, decision making to ensure smooth, efficient operations? And like you said earlier, making sure we get product to the customers, whether it’s the stores or the end customers.

[00:13:50] Chris Smith: Yeah, we spent a lot of time thinking about that here at McLean and, I think that there’s a few things that we always, rely on and I know I do personally, I think, one of the first things is you got to stay very close to, the left and right sides of the supply chain. We stay very close to our customers to make sure that we understand the problems and challenges that they’re trying to solve and for us to be able to come up with creative and innovative solutions for them.

Thank you. We got to stay very close, with our supplier partners and understand their challenges and how we can participate in helping them solve some of those challenges through, partnerships and capabilities and data and insight so that our suppliers and us together can make sure that we can, meet the, the overarching demands of, the customers that we service.

And in the middle of, all of that. We do try to make sure that we create a very agile business that tries to go from, if there’s any friction, to frictionless. And working very hard to take friction out of the business while at the same time, making sure that we retain our people.

I think that’s a big piece of our strategy here at McLean is making sure that we have best in class retention because we try to be an employer of choice that we were building in a culture of operational excellence with the foundation of continuous improvement. And always trying to go from friction to frictionless, to solve our customer and supplier issues that I think is serving us well in terms of some of the challenges that we’ve had, because it’s been, certainly for any supply chain professional, a challenging last few years.

[00:15:20] Chris Gaffney: I’ll give you an amen on a bunch of those, Chris. I think the employer of choice is a game changer and will be a huge differentiator. And obviously, a lot of those other foundations are fantastic. I think. One of the things I’m always excited to hear is when a supply chain professional gets to take over a general management and leadership of a business, I’m biased because I’m a supply chain person in the early days.

They didn’t perceive supply chain people as people who could run business, but clearly that’s changed. So as you’ve made that transition and you’ve got the end to end accountability for a piece of business now, how have you approached managing all those different functions? And what kind of choices and tactics have you used to make sure you get everybody working in sync to drive the business forward?

[00:16:07] Chris Smith: As a supply chain professional myself, it is exciting though, to see, people at the C suite level and, or at the president level and CEO level that, that have supply chain backgrounds. I think it’s really exciting for the career path, to be able to see companies do that.

And I think for me, as I have thought about what’s the difference when I was, chief supply chain officer of some of these companies versus, the work that I do here. There are similarities, especially when you’re dealing with a company like ours that is in the wholesale environment, meaning what we do at the core is we’re a supply chain driven company because that’s the heart of what we do, so I would say, for years as a supply chain professional, I would think a lot about vision and strategy.

It’s important to have a strategic vision as a supply chain professional. I was always very worried about leadership and culture and financial execution management, and worrying about risk management, especially in pharmaceutical supply chains. You got to understand, kind of risk always very focused around operational efficiencies and talent management and geared towards customer focus.

Always very focused related to, shareholder returns. I guess my point in all of this is a lot of those kind of, checklists of what I’ve done in my past, I continue to do. What might be different though, is the time that I spent in each one of those areas is different. As a supply chain professional, I probably spend a lot more of my time related to those things that are supply chain related from ops efficiencies and projects and initiatives. Where I now I spend a lot more time working with my supplier base and my customer base and industry forums and that type of stuff.

But at the core, I’m still a supply chain professional in a supply chain driven company. That spends a lot of my time related to vision, strategy and operational efficiencies.

[00:17:55] Chris Gaffney: Yeah, that’s great. Obviously that should inspire lots of people and give them that aspiration. So that’s wonderful to hear that.

[00:18:30] Rodney Apple: Yeah. Chris, anything to add, when you think about what you. I’m going to assume likely did not have before that core function is going to be on the commercial side, sales, marketing, business development. How has that transition been with picking up that function?

[00:18:45] Chris Smith: Yeah, that’s a great Comment is, one thing that I haven’t talked so far in this podcast about my background is I didn’t necessarily just go from being accounts payable clerk to a finance director into supply chain capacity. Along the way I did a lot of other things on my journey that I think is has put me in a situation where I can be in a position like mine and have some sort of context for providing feedback through experience. And just as some examples, I think, when I made the transition from my time and transportation at Home Depot into McKesson.

My entrance point in McKesson was in their continuous improvement group. That was really my first time leading engineer labor standards and slotting optimization and getting involved in, six Sigma at McKesson. And that is something that I still rely very heavily on today. I also found as I was coming up through the ranks of McKesson I did go into two different commercial driven roles, one as a general manager within the mid Atlantic market.

And then that time I had both operations and also part of the sales for in the geography that I managed. And then later in my final job, I was a president of one of their operating regions and for the Northeast region. And in that role, I did have full P& L responsibility for both, top line, bottom line ops and two different channels of sales.

Coming into this experience, although the core of my responsibility has been in supply chain, I’ve also done continuous improvement. I’ve done logistics, I’ve done commercial experiences, and I have a foundation of finance that has all lend myself to be able to, have a role like this that really requires that you have good experience in multiple different, functions and backgrounds.

[00:20:29] Rodney Apple: Chris, any advice you may want to share with other leaders as they tackle ongoing challenges and disruptions?


[00:20:35] Chris Smith: I think one of the biggest things that I, and that we’ve had, success here is we did not miss the opportunity that a crisis presents. And in some situations what that allowed us to do is reinvest in things that are gonna shape our future. That what the disruption caused for us is that we had a business that in part, had operational excellence because it had some of the best in class retention rates in the industry, sub 30 percent turnover in our business for both drivers and warehouse COVID disrupted all of that. And we were dealing with retention rates that no longer look like that at all. So the subject matter expertise was gone, but yet we didn’t have, quite the foundation of, building and training talent and acquiring talent the way that we needed to.

And that’s going to allow us to be a better company long term as we build those muscles.

[00:21:27] Rodney Apple: Chris, we touched on supply chain disruptions have created just numerous challenges across all industries. What have been some of the lessons that you’ve learned through your experiences going through these disruptions, COVID pandemic, et cetera? And what advice do you have to share with other leaders and companies that can help them tackle ongoing, future challenges in supply chain?

[00:21:55] Chris Smith: As I think back about COVID, there was certainly limitless number of challenges that, you know, at least in the businesses that I worked directly involved with faced. But I would tell you the number one challenge that we faced was labor disruption. Both in terms of, warehouse, drivers and back office, corporate support. There wasn’t too many areas in the business that did not have, at least for us, unprecedented turnover, as I reflect about, in our long, history here at McLean about, one of the things that has made us great, one thing that has made us great is that we really are a really good place to work.

And we’ve historically had industry, leading retention rates of our people, but we were not immune to some of the challenges that COVID had, and we had many of our, markets that had exceptionally high turnover. And with turnover, we had degrading, productivity and we had degrading financial outcomes.

We had degrading customer outcomes and. I had a boss one time, tell me, never miss an opportunity that a crisis presents. And, we, we need to reinvent ourselves no longer, could we just rely on our subject matter expertise because of longevity, we needed to create new muscle.

And for us, we needed to, reinvent how we hired, how we trained, how we engaged and how we, built standard operating procedures and continuous improvement to make sure that we. We’re really driving operational excellence. Our focus on becoming that employer of choice is actually helping us have, steadily improving, significantly improving, retention over the last 12 to 18 months.

That’s sizably bettering and approaching, pre covid levels. But I would say that we will exit all of this as a healthier company because We can always get back to being able to rest upon the fact that we have institute institutional knowledge again, because we have retention, but if it were ever to shift again and we lost it, we have created new capability through how we approach the business differently.

That will make us much, much more, agile resilient customer company going forward.

[00:24:05] Chris Gaffney: Chris, you’ve got a reputation from a leadership standpoint as someone who is focused and able to deliver exceptional business results. But you’re also viewed as someone who’s approachable as a leader. How do you balance that results driven kind of focus while maintaining open communication, approachability, advocacy and support for the people on your teams?

[00:24:31] Chris Smith: I appreciate that. And as I think about, how I work with teams in people, first I do make a dedicated effort to make sure that I’m actively involved in the business. And people get to know me, even if it’s just a couple of times a year, because we have a lot of different fields, businesses across the country, I still make a point to get into the field and visit all of the operations.

So people, get to know me. As part of that, I try to create a vision and strategy so people understand, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And I also try to connect people with purpose so they understand their role in it. And then we put in the right proper KPIs.

And I think in terms of my style, I always try to be, very direct not really emotional. Very fact based in my approach and have that kind of communication where I’ll just be up front. In working with me, you’ll usually understand where things stand, you won’t have to guess.

And I think, I think over time, I think people appreciate, having that kind of direct open kind of can turn and I accept it from the people around me. And I think over time that people understand that the intent and everything that we do and everything that I do is always for the good of the company, and for the good of our customers, and the good of the people around. And I think that is built over time.

[00:25:45] Chris Gaffney: I appreciate that. I am going to follow up on your employer of choice piece and knowing your business. There are a lot of frontline associates who are in the market serving customers each day. What are some of the things that they would see as you’re advocating, that employer of choice strategy for your true frontline associates?

[00:26:05] Chris Smith: Yeah, I think, for companies that are really interested in being an employer choice. And I know that we are at McLean. There’s so many things that means in terms of how you need to show up for your free people. And what we tried to do over the last few years is, and some of it just seems like normal blocking and tackling, not anything earth shattering, but it’s around, keeping laser light focus.

It’s around understanding what. Is going to make this an attractive place for them. And on the basics, is it a good place to work? Is it clean? Is it orderly? Is it kept up? Is it in good condition? Are there good working conditions? Does my management team engage? Do they care about me? Do they talk to me?

Do they solicit my feedback? Is it in type of environment where I’m going to start on time and I’m going to end relatively on time? And if things are going to require extra work, do I get communicated with in a proper amount of time? Do I get treated fairly? Do I have opportunities? Do I get compensated properly for the work that I do?

Is it an inclusive environment that, you know that I feel like I can have a career path with? I think all of these and many more are the types of things that we made sure when we looked ourselves, in the mirror, could we say that we’re doing the best job as we could? And, fact is, I think over time, especially in the middle of COVID, some of that stuff honestly went away.

And why did it go away? It was because at the end of the day, we were just trying to get boxes out the door and some of the stuff like teammate engagement meetings. And safety meetings and other types of things started to go away because at the end of the day, you’re running a 16 hour shift and people didn’t want to spend an extra 30 minutes just talking. They just wanted to get home. And as the business started to stabilize, hours started to go down over time, became back to where it was. And we re engage with our teams and making sure that all the other things that I just talked about were in place, I think that we’re feeling a lot better in terms of our pursuit and journey about being an employer of choice, but all be it, I think, all companies, it’s a journey.

There’s no finish line to it. You can’t stop.

[00:28:12] Chris Gaffney: Yeah. Thanks for that insight is some people would say that says easy, but does hard. And I think your constant commitment to that, is showing results and we’ll continue to do so thanks for that.

[00:28:20] Rodney Apple: Chris work life balance before we got on this call you touched on that. We haven’t seen each other in a while and we’ve spoken but haven’t come across each other from a in person perspective and a lot has changed over the years since those times back at Home Depot. I remember back then work life balance was pretty challenging.

We were in Saturdays and Sundays often, back in those days, right? Things have changed a lot, though. But when it comes to work life balance for leaders, especially with those like yourself that have significant responsibilities, how do you prioritize this in terms of, your personal interest?

Staying on top of professional commitments, family? Etcetera

[00:29:02] Chris Smith: I think when you choose a career path, the supply chain, in some situations you’re going to be running a 24 seven, business. And it is challenging. And, I can tell you that, just, something as part of, my journey, I haven’t always done the best job around work life balance. Just candidly, but it’s something as I’ve grown older and kids are getting older, I’ve tried to make sure that I do a better job because you don’t get those years back and it means something more as I’ve gotten a little bit wiser with age. And, as a result of maybe some of my missteps in terms of my career journey, it’s something that I’m very focused on as a leader to take my experiences and make sure that I am part of a company and culture that is really fostering an environment where, people can have, balance in their lives.

And I think it’s especially important now in a post COVID environment. I think people have gotten used to different ways of working at different working rhythm where, you know, a lot of our jobs and supply chain still requires you to be, in a distribution center or in a cab of a truck. I don’t think that’s going to be changing too much because that’s where the action is.

But in other situations, we look at jobs of, can you do it differently? Can there be some sort of hybrid? Can there be some sort of, work from home and different ways of doing things? And I think, that is something that in this kind of post COVID, work environment that we’re taking a look at trying to meet people, where they are right now. And that is changing a lot different than it was just five years ago.

[00:30:29] Chris Gaffney: Chris we’ve dealt with all kinds of stuff. We couldn’t have anticipated over the last three or four years. But it’s always part of the leadership role to look to the future and say, how might things evolve? And what do we need to be watching? And how do we need to prepare? What are the trends or challenges that you’re trying to focus on or asking your team to keep an eye on that you think may have a specific significant impact in your business? And, what’s your advice to your peers in industry to keep an eye on stuff and what to choose to address or not to address or that type of thing.

[00:31:05] Chris Smith: A lot of what we talk about in our leadership team is making sure that we stay just like wildly connected to the people that we serve, both our teammates, our customers, our suppliers, and other kind of key stakeholders to keep really aware of, the C suite problems that they’re having.

And, for us, we do spend a lot of time with some of the disruption that we have. I just, I don’t see some of this labor disruption, changing. I think it’s going to continue to be, a hard environment to be able to find, labor that wants to work in distribution centers or work at distribution centers at night or work in freezers or be over the road drivers and, the type of work that we do.

Especially if you’re not just bumping docs in that you’re having to unload, heavy weight of food and actually delivered it into, our customers locations. So I don’t really think those supply chain disruptions are going to go away. I think actually our customers problems are becoming more complex.

I think they’re getting, pressured more with rising inflation rates and interest rates and the importance of operational efficiencies. And I think, collaborative type of styles of working together, reducing costs and being more transparent than ever before and leveraging technology, automation, robotics, and doing it in a very sustainable and CSR type of manner, I think are just going to be themes that continue in that we’re very focused on as a business.

[00:32:30] Chris Gaffney: I think that’s wise counsel. I would agree with you. I think taking care of people and understanding the role of people in work, I think it’s huge. And that balance between where technology will solve. But, I think in our lifetime, there’s still gonna be a lot of folks involved in physical logistics and distribution for sure.


[00:32:48] Rodney Apple: All right, Chris. Last question. We know you’ve worked under some great mentors and leaders. We touched on a couple of those early on, but when you look back at your career journey, leaders, you worked under mentors, what’s some of the most valuable pieces of advice that you’ve received from them?

And is there any advice you’d like to share with our audience?

[00:33:12] Chris Smith: Yeah, as I thought about this question, there was three different people and three different pieces of wisdom that I’ve acquired along the way that, that stays true to how I lead today. And one I’ve actually already talked about before, and it’s actually how I got, what was that fork in the road that shifted me from finance into logistics?

And, the bit of advice here is, I don’t look just at resume. I underweight the important of resumes, especially for internal candidates. And what I look a lot at is around capability skill sets and my belief in them. If Carol Tomei and Wayne Gibson were more concerned about my resume, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now on this podcast.

I probably be in a finance organization someplace because that’s what, six years into my career, what my resume suggested that I could do. But I was around people that saw my capability, my skill sets, and had a belief in me and put me in the right positions to be able to grow and become the person that I am.

And that’s something that I stay true and I encourage my teams to, take shots in the right people, believe in them. If you feel like they have the right capabilities and skill sets to do the job. Another thing that I learned from two leaders at McKesson was how important it is as a leader to be truly engaged, with your people, these two bosses in particular that I had at McKesson, I traveled a lot for work and very often when I would see them or actually every time that I saw them, they would shake my hand and they would never ask me how my business was.

Never. Or how things were going with my P& L. They would always ask how I was doing and how my family was doing. And that wasn’t a lesson where they said, Hey, listen, Chris, as a leader, this is what you want to do. They just modeled that every single time I was around people. It was about me as a person, as an employee, as a team member of theirs, that they truly took an interest in me and that personal connectivity as a boss is something that really has stayed anchored into how I try to operate.

And then I can remember one leader in particular at Home Depot that was just, extremely strategic and a great strategic thinker and had the ability to really prepare. And I learned that to be concise with communication. Was through preparation and I would be sometimes on in his office during the weekend where he was preparing for something for the board or for the C suite of Home Depot and just, watching him go through his thought process and his ability to be able to speak precisely so that people could truly understand his vision and strategy clearly and concisely, which is so important when you’re managing large groups of people.

But that’s something that has stayed with me too. Certainly something when I reflect back in my career, it’s the, thumbprints that these great leaders have had on me. That has shaped me into the person that I am today.

[00:36:02] Rodney Apple: Yeah, Chris, that’s that’s phenomenal advice.

And I just had a follow up because you’ve obviously have pivoted. You mentioned the fork in the road. Is there any advice that you would like to share for those that may feel like I’m siloed? Because I see it in my chair and the recruiter’s chair and supply chain. You work in transportation for so many years.

Sometimes you’re thought of he’s the transportation guy or. Or the SME, if you will any advice for making that pivot like you did obviously that was a bit more, you were invited, persuaded, but for those that are seeking that out, maybe having a hard time, any advice for how they can do this in a proactive manner to make some headway and get to where they want to be?

[00:36:43] Chris Smith: I think two things come to mind.

At least with my journey and although I was invited to the table in terms of the project, what got me into this as a career wasn’t that. What got me into a career was were these two things. When I got into that director of finance role, I followed my curiosity. I didn’t stay in my office.

I didn’t stay within the finance function. I started to act like a logistics professional. I got out there in the field. I was talking to people. I was shaking hands. I was in the crosstalk facilities, or I was in the import distribution centers. I was in the lumber, DCs actually talking to people and acting as much as an operator as a finance professional, and I think that’s really important for people that want to take career swings, from one function or discipline into another.

You already have to start going down that path before you make that change. And I felt I guess by accident or informally or just through just gut, it just happened naturally for me because I found what my passion was. And then beyond that, it goes back to capability and skill sets that are translatable.

Or transferable into something else that I had to see myself. And what’s interesting, I can remember being interviewed for my second commercial job. It was for the president of Northeast region. I was interviewing with the president of McKesson at the time, and his question was this.

I could see if I was interviewing for the chief supply chain officer role. You know why you would be sitting here, but that’s not the job we’re talking to you about. You’re, we’re talking to you for the SVP of the Northeast region. His only question was, why should I hire you for that? That was his only question and I was anticipating that.

So what I did was I looked back at my career as a supply chain professionals with skills that are translatable or transferable into a commercial role. And I talked about solving customer problems and being in customers and talking about negotiations and financial management, meaning I talked about things on my resume that although you might not see it actually connect into being in a commercial function. Because at the end of the day, what I did to prepare for it, I asked some of the best salespeople in our organization, what makes you good at what you do. And when I heard and unpacked what they were good at, it happened to be what I was also good at. It just, I got those experiences in a different way.

[00:39:05] Chris Gaffney: Chris, last one for me. If you had to give advice to Chris Smith back at UMass back in the day, and you could give him one wise piece of advice, knowing what you know now. Is there something that comes to the top of your mind?

[00:39:19] Chris Smith: There’s two things that come to mind. As I think professionally, I can also say in terms of what got me here, some of this happened naturally, not because I made it happen.

I don’t think I was strong enough in terms of going after having mentors, especially mentors, two to three levels above my current position that could help guide my career. It just so happened that naturally through my work, I was able to acquire that. And I will tell you that some of these things, when you ask me around, the journey is my leader that I look for.

I work for exceptional mentors. It just happened naturally for a lot of people it doesn’t happen naturally. And one of the pieces of advice I would have said, don’t bet on that. Assume that’s not going to happen naturally. Go get a strong mentor group and make sure that you get the proper visibility, at least two to three levels up in the organization.

The other piece of advice that I would also give is, as you’re pursuing your career in your journey and, in all those pursuits professionally there would have been a couple of times in my career, at least that I would have said no, but I’m going to attend that remotely or no, I can’t go to that one.

Sometimes I didn’t say no enough. And as a result, I would say that sometimes I sacrifice a little bit too much in favor of professional versus personal. And I missed a few too many birthdays. You’ll never get that time back. And that’s the other piece of advice I would give people.

[00:40:47] Chris Gaffney: That’s priceless. Thank you so much for being super straight with us on that.

[00:40:51] Rodney Apple: Yes, Chris. Fully agreed. Appreciate all the wonderful nuggets of wisdom you have shared. Thank you so much for joining us today on the supply chain careers podcast. We really do appreciate all of the insights and perspectives you’ve shared today with our audience.

[00:41:07] Chris Smith: Thank you very much. I enjoyed it.

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