Executive Spotlight: Dennie Sandefer


December 20th Interview: Dennie Sandefer, Senior Director of Purchasing, Zaxby’s Franchising, Inc.
Dennie was interviewed by Tu Ahn Pham, 2nd year MBA student at TCU

Tu Ahn Pham: Can you tell us about your background and specifically about the journey to your current role as a Senior Director of Purchasing of Zaxby's Franchising, Inc.?

Dennie Sandefer: I started college with aspirations to be a veterinarian, but the competition for acceptance into vet school was tough. The year I applied, there were 155 of us vying for 21 spots and when I didn’t get accepted, a department head from my university convinced me to take an alternate course with my education. As a result, I became the first female to graduate with a degree in Poultry Science from Mississippi State.

I spent the first eight years of my career in the poultry industry before accepting an opportunity at Popeye’s as a Poultry QA Auditor where I traveled to poultry plants that supplied the restaurants. I later moved to Nashville and expanded my QA responsibilities to include purchasing with another chain before accepting a position in Purchasing/QA position with Bojangles’ in the mid 90’s. In 2006, I relocated to Atlanta to join the purchasing team with Church’s and finally made my way here to Zaxby’s in Athens, GA.

TAP: How did your background (Poultry Science) facilitate your career?

DS: I never realized how a foundation in the poultry industry could open up so many opportunities in the restaurant industry. I think having a degree so relevant in the foodservice business was advantageous for me.

TAP: Have you studied any courses/certifications in Supply Chain Management? And how do you develop the skills that you need for your career?

DS: I did take courses in preparation for the CPM designation; however, I have been fortunate to work with insightful leaders that helped guide and mentor me toward supply chain.

TAP: I heard that you have worked in the Q.A. area, distribution area, and purchasing area. From your experience, would you mind explaining how these three areas relate to each other?

DS: The adage “the right product at the right place at the right time” comes to mind when I think of the combined efforts of these three areas of responsibility. Visually for me, it is like a three-legged stool that will not function properly if one of the legs fails. Each of these areas relies on the other for proper execution and completion. We have great team here that collaborates daily to ensure products arrive at the restaurants in a timely manner and in safe condition so the managers can focus on our guests.

TAP: Would you please take me through an average day? What excites you most about the work you do? What is the challenge (if any) in your job?

DS: One thing I have discovered in supply chain is there usually isn’t an average day, but that is the very thing that keeps it intriguing! We work closely with so many different departments, from I.T. to Marketing, Culinary and Operations to name just a few. We interact with our suppliers to understand their challenges and processes so we can collaborate to make it beneficial for all involved. We problem solve on a daily basis and rarely are there two issues that are the same. We get to be inquisitive and learn about new products, systems, and programs regularly. We get to stare into our ‘crystal ball’ and provide forecast models for future promotions or take positions on commodities….And that’s just within the first two hours of the day!

TAP: How do you see the future of supply chain management in the next 5 years? How do you and/or your company adapt to that future?

DS: Access to reliable information is critical for the supply chain to function efficiently.  It is imperative we have excellent communication, analytics and access to data between the supplier, distributor and end user in order to make the best decisions for all involved. Technology will continue to be front and center as guests gravitate toward third party delivery, mobile ordering, loyalty programs, etc. Off-Premise food demands could impact future sales and growth the next 5 years. Informed consumers will continue to seek craveable, flavorful foods while demanding transparency into the food and beverage ingredients. Distribution will become more challenging as drivers age and regulations continue to shorten the hours a truck can travel. We will continue to work with our suppliers and distribution network to develop strategies to source, produce and distribute more efficiently.

TAP: What do you think makes a successful supply chain professional?

DS: There are a lot of hard skills that make the job more enjoyable and make positive impacts on profitability. However, in my opinion, the soft skills will help accelerate your career. Skills such as being someone who is willing to listen, to be inquisitive and demonstrate confidence in uncertain situations and being a person who can balance risk and reward. Also, showing compassion, being honorable and ethical are important. 

TAP: Do you have any advice for supply chain students who want to start their careers in supply chain management and/or in the restaurant industry you are working in?

DS: Go for it, talk to as many professionals in the industry as you can to get their advice and insight to this industry. Work during summers and semester breaks to get exposure to ensure this is the right path for you. It can be an extremely rewarding career.