Executive Spotlight: Paul Lindquist

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September 14, 2018 Interview:

Paul Lindquist, Director of Procurement, Buffalo Wild WingsRachel Manthei, 2nd year MBA Student, TCU Neeley School of Business, conducted the interview

Rachel Manthei: Can you walk me through your journey to Director of Procurement at Buffalo Wild Wings? What other positions have you held?

Paul Lindquist: I went to Ohio State and studied Logistics. When I came out it was a tough job market, graduating in December of 2008. Not being able to find anything in my field, I went to work for Enterprise in their Management Training Program. I held various positions there and was there for about 3.5 years. During that time, I was also in the National Guard, commissioning after college as an artillery officer. My unit was deployed to Afghanistan. While there, I managed contract procurement for the US bases and doing projects for the Afghan people on behalf of the Afghan government (building roads, providing technology support to the university, etc.). This got me back to a supply chain role, with project management, follow-ups, tracking, and other things. When I came back from Afghanistan, I decided I wanted to find a job in the supply chain field and got an opportunity to work for the purchasing co-op for Wendy's, working as a distribution analyst. I then moved over to procurement, which I really enjoyed. I was then given an opportunity to work for Scott’s Miracle Grow and experience the CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry and something with more of a focus on packaging, as that was an interest of mine at the time. After a short time, I received a call from Church’s Chicken about an opportunity in Atlanta and took that option. There I was responsible for packaging, but also got the opportunity to handle roughly half of the SKUs, mostly ingredients, flavors, and commodity management. Because it was a smaller supply chain team, I got to work with distribution and in other areas besides procurement. From there I moved to Buffalo Wild Wings, taking over the food, beverage, and packaging team, where I have been for the last seven months.

RM: That is a lot of different experiences happening in the last ten years of your career. I’m curious, with all of the different experiences you’ve had, requiring different skills, what skills would you say were the top transferable skills you developed along the way in the different roles?

PL: I would say the biggest thing to move laterally as you go company to company are the soft skills: interpersonal skills, developing how you build cross-functional and team relationships, advising and providing feedback to those even in higher positions or other departments than you, having influence without authority, and figuring out how to get things done in different environments. People tend to respond well to people who treat them with respect and understand their priorities and goals, so learning how to figure out what’s driving somebody else is a big factor and helped me be successful in multiple places.

RM: Have you ever held a position where you felt unqualified, at least at the beginning, because of a lack of experience? How did you overcome this challenge?

PL: Certainly. I’ll go back to Afghanistan. By training, I was an artillery officer, however, we weren’t doing a normal mission, it was more of a “hearts and minds” kind of mission. Doing contracting was completely foreign to me. I had no familiarity with the government contracting process, statements of work, or construction and how to evaluate that. I had to learn a lot of things on the fly, for example, when you’re building a road, there are different grades and different levels that have to be evaluated before completion. Ultimately, I was responsible for the US dollars spent on these projects, and if they weren’t completed according to the level necessary, I was financially responsible. From that perspective, I had to learn a lot of things that were completely out of the norm from what I thought I would be doing.

RM: That sounds very challenging, in many different ways.

PL: Yes, I wasn’t really planning on it, either.

RM: So, talking about your current role now, can you give some background about what your day-to-day looks like as Director of Procurement?

PL: Restaurant procurement is a little different than a lot of other industries. We, for the most part, use third-party distributors, who maintain their own inventory levels, purchase the products from our suppliers, and distribute them directly to the restaurants. From a supply chain perspective, we’re not really issuing a lot of purchase orders or managing inventory levels. We’re focused more on strategic negotiation, assurance of supply, and cross-functional support. As it comes to that, my goals are structured around: how do I achieve bottom-line cost savings, how do I support top-line revenue growth (both from a marketing and culinary perspective, improving the guest experience) and how do I ensure with our suppliers and distribution partners that we’re not running out of product, that is, are we taking appropriate risk mitigation measures to ensure our price and supply chain remain intact?

RM: Great. Thanks for giving a contrast to how a traditional procurement position varies from the restaurant industry. Can you talk a bit about technology and how that affects your role in procurement? Are there any new technologies being put in place involving procurement at Buffalo Wild Wings?

PL: For us, because we use a third-party distributor, getting access to data that may be available through an ERP (enterprise resource planning) is not something we have access to. So, we have to work with companies who can create a bridge, so we can see purchase data from distributors and sales data from the restaurants to ensure supply, pricing compliance, and that restaurant purchasing is where it should be. Interacting with these tools, as they become more refined, is really important for our space. Many of those tools are starting to add more predictive modeling so that we don’t have to do manual forecasts based on commodity changes--it will automatically come to us. As more things become automated with the systems, it makes it easier for us to do that portion of our jobs, so we can focus more on the strategy portion of our jobs.

RM: Can you walk me through the process of evaluating a supplier?

PL: For direct commodities, we will look first and foremost at supplier ability to ensure supply. The next qualification will be the financial impact of the supplier. So, do they have the capacity, best practices and quality assurance measures, won’t get shut down, and the ability to produce for the need? And, immediately after that, we will look at what the impact is to our bottom-line. After that, we’ll look at the soft criteria: what is their relationship like with our distribution partners, what are the innovations they have, what does their marketing support look like, what consumer data do they have, how are they for on-time deliveries, what’s the employee retention rate? These are all slightly less objective criteria, but still used in a weighted manner for evaluation.

RM: Well, one last question for you. If you were to give advice to students looking at professions in the restaurant industry in supply chain, what top skills should they focus on developing during their time in school?

PL: Some of the biggest ones that are often overlooked are familiarity with Microsoft Office products. If you’re going to come into the supply chain field, you should be very strong with Excel, have some knowledge of Access, the ability to put together a decent presentation with PowerPoint, and use Word for a recommendation summary. The other big thing is that interpersonal interaction. Whatever role you come into – supply chain, marketing, operations – you will have to interact within your own department and cross-functionally, and if you’ve never developed the soft, social skills to do that, you will make it a lot harder on yourself to get some very basic things done.

RM: Do you have any specific ways you developed those skills personally?

PL: There are a lot of great tools you can use. If you’re in school, take opportunities to speak publicly, lead classroom discussion, and take coursework focused more on presentation and group projects vs. the traditional midterm/final approach.

RM: Excellent. Thank you very much for your time today.