Hosts: Chris Gaffney and Rodney Apple

In This Episode:

We speak with Brett Frankenberg, most recently Senior Vice President of Product Supply Planning and Bottle Sales for The Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Brett shares how he got started in supply chain through his curiosity about how things work in the physical operation side, but eventually was given an opportunity to get involved in higher-level enterprise systems. He emphasizes the value of curiosity, being truly engaged, and understanding your impact on others. He advises people to get involved in new projects that stretch their skills and perspectives, noting that it often turns into a career springboard. Brett also shares his thoughts on mentorship and leadership, noting that there are many types of successful leaders that you may work for. He notes that as you lead people through change, you have to put more consideration into how that change is absorbed by everyone in the system.

Who is Brett Frankenberg?

Brett is the Senior Vice President of Product Supply Planning & Bottler Sales for Coca-Cola Consolidated Incorporated (CCCI). CCCI is the largest Coke Bottler in the United States and distributes Coca-Cola products throughout the Southeast, Mid Atlantic, and parts of the Midwest. Brett and his teams are responsible for Network Design and Optimization, Demand Planning, Supply Planning, Transportation, Inventory Policies, and detailed Production Scheduling of CCCI’s 11 Manufacturing Centers and deployment of inventory to CCCI’s 80+ distribution facilities.

In a career spanning over 25 years with Consolidated, he has worked in Operations, Warehousing, Training, Logistics & Transportation, and Supply Chain Planning. Brett earned a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Penn State University and an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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Rodney Apple: [00:01:42] Welcome, Brett Frankenberg to the Supply Chain Careers Podcast. We’re very excited to have you on the program today.  

Brett Frankenberg: [00:01:49] Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Rodney Apple: [00:01:51] I know we’ve got a lot of shared experience here from the Coca-Cola system. It’s a very integrated system between the Coca-Cola company and the various bottling franchise systems, so we’re looking forward to maybe diving a little bit into that and the unique career paths that exist with such a massive system that distributes products in 200 countries basically all over the world. We’d love to get started with a better understanding, the very beginning stages of your career. How did you get started and what are some of those key lessons you learned?

Brett Frankenberg: [00:02:21] I was recruited into a management training program by Pepsi-Cola to work in their Philadelphia manufacturing facility. I was a recent graduate of Penn State, industrial engineering degree. And then I started on the floor as a management trainee.   It was a program where you started on the floor, and you rotated through the various functions, departments, within the operation, at that facility. There were production components, QA, beverage testing, there’s blending, and then there was warehousing, as well and maintenance. You rotate through there and at some point, you get splintered off into a real job. Mine was in the warehouse. And so, I became a supervisor for the warehouse. You generally don’t get the shift of your choice so I was a midnight to 8:00 AM shift. 

Chris Gaffney: [00:03:16] So Brett, I have this debate with lots of folks in my network about the value of working in the physical operation side and how that informs and kind of enables you to be more successful as you advance. Obviously, you have advanced, steadily and significantly over those intervening years. What have been the keys to success for you in that kind of continued path of advancement through the world of supply chain? And how do you think having those hardcore operational experiences in an operating plant, operating warehouse, off shift have helped you be more effective through your career?

Brett Frankenberg: [00:04:00] I don’t know if there’s a magic recipe for this, Chris. I think it’s as basic as doing your job. I had this conversation with many folks. Do your job, do job well, do your job when no one’s looking, do your job when people are looking. Do what’s asked of you and ask questions and learn. Be curious, understand what you’re doing, but understand how it impacts others. Ask others questions. Try and find out how your service or the output of whatever it is you do. How is it received or digested by the next function or out of the groups upstream and downstream? I appreciate consistency and people who do the job, particularly the job I hired them to do. And then can do it in a way that doesn’t generate a wake of issues that you have to clean up afterwards. So, to do it the right way. Don’t take shortcuts.

There’s no substitute for real life experience and on the floor experience. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was a way for me to work with folks on the front line, which is if you look at Coca-Cola Consolidated, we’re frontline company and you never want to lose touch with the ability to understand or the ability to relate to the frontline folks who are out there everyday making your business successful. I don’t know if there is a better way or a better foundation you can have then starting out in an operation and learning how things are done.  

Chris Gaffney: [00:05:30] You’re preaching to the choir there, Brett, so I’m glad to hear that.

Rodney Apple: [00:05:34] As you look at your career, we’d love to hear more about what took you in that direction into planning and procurement after managing multiple sites on the warehousing side.

Brett Frankenberg: [00:05:44] I say to everyone, do your job you’re asked to do. That doesn’t mean you eventually don’t want to do something else and expand your horizons and learn more. So, I was a supervisor on the floor for years. I then went into the training department for the plant and that was more cross-functional and the plant got to work with the various teams. And I loved working cross functional teams. From there, I got an opportunity to join a company initiative to overhaul the supply chain. I joined as a logistics manager doing special projects out in the field. But eventually they were overhauling the planning system. And I guess they ran out of volunteers to take on the modules. So, I got volun-told that I would be leading one of those modules. I told everyone to get an opportunity to get on some sort of step function, change initiative in the company. Those are springboards. It’s kinda like what pitstops are at NASCAR. That’s a way to change the order going in versus coming out. And so the more disruption there is, the more complexities and more chaotic it is, the better it is for someone who’s a young in career to carve a great path, to develop a subject matter expertise in an area because coming out of any type of initiative like that, you’re going to need folks who know the tool, know the business. And what an opportunity to be curious, digest and learn and master a subject.  Anytime we’ve done that with our ERP or any new tool or process, I always watch to see who’s going to come out of this initiative and springboard their career into a kind of a different stratosphere as a result. It’s a great opportunity. Don’t shy away from it.

Chris Gaffney: [00:07:29] Brett, from that first role in planning and people who know you in the Coke system, know that you were one of the most experienced folks in however you describe it, integrated business planning, supply chain planning, not just in the US, but globally, how do you go from taking on the supply planning module in to ultimately leading the planning organization for the largest bottler in the U.S. And what’s that process of becoming an expert enterprise leader in that function. Talk us through a little bit about how you feel like that played out.

Brett Frankenberg: [00:08:04] Well, I can talk about how it played out. I don’t think I had a master plan. I would offer, never underestimate the power of the force of serendipity, and the outcomes that everyone plays. I often think of John Kennedy, when they asked him how he became a war hero and his response was something like, it was pretty simple. They sunk my boat. And so, you don’t always get to pick your circumstance. You do get to pick how you react in the circumstances. You are master and commander of yourself, and how you want to operate, how you want to build your brand.  

I was very curious about the whole system end to end. I wanted to know how orders were taken. I wanted to know how forecasts were generated. I wanted to know why we produced things in the sequence that we did or, was that real or was that an old wives’ tale or were those constraints that were awfully valid in 1970, but not so much so in 2012. I was just curious about it but it’s really a cross-functional exercise, Chris, at that point where you want to work cross-functionally as best you can. But you got to earn that right. You got to earn a seat at the table cross-functionally for folks to listen to you. You have to be credible enough that people come to you with problems that you help solve them. And everyone knows people in their lives where they work with and their family, and their personal lives. If you’ve got a problem, you call this person and they’re going to help you. There’s probably a real short list of folks you know, if you need help on something that they’re going to give you sage counseling. Where they’re going to lean in and help you solve it. And I wanted to be one of those folks on that short list, and build that out and be relevant, not just to the people that I was honored to lead. But my peers I worked with in various functions from selling to manufacturing. I wanted to be relevant, but I knew I had to earn the privilege of being relevant in someone else’s mind.

Rodney Apple: [00:09:56] What were some of the things that you would attribute to your success as it relates to coaches or mentorship? We’d love to hear more about that piece, because I feel like everybody has someone that assists them up that ride in the elevator as they expand their career journey.

Brett Frankenberg: [00:10:11] I was fortunate to work around for most of my career or much of it the individual who hired me, in the beginning. He had an amazing vision for how the business should run. He wasn’t perfect. Right? We all have flaws and ones out there and thinks any leader is not flawed. Every leader has their challenges and has their opportunities. But the coaching and guidance I received was just fabulous, especially for a hard charging Type A kid from Jersey, probably predisposed to not listening most of the time. You want to make sure someone can get your attention, to tell you like, Hey, you’re going down the wrong path here, or don’t do that like that, bad things will be the ultimate outcome. I’ve been in the same role for over a decade now. I’ve picked up areas, areas have been re-orged out, but I worked for an awfully lot of people. It didn’t even resonate with me until one of my direct reports sat me down one day and asked me how I was. I’m like fine. Why? He’s like you literally said, dude, you’ve worked for three different people in the last 11 months, three different senior leaders. And I kind of sat back. I’m like, you know, you’re right. I have. I think you learn as much or more from the people that you report to than the job you do. At a certain level, it’s the coaching you get. Having been coached by so many fabulous senior leaders throughout our company. I’ve worked for three of the six or seven people on the ELT. Directly reported to those folks. So I, you know how to interact with them, how to be successful and talking through ideas or selling your ideas and they couldn’t be more different. 

You couldn’t get more different personalities and mental structures and approaches. But all three are successful. There’s more than one way to heaven. But I guess the key was for me to learn how to navigate and be successful with each leader, which ultimately gave me more arrows in my quiver for how to work with various personalities across senior leadership which was very important when you want to sell change or get people to support the change that you’re advocating.

Chris Gaffney: [00:12:27] A couple of times you’ve mentioned your curiosity, and to me, that sounds like it’s a catalyst and obviously you’re in a situation now where you’ve got a fair amount of assembled domain experience, but you and I know each other and you’re still a pretty curious person. I’d like to get your thoughts on where you got that, cause you’ve leveraged it along the way, and what’s your perspective for others on being open to at least hearing other perspectives and how you use that to your advantage.

Brett Frankenberg: [00:13:00] So that’s a really interesting question. I kind of go back to the beginning, right? I was an industrial engineer. Not by choice. I wanted to be a lawyer and my dad didn’t want me to be a lawyer. So, we compromised and I didn’t become a lawyer. Dad wanted me to be an engineer. And he was right. The thing that I walked away with, with an industrial engineering degree, is this passion to understand the bill of materials for every process or anything you do. When I see someone building a deck, right? You think that there was a process. When you see your car, you know that there was a process. If something goes wrong, you want to troubleshoot the process. So, I just want to understand how things work. And not just mechanical things, but business process things, anything in a company, works for a reason or doesn’t work for a reason. Right. And the question is why is that? 

I think understanding the process and the components of it that, can help you reconstruct it and make you, or grant you the acumen to help massage it or influence it where you can. So that’s the curiosity I’ve always had. And maybe that’s the lawyer part of it, right. So to me that’s just a larger process outside of what you see in manufacturing, logistics, or supply chain or banking or in technology. There’s a way people, at some point, they’re going to make it a formula for how in a playbook for how it should be approached. I think using that playbook, you can try and understand almost anything in your life.

Rodney Apple: [00:14:23] That’s a fascinating perspective. And I think it’s a great outlook, to always be curious. You’ve led the company through a lot of change.  You’ve put in new systems and we know figuring out that process. But we also know, influencing change and leading others, getting everybody on the same bus and getting them in the right seats is the difficult task. How do you go about leading through the change and getting people on the bus and getting to that final destination?  

Brett Frankenberg: [00:14:46] Leading through change is interesting to me and I often cite a professor that I had when I was going for my MBA at UNC Charlotte, and she still lives in Charlotte. And I’ve seen her recently, Dr. Ella Bell. She’s a colorful and interesting lady. In our org behavior II class, I remember this, she had us take an hour a week and watching nature. I was working a lot. We have baby on the way. As part of the program, I had to go sit and watch nature for an hour a week. At the end of that semester, she was like, well, what’d you observe. Okay, well, in August it was hot. In December it was cold. There were leaves on the trees. There are no leaves on the trees in December. She’s like, but it didn’t happen overnight. There was a slope to that line and some days it got colder and some days it got warmer, but eventually the colder days outnumber the warm ones. The key learning there is, there is a path from summer to fall and from fall to winter and you can’t force it. It’s gonna happen. No, it’s not linear. Her overarching theme was you can’t inflict change on a system at a rate greater than the system can absorb the change and expect anything but chaos to occur. And that kind of stuck with me, because I see a lot of change and it’s like thrust upon you.  Whereas they can take a longer glide path and make that change at a slope that can be digested, but project planners don’t tend to think that way. They tend to bucketize their projects and say, all right, we’re going to do this project is two years long and the last six weeks are going to be change management. And we’re just going to cram that change. But you don’t have to do it that way. You can begin to change management at any point in the two-year project. And the sooner you begin it, the gentler the slope is of that change. Now I’m not proposing to know exactly what the right slope is. I would offer is probably different by individual. So, you want to make sure the slope is set so it can accommodate the largest percent of individuals involved in the change. So I think of it that way and I want to be thoughtful. I want to make sure it’s calm. I don’t want change to come to people chaotically. I recognize the environment we work in is innately, chaotic, right? It’s what I love about our business. But that’s not necessarily how we have to manage or how we should manage significant change. And so significant change should be thoughtful, and people should understand the why behind it. I think we’re all agents of change, but again, I think where, and when we can impact the slope of that change, it would be in our own best interests for the success of the outcome for us to do it.

Chris Gaffney: [00:17:30] We’ve talked about the whole debate of having a very planned and formulaic career path versus the unplanned. Where do you strike the balance in terms of what’s productive there and what’s realistic as you talk to the folks in your team?

Brett Frankenberg: [00:17:47] I walk in a room and I’m talking to someone who’s half my age and roughly the same age I was, when I started with the company. For all I know, they just think I’m ancient. It’s amazing when I look over and 40% of my team has less than 12 months in position right now. But as I look over the team, I’m really looking for who’s showing me the curiosity. Who isn’t satisfied with current state. Who’s always trying to figure something out. To solve a problem better, for the business.  

What you bring up is really interesting because as leaders, we have an obligation to mentor, and elevate those who work on our teams. The reciprocal responsibility is on the individual to actually be worthy of being into it. I don’t think we talk about that nearly enough. You just can’t sit at your desk, be marginally engaged. Exhibit the most introverted of all behaviors, and then hope someone crashes through that wall to get to you or have any reaction when the person next to you gets chosen because they exhibit more curious behaviors. 

And so, any teacher wants to teach the curious student. All teachers have an obligation to teach all students, but the reality is the folks that are going to get the best mentoring and the best tutelage are going to be the ones that advocate and are the most curious and want to be the best students. The inputs won’t be the same. The outcomes won’t be the same.  I would implore anyone that is thinking of how they want to grow their career, whether it’s in investment banking or supply chain or anywhere, be curious and engage with people and be engaging.  And you’ll find the road is a lot smoother and leads to better outcomes.

Rodney Apple: [00:20:08] So Brett, I wanted to switch gears. We know, we’ve got the retention issues. You hear the big resignation theme, a lot of people quitting and leaving for greener pastures. Many of those are regretting making those moves, but what are you seeing and how are you combating these challenges today? 

Brett Frankenberg: [00:20:24] Our frontline, I talked about it, is massive, right? And there’s a host of actions that the leaders in those areas are taking to work and develop our frontline associates, and how we connect with and how we build our relationships with folks in the frontline. Within my space, my team is largely all exempt folks, and I see exactly what you’re talking about, Rodney. They’ve been in position for four or five years. Other companies can harvest that experience and recruiters like yourself are going to help structurally connect that.  And so then, we’ll look for talented folks to bring on a team that will lean into and train. There’s reality though, that if there’s 10 people and one manager, then everyone has to have a realistic view of where they want their crew to go, how they want to build their career. So, my team has populated teammates into various functions from marketing to finance, all over the company. There are folks that have roots in product supply planning, and it’s interesting when folks say, Hey, you’re a maker, not a taker of talent and that’s great to hear, but you gotta go back to making, right? The prize for that is you get to make more. But that’s also really, really inspiring to work with people to see them grow in career, and then build out the next generation. But there you’re absolutely right. They’re not just at our company, but any company. You walk in and they’re just an amazing lack of experience. Our job as managers is to onboard people and get them as effective as they can be as well as, showing them a path to a great career.

Rodney Apple: [00:22:06] And on the retention side too, that’s becoming a hot area and companies are getting creative, beyond just throwing money at people. Any changes there in the spirit of trying to keep as many people as you possibly can, especially your best people?

Brett Frankenberg: [00:22:22] My coaching to leaders on the team is that look, let’s really be honest with each other. We have A players, and we have C players. And if you don’t think you do, then don’t listen to this part. Your A players should know that they’re the leaders. They should feel special cause they’re A players. They should not be able to get picked off for a same job for 30% raise.  Your B players, you want to insulate, you want to work with them and see, can they become A players? What route are they going to take? You can replace a B player. The C players are more interesting because you need some churn at the C player level. I don’t see anyone on LinkedIn ever say that, Hey, at the end of the day, I’m a C, a C kind of effort employee, right? Everyone on LinkedIn talks like they are the A player and maybe they are, maybe they have only A players post, right. That’s statistically an outcome that can occur. I don’t believe it. But at the end of the day, your A player should feel it. You don’t want to lose him. You can replace your seat. 

I don’t mean that to sound like they’re not valuable, but there are some role players on every team. But if you, again, look at the winning teams, there’s some really solid players on the team, but then there’s some players going to the all-star game too. And the question is, they shouldn’t be in a situation where it doesn’t feel like they’re being treated like an all-star, and if you’re not an all-star player and think you are, that’s a whole different issue. Why do you think that. And how do you close that gap? Or maybe you can’t.

Chris Gaffney: [00:23:51] You have obviously been influenced by a lot of people along the way. Is there any other exceptional piece of career advice that you’ve received from one of your big influencers that we haven’t covered? What’s the most important, consistent advice you’re dispensing to your folks?

Brett Frankenberg: [00:24:07] Nothing’s going to be hyper complicated here. There’s no theory of relativity. You see folks make decisions in a vacuum on their own. They don’t seek guidance. They don’t make it a team sport. And it’s a complete unforced error. You don’t have to do things by yourself. You can talk to people, build a consensus, bounce your ideas off of others. Let them have input to massaging your mental model. That’s a sign of strength. It’s not a sign of weakness. But I do see leaders that isolate themselves, that want to do things on their own that don’t want to build a coalition of the willing. Anyone who works for me knows that you don’t want to be in the middle of the lake, by yourself, in a boat. Who’s going to help you row back? You don’t have to do that. It’s a team sport. I don’t know what industry you’re going to work in, where it’s not a team sport. And so, bring your peers along with you. Talk to them, get their ideas on how you should approach things. My advice would be to lean on people around you, trust them, and work with them and shape their minds and let them shape yours. But you don’t have to close people off and just think you can figure it out on your own.

Rodney Apple: [00:25:13] Brett, I’ll wrap up with my last question. You’ve worked in a lot of changes, initiatives and projects and transformations, and we’re seeing a pretty steady acceleration of new technologies, there’s automation, robotics, and a lot of that is to try to combat this talent shortage, especially in the operations side of the supply chain. What’s your perspectives were on know, we don’t have crystal balls, but where do you see things heading?

 Brett Frankenberg: [00:25:38] Technology is touching everything we’re doing here. We are on a virtual platform right here having this conversation whereas maybe three years ago, we’d all be sitting together in a room. And this feels natural, right? This isn’t awkward. This is how we work together in 2022. There is a place for automation, but there’s always going to be a place for return on investment. At the end of the day, you have to deliver an outcome. And so, automation for the sake of automation could be a massive waste. It could be a never-ending escalation of commitment that drains you and your resources. Automation has to be pragmatic. You’ve got to have the right automation for the right application. At the end of the day as leaders, we’re all going to be ultimately judged is how efficient are we at allocating capital. When you got the money to go after that automation, you have a finite amount of capital, so other projects didn’t get activated because of this automation. If it doesn’t pay out, then that’s a double whammy. A, it’s not paying out. B, you prevented perhaps a better project from taking flight.

Rodney Apple: [00:26:46] Brett, thank you so much for coming on the supply chain careers podcast. You’ve shared some fascinating insights and perspectives about your unique career journey. Before we close, is there anything else you’d like to add in terms of advice or any wisdom that you’d like to share with our audience?

Brett Frankenberg: [00:27:03] The supply chain industry or supply chain as a field didn’t exist when I came out of college and now I have a room where some of the folks in the room have supply chain degrees. Most do not. I’ll pick up on that point. Supply chain is a fabulous field for curious people who like to see things get done. And we have music majors, psychology majors, business majors, fashion majors, history majors, chemistry majors. We run the gamut, who successful in supply chain because the common denominator is they like to solve problems, like to solve puzzles. They’re good at working with people. They enjoy problems, they enjoy people and they enjoy seeing outcomes be created. It’s a fulfilling career because you see it. There is a scorecard of our in-stock percent that’s published to our company every day. My performance, my team’s performance is graded every day at 9:32 AM. It’s fabulous, right? You either want to be accountable or you’re done. If you enjoy accountability and like to see the work you do come to outcomes, I think it’s just a fabulous, fabulous career.

Rodney Apple: [00:28:15] Great perspective, and again, thanks for joining the supply chain careers podcast. We appreciate your time, Brett.

Brett Frankenberg: [00:28:21] Thank you guys. Thanks so much.