Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn, and tragedy can take your life in a new direction. Robert Wiltgen is a good example of this.
His background included working in a convenience store as well as an employee and then manager for a large pizza chain, which gave him a running start into the foodservice industry. From the warehouse, Wiltgen worked his way up to customer service, inside sales, outside sales and to his current position as a contract and design specialist overseeing bid work. His customers consist of both public and private sector accounts, including colleges and universities, K–12 schools, prisons and casinos.
Wiltgen's life has come full circle. Six years ago, he married his wife Barb, a widow with two children. His brood now includes three kids from his first marriage, Brittney, 23; Kristi, 21; and Sara 18; along with his wife's two children, Hannah, 18 and Ryan, 17.
FE&S: You're known for being very organized. How does that help you and your customers?
RW: When I started doing project work early on in my career, I learned the importance of being organized. When you are working on six or more projects at one time, it's important not to miss anything. It helps to have one of the best project coordinators, Luke Green, and good personnel behind me.
FE&S: Your career has followed an interesting series of transitions. How does that help you better serve your customers today?
RW: We're a catalog company with small and large equipment, so it was invaluable to learn from the ground up. Working in the warehouse when I first joined the company helped me understand the products. From there, I moved on to customer service, which taught me more about customer expectations and how we can fulfill their needs. I learned how to hold manufacturers and customers accountable while being fair, so everyone is satisfied.
FE&S: What is the most important lesson you've learned?
RW: I regularly preach honesty. People need to do what they say they're going to do. Commit to what you can do and if you can't fulfill a request, let the customer know up front. At that point, you can both work together to come up with a solution that works.
FE&S: Describe your approach to working with your supply chain partners.
RW: Our approach is to make sure our supply chain partners understand that we work for our customers but, at the same time, we are their customer. There are times we need reps to go to bat for us with the factory when there's a problem. We have a good relationship with our reps, which helps during a crisis. In this relationship, honesty and open communication are important. At the same time, it's important for us to be present during equipment training, letting customers and reps know we're not satisfied until everyone feels good about the equipment that's been installed.
FE&S: How do you keep your product knowledge current?
RW: I attend both the NAFEM and National Restaurant Association shows. I also go to all training sessions with reps. During slow periods, we will conduct training sessions with reps in our facility. Asking questions is important as well as participating in the training sessions to make sure you understand everything. I've been able to step in when necessary and conduct equipment training. There is a lot to learn, with so much new technology and equipment. It's important to stay on top of it.
FE&S: If someone were starting out in the foodservice industry, what advice would you give them?