Sue McNulty's future may have been predestined. She worked at Paramount Restaurant Supply Corp. in Warren, R.I., the summer between her junior and senior years at Babson College. The connection—one of her professors was the sister of the dealership's outgoing president Stephen McGarry. This gave McNulty her first and sole career opportunity back in 1988. "They offered me the job when I graduated, and I took it," she says.
At first, McNulty had no real title. She worked directly with McGarry, familiarizing herself with the industry and accompanying him on sales calls. "I started out in his back pocket and eventually outgrew that space," McNulty says.
In 1999, McNulty moved to her current home base in New York City, and now serves as the company's only rep in the area.
FE&S: How do you go about building teams that include various supply chain partners that your clients need?
SM: It depends on the client. Some come in with specific wants and needs. They already know who they want to work with. For example, the chains are more specific. They will do a lot of research and development and tests that help them specify equipment. Then there are times the client will leave it up to us. We tend to specify who we're most comfortable with. We will look at their menus to see what the client will be doing.
FE&S: What's the best way for someone new to get to know the foodservice industry?
SM: This is not something you can go to school and learn. It's really indoctrination by fire. Experience and exposure over time are key. It's about becoming educated on different products and how they are used, knowing the pros and cons, etc.
FE&S: You are located in New York and yet your teammates from the company are in Rhode Island. How do you ensure your team functions effectively?
SM: This was one of the concerns when I moved from Rhode Island to New York 12 years ago. The company never had anyone work off premises. But I was traveling to this area every week and, as my business grew in New York, it made sense. The relocation has helped me learn to delegate better.
FE&S: What's the most important lesson you've learned working in the foodservice industry?
SM: It's not really foodservice specific, but I've learned to rely on a lot of people, to be honest and ethical and work as a team. Everyone at our company is one big family assigned to different projects.
FE&S: Describe your customer service philosophy.
SM: It's all about paying attention to the details and always making customers feel important. One of my biggest strengths is that I am accessible, no matter if it's the daytime, nighttime or weekend. I always return all calls and e-mails. Whether the news is good or bad, everyone appreciates good communication. It's better to put it on the table from the beginning. When it comes to the day to day oversight of the jobs, we have great teams of people in place who are highly capable and are able to handle the immediate needs of our clients' service calls, quotes, job coordination, etc. This frees up my time to go get more business.
FE&S: What steps do you take when getting your mind around a new project?
SM: It depends on the project. If it's something I'm unfamiliar with, I make it my duty to become more educated. I begin by researching on the internet and talking to people. I will sit in a client location, if they have one nearby, or [look at a similar] concept to better understand what the client is trying to achieve. I try to frequent as many hot new restaurants as possible, even going to four in three hours. It's good to have a handle on what's going on in the industry, in addition to the projects I'm working on. This is helpful to my clients.