In this interview, Penny Hoover of Maines Paper & Food Service, Inc., discusses her current role as a safety manager and her overall 20-year career with Maines, which spans across four business functions. Her story is a testament to the variety of opportunities available within the industry. This article is part of a series of IFDA interviews with women in leadership roles in foodservice distribution. If you have someone to recommend for a future profile, please email Theresa Kessler.
Q. How did you first become involved in the foodservice distribution industry?
My parents owned a restaurant when I was growing up and I learned the back end of restaurant operations from them. But I wanted my own career and thought transportation was a good fit for me. When my first job in another industry did not work out, I saw an opening at Maines. I was familiar with them because they had distributed to my parents’ restaurant. I took a job in dispatching and it turned into a 22-year career.
Q. Tell us about your career path at Maines.
One of my biggest passions is education. I love to learn. One of the most appealing things about working in foodservice distribution is the opportunity for individual growth and endless learning possibilities. I started with Maines in an entry-level position in dispatch. From there, I migrated to safety. I went from dispatch to scheduling, then transportation supervision, transportation management, fleet manager, and then to safety. I have found there is a never-ending opportunity for advancement and education.
Q. How did your family respond to your desire to find your own career path outside the family business?
My parents were very encouraging. I’m one of six girls in the family. Not one of us wanted to take over the family business, so they were very encouraging of each of our individual aspirations. I am one of the few family members not in the medical field, so it was a shock that I chose the trucking industry. But they understood this was a great fit for me. It’s an ever-changing education, daily. Additionally, I enjoy working closely with people. That is one of the best parts for me. When you are in the food business you are constantly building relationships with people.
Q. What has been the biggest surprise for your friends outside the industry?
Moving food from one place to another sounds easy, but what we do is very complex. I often need to explain to my friends that when we go into a restaurant and eat a hamburger, there is a lot of work and planning that has gone into getting those ingredients to that restaurant. To educate them on everything we do is amazing. People take a lot for granted as consumers.
Q: What do you like most about your work?
What I like most about working in this industry is that the only limit to what I can do is within myself. There are so many different avenues within foodservice distribution. Sometimes we become short-sighted and look at only what we do on a daily basis. But there are so many different aspects of the business to consider.
For example, right now, if I decided I wanted to leave safety and become a purchasing agent, I could take that path in foodservice distribution. There is such a large arena for growth potential that I highly recommend this industry for anyone. If you are unsure of what you want to do, foodservice distribution is an industry where you can find a path. It is an especially great opportunity for college interns to learn about different areas of business – financial, logistics, purchasing, etc. – to determine what they want to do once they complete their education. The business of foodservice distribution is a melting pot of careers.
Q. You have mentioned your desire for ongoing education and development. Tell us about the two certifications you received last year – the Certified Transportation Professional® (CTP) from the National Private Truck Council and the North American Transportation Management Institute’s Certified Director of Safety (CDS).
What I like most about working in this industry is that the only limit to what I can do is within myself. There are so many different avenues within foodservice distribution.
In 2016, I took a new role with Maines, moving from transportation to safety. I set two development goals for myself: to get the Certified Transportation Professional® and Certificate of Director of Safety achievements to solidify my past experience while validating my new role.
I highly recommend the CTP certification to anyone in the transportation field because it teaches you about transportation, finance, human resources, and technology. The program involves a week away from the office, followed by four months of study before the final exam. During the in-person session, they encourage participants to take on a different role and learn. Since my background is in transportation and human resources, I became the IT person for the project. After that, participants have four weeks to use study guides to prepare for the exam. It was grueling, but highly rewarding.
I completed the CDS not only for myself, but to be a stronger asset for my company. Like the CTP, there is a one-week in-person session. You then submit a business plan for safety. Through the program, you learn about overall safety, equipment safety, policies and procedures, all in the commercial transportation field. And as we all know, that kind of certification is the fundamental of foodservice distribution.
Q. What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
When I assumed the schedule manager role for daily drivers, I needed to use all of my interpersonal and organizational skills very quickly. I started on Mother’s Day week in foodservice distribution. I need to juggle schedules and the personalities of 350 drivers while learning new software and meeting the needs of our customers. I needed to learn very quickly how to gain everyone’s respect so I could do the job successfully. In any business, it is important that you lead with honesty and integrity. If you are honest with associates, that’s how you gain their respect. And that truly was the key to being successful in that position.
Q. What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my perseverance and ability to stay true to the course of increased leadership in a very fast-paced, ever-changing field. I’m very proud to be able to say I have obtained and maintained a management position in foodservice distribution.
Q. What do you think has made you successful in achieving that?
First, I would say my strong interpersonal relationships and ability to gain the respect of people. Second, would be my drive for education and always wanting to better myself. Third, having a goal and knowing what else you want to obtain is important. I’m always driven by the challenge. I took on my current role a year and a half ago. I’m not sure where it will lead me, but I’m sure I won’t stay stagnant. Foodservice distribution will let you grow as much as you want to.
Q. What advice would you have for others who are interested in this field or industry?
The advice I would give is this: no matter what obstacle you may have, hold yourself accountable. If you set and hold yourself accountable to your goals, this is an industry where you can find growth and satisfaction. If you let other people hold you back, that is your own fault. Have there been challenges along my career? Yes. But if you have perseverance, you can overcome any roadblock you may encounter.