Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Out of the Shadows, or The End Is the Beginning...And a Few Thank You's

Greetings, Beatdowners!

So I start my new job tomorrow - my second new job in an 87-day period. And to top this one off, I'm starting a new CAREER in a new INDUSTRY...and I gotta tell ya, I'm pretty friggin' excited about it.

I've been in and around the foodservice distribution industry for what seems to be my whole life. My dad worked for PYA/Monarch, which became JP Foodservice, which eventually grew into US Foodservice. He started there when my family moved back from Boston...I'm guessing back in 1976. I was 5. He was with the company until 1994. He left on Pearl Harbor Day. Funny how I'll never forget that.

Anyhow, his last position with the company was Branch President of the then-JP Foodservice branch on Telegraph Road in Severn, Maryland. He actually helped the construction company design that building that still stands there today. I had the privilege of working there while my dad was in charge...I started off working in Merchandising, and I eventually moved into a Sales Territory Manager position. But in all actuality, I was around that branch almost every summer prior to that doing something - working with A/R, working in Equipment & Supply dad always had something for me to do to earn some money.

I left my sales job in 1995 and went back to college to get my ever-elusive degree...which I finally did in May, 1998 (12 years ago tomorrow, 5/27). I worked for Towson University for a little bit - just over a year, when my oldest brother - who worked at now-US Foodservice corporate (he had been with the company since the early 90's when it was still JP Foodservice) - gave me a call to let me know they were hiring buyers. Seemed like something I'd be able to do - and the pay was better. I interviewed (with someone who knew me and my family) for a total of 15 minutes, and was offered the job on the spot. Two weeks later (August, 1999), I was a Product Line Manager in the National Purchasing Department for US Foodservice, Inc.

It was a challenging job. Demanding. Long hours. Pretty thankless work. But the company was growing. Pay was increasing, and bonus money was readily available. And I worked with a ton of people my age (including 2 of my fraternity brothers from Towson), which made the environment fun for awhile. Eventually, though, things started to go down hill FAST. The company became involved in a nearly $1 billion accounting scandal. Management was being let go at break-neck speed. Information wasn't flowing. Stress levels rising. Personal issues mounting. A perfect storm. I couldn't take it anymore, and resigned in April, 2004.

I did everything I could at that time to leave the foodservice distribution world. I had my fill. I looked for 2 months for a job. By that time, we were 2 months away from having our first baby...I needed to get a job. QUICKLY. And an offer came...from another foodservice distribution company, Performance Food Group/Carroll County. I started there in June, 2004.

I quickly fell back into the buying routine. I had learned from some of the best, and take a lot of pride in being recognized as one of the best at what I do. I busted my ass for over 5 years at PFG, and again, I worked with some AWESOME people. But I also worked with a ton of assholes. And I noticed THAT was a reoccurring theme in foodservice's full of jitbags, posers, and douchers. And most of them are on the sales side of things, be it at the division level or at the vendor/manufacturer level. I have to admit, I started to see what else may be available in the job market about a year-and-a-half prior to me leaving...I hated going to work anymore. The people I disliked FAR outweighed the people I liked - or could even tolerate. I had knives being jammed in my back from every direction, from some unlikely sources, too. I was beaten down...professionally and personally. I had to go. The proverbial shit hit the fan, and I left in September of 2009.

I've blogged about a lot of the times since then - being the stay-at-home dad, the stresses of being unemployed, the slanderous and defamatory stories some of the previously mentioned douchers spread as to why I left PFG...the unbelievably difficult job certainly didn't help my efforts to regrow any hair on my head, that's for certain!

Then things started to turn around on the professional side. I was offered a Sales Territory Manager role back at US Foodservice...where it all started. It had been a little over 5 months of me being out of work. Money was gone, savings depleted. I took the offer. Back where it all began. And wouldn't you know, within a week after I took the job, 2 companies I had interviewed with BOTH called to see if I was still interested.

And that leads me here. Not a bad place to be in. I had a job ("had" because my last day at USF was Wednesday, 5/19) and had 2 companies interested in hiring me. One of the companies is in foodservice distribution, but on the export side of things. The other, an electric supply company.

The export company came in with an offer first. The money was better than what I was making at USF, I would be the Director of Purchasing, and come in with high expectations because of my background, connections, and experience in foodservice procurement.

The electric supply company offered me a role as the Purchasing Supervisor. Money was WAY more than I made at USF, more than I made at PFG, and again, a management role. BUT, the industry was new. The learning curve significant. I'd be doing some on-the-job-training for the better part of 6 to 12 months. Intimidating, to say the least.

I accepted the role at the electric supply company.

And the reason is the purpose of this blog...

Besides the mundane and obvious...the money was too good to pass up, the commute is 20 minutes as opposed to the hour for the exporter, and the opportunity provided me with a chance to leave foodservice distribution and start over, there was something MUCH bigger.

Anyone that knows me or knew me while in foodservice would (hopefully) agree that I was DAMN good at that job, especially on the commodity side of things. I made deals work. I grew business. I was an expert in my category, and respected by vendors and customers.

But I always had a chip on my shoulder...always.

And I finally figured out why. Again, those that know me and my family know what my dad and brother have done in the foodservice distribution realm. Both are C. Gordon Stone. I was always "Gordon's son" or "Gordon's little brother". I would always hear, "I knew your dad", "Your dad was a great guy", "Your brother is such a great person to work with", "Your brother is the best".

I agree with each any every one of those statements. Unequivocally. But those statements, as true as they are, left me in the shadow of my dad and my brother. The left me with huge - nearly impossible - shoes to fill. And the way I'm put together, I never thought I could fill them or step out of the shadows. I was chasing a ghost with my dad. I was trying to make him proud in an industry that he was a leader in. I was trying to compare myself to my brother, who has 10+ years more experience than I do. I was setting the bar at an unreachable level.

And now I don't have to do that. I can crawl out from the shadows, stand on my OWN two feet, and make a name for MATTHEW STONE. This one is for ME. It's MY time. And I intend to make the most of it.

So as I leave an industry that is essentially all I've known, I have a few "Thank You's"...

First and foremost, THANK YOU to my dad for giving me the opportunity to become familiar with an industry he was such an integral part of for so long, for the opportunity to work with him, and for showing me (albeit me not taking your example totally to heart) how to keep a "dirty" industry from changing me. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss you.

THANK YOU to my brother Gordon, who always tolerated the BS associated with working with me, and for ALWAYS rising above the fray and doing the right thing. You are a Helluva good guy, Gordo, and I wish we lived closer.

THANK YOU to Diana Devlin, for being such a great person, professionally and personally. It sucks we haven't spoken for so long due to some of the BS going on STILL, but you are ALWAYS family to the Stone's. Your work ethic, dedication, and ambition will always be something I strive to emulate.

THANK YOU to Mike Mattingly...simply put, one of THE best people in foodservice distribution, and a leader in every sense of the word...someone I'd work for again if the opportunity was right.

THANK YOU to Brian Spears, for toughening me up, for teaching me how to buy commodities, and for pushing me harder than anyone ever has. You made me the buyer I am today.

To some of the PFG crew...Z, Shelbers, McDizzle, Shane, Kinger, Waldo, Patti, Tamster, Marie, Margaret, Mac, Patty, Dennis, The General, a handful of Area Managers (you know who you are, both past and present), Vasas, Robbie "My Brother" Darling, Chris Smith in saw me at my very best, you saw me at my very worst...THANK YOU for making the last 5 years WAY more tolerable and WAY more successful.

To some of the brokers and manufacturers...Ruggz, KB, Mr. Stone, Ron D, Vince M, Gruver, Steve Levine, Bill Glas, the guys at Sanderson and Durbin, Goldie and Mr. Curtin from Tyson, Clay from Smithfield, Lucas at National, Mike Pratt, the Schweid's, Anthony D'Urso (who NEVER stopped believing in Matt Stone), Chis Maz from DOT...THANK YOU for your friendship, your professionalism, your confidence, and your partnership. It is you that I will miss the most.

For everyone at USF who gave me another chance...Jimmy Sturgell, Bill Nashwinter, Kevin Rollins, Jeff Feldman, Peggy Curtin, Dave Mumert, etc...THANK YOU for betting on this old horse one more time.

For Michael I., and the whole crew at US-1...THANK YOU for the offer to come and work with you guys, and for stretching things to make the offer work for both sides...another time, another place, and we'd have been a Helluva team. I'm always available to offer any help to take US-1 to the next level.

And that's it. Will I ever go back to foodservice distribution? Never say never.

But right now, all I am focused on is this new chapter. This new beginning. This opportunity to stand as MATT STONE. This chance to carve MY OWN path...and I can assure EVERYONE, this is a task I am more than up for, and one that I will succeed at.

Hope everyone has a great Holiday Weekend coming up...

Weekly blogs to start next week...tune in then!

Until next time..."Don't fix it if it hasn't broken yet, Don't regret it if it hasn't happened yet, So let's go - a tiny spark to set it off and explode, Ignite the dark, Eliminate the unknown, But since your head's in the clouds, The best advice I found is don't look down".


  1. Good for you Matt!!! Keep up the optimism. Don't let the bastards wear you down! Good luck in your new venture. When I went to work for PFG I was starting a new thing too. For 15 years I worked for a food broker in I was coming back to what i knew but at a different angle!

  2. Well I'm glad that you are happy. It's about time you get out the food business and try something different. Good luck to you in all that you do. Thanks for all the help you have given me along the way!