Podcast: Launching Off the Career Springboard – with Brett Frankenberg, Coca-Cola Supply Chain Executive
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.
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
- 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
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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
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
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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
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
- 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
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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
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
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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
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
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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.[BREAK at 19:42]
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
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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
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
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
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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
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.