Mark Shaughnessy

Podcast: Building Networks Before You Need Them – with Mark Shaughnessy, President, Crowsnest Capital, Inc

By Published On: April 13, 2023

Hosts: Rodney Apple and Chris Gaffney

In This Episode:

We speak with Mark Shaughnessy as he shares the greatest influences that developed his unique supply chain career. Mark started his career with a rotational program which provided multi-unit business exposure to positions that provided him with a transition from a technical expert to a general manager. His next move was into private equity. Mark says it is critical to constantly build relationships before you need them, including your mentoring network. He sees strong value in establishing standards, routines, cadences and rhythms to provide people with certainty and eliminate ambiguity. That gets coupled with communication and the idea of head, heart, and hands of change management. He sees permanent workplace shifts related to values, mission, and flexible work. He has learned greatly from failure and encourages others to embrace it, get up, and get back in the game. Mark also encourages supply chain professionals to take lateral moves, accumulate competencies, and not to rush moving up, making them far more valuable in the long run.

Who is Mark Shaughnessy?

Mark currently leads Crowsnest Capital, which invests in and provides advisory support to companies in the Consumer, Industrial and Supply Chain Technology categories. He is an accomplished operating executive with experience in businesses ranging in size from pre-revenue ventures to $20+ billion global corporations. In his career he has led teams to success across multiple industries, customer channels and operating environments. Mark previously served as President and CEO of Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Sales & Services (CCBSS), a shared services organization that aggregates and optimizes supplier and customer-facing operations for Coca-Cola’s U.S. bottling franchise network. His early supply chain experiences included Mars Incorporated’s US Pet Food business and Cargill’s commodity trading, food processing operations and financial instrument trading. Mark has degrees in International Finance and Spanish from Brown University.

[00:02:19] Rodney Apple: Mark, welcome to the Supply Chain Careers podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today. 

[00:02:23] Mark Shaughnessy: Happy to be here. 

[00:02:25] Rodney Apple: We would love to kick off with just getting an overview of how you got started with your career in supply chain. Just from the very beginning, what were some of your key influencers. 

[00:02:35] Mark Shaughnessy: I think it started for me, early in college, I had a couple of father figure type mentors and asked for their perspective on job fields that might be of interest in the coming decades. And at that time, the North American Free Trade Agreement had just been signed and was getting put into action. And so, everyone was kind of like, Hey, there’s gonna be this boom in the North, South American trade. And so, sounded good to me and I decided to major in international finance and Spanish. And so, I left school thinking, hey, that would be a good career path for me. 

And I had the opportunity to join a company called Cargill, large, global agribusiness, family owned, happened to be headquartered in Minneapolis where I grew up. They had a rotational program where you get good multi-business unit exposure in the first 18 months, and then they decide where to put you. And so that all sounded great. The catch was, they’d tell you where you’re gonna get assigned to once you graduated. And so, fingers crossed there, but it seemed like a really good place for me to start. 

Careers oftentimes don’t end up mapping out the way you thought they would. And so, I had a great experience there. Got to do a number of different things. Started my career in Des Moines, Iowa, and then ended up at their headquarters in Minneapolis managing, weed exports in the Pacific Rim. And so, learned how to manage a P&L pretty early. Learned a lot about logistics cuz especially with commodity trading, margins are thin. You gotta buy it, right? But you have to make sure you manage your transport costs. And so early on, it was basic, but it was real supply chain management.

But I was selling ingredients to a lot of customers whose products I’d see on the shelves when I’d go shopping. And I developed this interest in consumer products and I don’t think I knew just how interested I was until I got a call from a recruiter. And it just so happens this recruiter was representing another large global family run, privately owned business, Mars Incorporated, who happened to have a role that would’ve been a perfect entry for me, commodity risk management. And it was in Los Angeles where my then girlfriend, now wife had just moved. So, it’s like, you know, divine intervention. And so, interviewed for the job. Never thought I’d end up in Los Angeles, but that’s where I landed. So I joined Mars, after my stint with Cargill and I entered on the supply chain side, specializing in commodity sourcing and hedging. My time, I don’t know, seven or eight years with Mars and it really transformed me from a technical or functional expert to more of a general manager.

And that was kinda unexpected at first, but then they helped cultivate my interest and they had a culture where they were, they would be real aggressive in moving people around and let you learn by doing. And they were comfortable giving people a lot of experience pretty early. And so, they moved me to the sales side of the business. Finance, customer care. And then eventually I ended up on the management team of the US pet food business unit. And then got to lead a number of acquisitions. And then we ultimately moved the company from LA to Nashville. And my wife was getting her business and law degree at UCLA, and for a number of reasons, we weren’t gonna make the trip.

And so, I had been given some really good advice by a mentor who said, at the time I think private equity was starting to become a bigger career opportunity for operators. And the advice I got was like, Mark, if you’re comfortable with change, you’re comfortable with operating in a dynamic environment, which sense you are, then you might like private equity, but it’s really hard to get access to those roles. And the fact that you were raised at classic big companies with classical training might make you more appealing. The big question’s gonna be, can you operate in that mid-market, more dynamic environment? And so, if you ever get an opportunity to do it, you gotta jump. And it just so happened at that time where I transitioned outta Mars, there was an opportunity to lead. I was the COO and then CEO of a mid-market, private equity backed company in Long Beach. And so, I kind of had to take that opportunity and I didn’t know that the financial crisis was gonna happen a year later. So halfway through that, I had to learn how to lead a team through real crisis. I mean, two of our top three customers went bankrupt, and that was really tough sledding. But we survived the financial crisis. Learned how to manage through some very difficult times with very little.

After that, got involved in a startup, which was unsuccessful, which, I’d do again because I learned a lot of things failing that I take with me today that make me a better professional and better teammate. But Chris, to your question, at that time, I had reconnected with a friend of mine that I worked with at Cargill. We had recruited him and worked together at Mars, and he had moved on to the Coca-Cola system and he was aware of an opportunity to join a role that I would’ve been a good fit for at Coca-Cola. Next thing we’re moving to Atlanta and I’m sitting next to a guy named Chris Gaffney in an integration room.

So, it’s just funny how, if I’m giving advice to supply chain professionals early in their careers, build your relationships before you need them, whether it’s inside a company or just your overall network. And just be good to people. Try to pay it forward. And you never know where connections are gonna happen, but you’re gonna do well by trying to be real proactive in, in, building out your mentoring network, but also just your professional network early on. 

[00:07:07] Rodney Apple: From my seat in the recruiting world, don’t see a lot of folks go big, large, dynamic corporation, lots of resources into private equity, into startups, but then go back the other way. Was curious, just maybe what some of those key learnings were, as you navigate your career from large to tiny mid-market back up to large. 

[00:07:30] Mark Shaughnessy: Yeah, they all, I think, provided me with some pretty specific learnings from that experience that I have accumulated. If I think of big ahas from Mars where I, I transitioned from being a, a functional manager to a general manager. I learned about mergers and acquisitions and transformation programs. Moving to private equity, I learned about, what it’s like to work with professional investors. And we had debt and so you have to manage cash flows really tightly and cause that’s how they make their money. And you had to learn how to get a lot done with way fewer resources, but some of the same principles applied whether you’re a small company or bigger, standard work makes a lot of sense. Humans and teams, they like regularity in their schedule. They know where you can eliminate uncertainty. It makes sense. 

And then, getting to Coca-Cola, it was a real lesson in a true scale. I think at the time we told our teams when we were merging Coca-Cola Enterprises and the North American, non-carbonated business, but it was two 12 billion companies coming together in a very well-orchestrated integration. But how do four or five operating leaders provide direction and motivation to 65,000 field associates, you can’t do that one off. In large part learning from Chris, and his accumulated experience in the Coke system, learned a whole nother level of what logistics management really is. What managing work really is. Whether it’s standard warehouse layouts or standard team routines, but then also change management, the head hand hearts of change management, where, you know, in, in their head, do associates understand what we’re doing. In their heart do they believe it’s the right thing. And with their hands, do they get to be a part of it? So it was a real game changer for me. 

And then, the Coke system evolved and I think I realized that my true passion was more in the earlier middle market stage type companies. And I had the opportunity to join a venture backed startup. So, this is not even middle market private equity. It was more in the technology and services space. And, a common theme I think for all of us should be just relentlessly accumulate learning and experience. Cuz you never know how the world’s gonna evolve, how your career path’s gonna evolve. And so, I had the opportunity to learn about a much more tech enabled business, marketplace business models. Venture capital where, you’re trying to accomplish different things than a private equity backed company. And so, your KPIs for success are different. How you build out a team is a little different. And that was a great experience in many ways. 

Also, there were some really tough experiences which made me a better professional. Fast forward to last window of my career, I’ve been a CEO of a middle market private equity backed business. And I’ve been involved in a couple other companies in the role of a board member or advisor and investor. Never thought I would’ve ended up doing that back when I thought I was gonna be a NAFTA guy. 

[00:10:02] Chris Gaffney: I think there’s some huge leadership lessons there, both in the transformation space when you’re trying to modernize or evolve a mature business, but then also leadership in that startup mid-size kind of things. What are a couple things as you reflect on that you would say, that I can use and or guide others in similar journeys?

[00:10:24] Mark Shaughnessy: There’s several that whether it’s a big company or small company, I’m gonna bring the same tools or toolbox. One is, standard routines. Whether you’re in a big company or a small company, teams, humans, where there can be certainty, it helps eliminate ambiguity and people like routines. And so, whether it’s a standard approach to weekly, monthly, quarterly, team routines, whether it’s a department or the overall company, that cadence and rhythm feels normal and people can plan around that. So, if you’re in a crisis, it becomes especially important because it’s one of the fewer things that you can control. because if you’re in a crisis, there are probably some things that are outta your control. So, I think standard work, standard routines is one big lesson that I’ve taken away. 

The other, of course, communication, people need to know, again, back to the head, heart, hands of change management. So, in their head, do they understand what the, it’s like a sports team. Do they understand what the playbook is? How are we gonna win the game Coach, right? And with their heart, do they believe it’s actually a playbook to win? Right? Hey, we got a chance here. We can pull off the big upset. And then with our hands, do they get to be on the field? Do they feel like they’re part of it? Do they know that what they’re doing is important? And so, just those kind of general frameworks you can use in a big company or a small company, as a people leader. And if you hold yourself accountable to that, then you’re probably gonna be doing okay.  


[BREAK at 11:39]

[00:12:30] Rodney Apple: And a follow up question. We’ve seen a lot of shifts in the broader talent landscape from extreme challenges with recruiting folks from obviously in supply chain, and that extends down to your operations and hourly workforce. What have you done personally, with your teams in terms of positioning yourself to navigate that turbulence and bring in the right talent, get them assimilated, onboarded, and onto the right seats on the bus and the whole learning and development that leads to the retention of that talent.

[00:13:01] Mark Shaughnessy: It’s been really tough. First of all, take care of your current team, right? So, make sure they know you care. Make sure they know they’re involved. So the kind of approaches I talked about, because they’re gonna be the best ambassadors for your company. And we often say great people hang out with great people. And so, we’ve found the most success recruiting through our team. And so, you can try to outcompete a bunch of other people on LinkedIn or Indeed, or, you know, whatever the right domain is for the type of role you’re recruiting for. But we found by far the best success to be through our own high performing associates who in their personal lives happen to hang out with high performing associates. And so, we’ve really tried to encourage and incentivize in a much more aggressive way than we had in the past. Incentivize them to be an extension of our recruiting arm. 

And the other is, especially with our up and coming generation of associates, having a really compelling set of values and higher order mission beyond just what your company makes or does used to be a differentiator. I think it’s now a condition to compete, and so you gotta make sure you’re on the leading edge there also.

[00:13:59] Rodney Apple: Any changes on the, I call it job location, hybrid, remote, et cetera, that you had to embrace and enact? 

[00:14:06] Mark Shaughnessy: During the pandemic, culturally, it was hard, you know, industrial manufacturing business. So, some associates were required to be physically present to perform their duties, whereas others, we wanted to get as many people separated as possible. And so, that can lead to some real cultural strains. And so again, communication about how everyone’s playing different roles, we still have this really inspiring mission. You’re all playing important roles we’re implementing our game plan in this way cuz we think this is the best way to handle an uncertain situation. So please trust us, and just if you have questions or issues, call me or engage with the leadership team.

Cuz I think during the pandemic, everybody in this planet were dealing with a lot of uncertainty. The last thing you should do as a leader is pretend you know what’s going on or pretend you have all the right answers. That’s a time for humility. And we’re gonna, we’re gonna communicate frequently. We may change courses but right now, this is our best thinking. It’s kinda like mission values, right? It used to be a differentiator. Now it’s a condition to compete, being supportive of remote working, is just table stakes for talent today because other companies are offering that flexibility. I’ve talked to some leaders who are tempted or have been crazy enough to think about mandating everyone back in the office five days a week. I don’t think that’s ever gonna come back. 

[00:15:14] Chris Gaffney: You’ve talked through, milestones and forks in the road. As you start thinking about advice for others, how did you navigate and how did you take advantage of the milestones and evaluate the forks in the road such that others might learn from your experience?

[00:15:28] Mark Shaughnessy: I think I really got lucky in that I had some fantastic mentors and managers early on, that I was able to get some great advice from. Somewhere in my first 10 years, I think I had zeroed in on strategy saying I’d like to be credible in saying I can help lead an operation in a large-scale company and effectively lead there, but also a smaller, less resource company, so size, but also stage. So, from startup through turnaround, through scale and transformation. So, tried to use that as a lens by which I would evaluate or pursue my own career development by 70, 80% of what you learn is by doing. And so, your day job should be contributing to a lot of that. So, I try to be pretty purposeful about building that bridge. And it’s kind of like a hedge, right? So, you never know where the economy’s gonna go, where the industry opportunities are gonna go. And so, I stand here today and I’m like, I know I can perform. I’ve proven I can perform in a bunch of these different stages, and so then I can, uh, have a little bit more flexibility. That’s on the positive side. On the challenging side, there were certainly a number of the forks in the road that I really struggle with. Where things didn’t work out the way I wanted. And I think, you’re kind of raised and taught to say if you work hard, you get good grades, you be a good teammate, you’ll get a good outcome. You’ll get into the school you wanna get into or you’ll get the job outta college you were looking for. And life’s just not fair like that. And the first couple times where you do all those things. I know I’m doing good work. I know I’m being a good teammate. I know, but things don’t work out the way it feels like failure, nothing short of it. And it’s really hard, personally, and there were a couple windows in my career where that happened and it was very difficult, personally, emotionally. But also, just professionally, I felt like I I failed. 

During one of those, I attended a three-day leadership summit and Jim Collins spoke and he had just finished a study at West Point. and one of his big insights was that one of the greatest leadership inputs that lead to highly functioning leaders is failure. But for so many leaders, it’s hard to access failure experience because the way our system works is you usually get promoted because you haven’t screwed anything up. Right? And so, I really, it was a good jiu-jitsu move on me mentally to say like, well, actually, I’m gonna turn this pile of lemons, I’m gonna turn this into lemonade and say, I just got the most unbelievable gift in terms of learning how to manage myself. Manage my team and manage my family through a time where it didn’t feel good and like in sports, I’m gonna get up, dust myself off and get back on the field. And so now I’ve swung and missed on a number of things. 

For early professionals, I think two big headlines that I wish were clearer to me early on was one was, almost embrace failure. It’s kinda like in sports, it like, I played hockey. And if you’re not going so fast that you wipe out every once in a while, you’re probably not pushing yourself hard enough, like it’s totally okay to wipe out, right? And you’re gonna get up and the world’s gonna keep spinning and the sun’s gonna come up tomorrow. So don’t feel like you have to stay in a lane, right? So just pursue learning. The other, I think big lesson is, I remember feeling the gravitational pull of promotion, right? So everyone feels, I gotta move up, I gotta move up, I gotta move up. But if being a successful, long-term professional, a really important input to that is having a really solid business acumen foundation.

A great way to accumulate that is by moving horizontally in an organization early. And so, don’t rush to get promoted. Rush to accumulate knowledge and experience. And in many ways, that may lead to a path where it’s like, man, I wanna try to get moved horizontally from if I wanna be a great supply chain professional. What is supply chain? You plan, you buy, you make, you ship. Well man, what if I could have experience in all four of those buckets in my bag pretty early in my career? I’m gonna be really hard to compete with once I’m 10 years in. I might be kind of hard to compete with five years in, but 15 years in, look out. Like who else has that kind of experience? So, I’d encourage people to think laterally much more aggressively than I think a lot of people get coached to do. 

[00:19:22] Rodney Apple: That’s great. Great stuff, Mark. And I’d like to kind of segue into, you touched on this earlier, I can tell you’re a natural networker. But what advice would you have to share with the audience? Maybe some of the practices you put into play.

[00:19:35] Mark Shaughnessy: I lucked out. I mean it, when I, early on at Mars, we were in Los Angeles. People have probably heard there’s traffic in Los Angeles. So, we had about five or six of us that carpooled together. And my first three or four years I carpooled with my boss’s boss. We lived about a mile from each other and we picked each other up at 5:00 AM 5:00 AM cuz we had responsibilities that were Eastern time zone also.

And here I got 45 minutes of mentoring every day, actually 90 minutes, there and back. And even if it was just overhearing phone calls or just a safe place to ask questions. So, I got kinda lucky there. But what I’d encourage you is how can you replicate that? Where you, pretty early on you found a way to network to a relationship where you found someone who’s further along in their career who, for whatever reason is willing to take an interest in you and be a sounding board. And the thing in any mentoring relationship, the thing you need make sure is like it’s gotta be a win-win. So how do you make it worth that mentor’s time? Whether it’s you offer to buy lunch or you pay for coffee or something else. I’m sure there’s a lot of good online resources there, but for mentoring relationships to endure they’ve gotta be mutually beneficial. Any relationship has to be mutually beneficial.

In terms of like just professional networking you gotta take the time. It’s easy to be interested in a relationship when you need help. Right? And when you don’t need help or when you don’t think you need help, still allocating a certain part of your weekly, monthly budget to actually invest in relationships, feels like a lower priority than the tasks you have or the sporting event you want to go to, or the show you wanna watch. So, I’d encourage you to budget time, to invest in that. Just knowing that having a good, diverse professional network is just a good idea. And you have to trust people like Chris and I on that and budget the time. You can use your calendar, just block time off every week and invest in your relationships in inside your company and as well as inside your industry.

[00:21:24] Chris Gaffney: Mark, you mentioned that boss that you were fortunate to commute with and clearly he was a guide and an influence. Are there a couple of other influencers that have given you some jewels of thought that you were able to hold onto and use, both for yourself and others.

[00:21:40] Mark Shaughnessy: I had several managers and sponsors at Mars that literally changed my life. And I think the big takeaway there was culturally, it was a culture that was willing to believe in people’s capability and give you a lot of responsibility oftentimes before you even thought you were ready. It was just a really special group and I was lucky to be part of that. And I’m close friends with all those guys to this day. Ron Lewis, who I worked with at Cargill, and he was the reason I came to Coke. My career in my life would not be the same had I not had the chance to interact and grow with those people. 

And then there’s a number of people in the investment community. Making the transition from a strategic, which is super well resourced, and you don’t need to worry about money, you just need to worry about executing, to getting into the investor backed company community. And you need to learn the investor side of the world. I was able to cultivate a number of relationships with investment professionals who had an interest in operations and we worked out a way where we could teach each other things and I had a safe place to ask a lot of dumb questions. But learned a lot. And now I’m at a point where I’m an operator at heart, but I think I’m an investor, fluent operator, and I’m actually able to make an investment or two here or there. 

[00:22:44] Rodney Apple: Mark, a lot of people would be envious. They just sometimes want to get out of, call it big corporate world and, the private equity space is fairly hidden. You don’t see a lot of those roles posted. Maybe some folks that are in supply chain, they’re just looking to get into that world. Where might they start and how, what be maybe the best areas to explore from roles, but do you have any advice to share.

[00:23:05] Mark Shaughnessy: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s just like the professional networking, budget some time and one way or another, find your way into some relationships there. There’s literally thousands of private equity firms. Now there’s probably 10 in whatever city you’re in, whoever’s listening to this, right. And what I was able to do early on was, at different industry conferences or networking events in the cities I lived in, was able to develop a one-on-one relationship with someone from those firms. And you know what I offered to do, and you have to decide what you’re willing to do with your own time, but there were five or six of ’em who had an interest in consumer products and I said, Hey look, I’d love to get more involved with what you guys are doing. So if you’re ever looking at a company, you know enough about my background, but if you’re ever looking at a company and you think my experience might help you analyze that company or due diligence on the company, please feel free to ping me. I’m happy to donate a Saturday here and there to do that kind of stuff for you.

Now, down the line, that’s how it may lead to an opportunity to be on a board or maybe they ask you to be part of that team, but it kind of snowballs from there. They have plenty of people asking ’em for jobs. So I think again, it’s how do you make it a win-win and, offering to help, due diligence to start their relationship, chance to show what you can bring to the table. What’s the risk for them? They get additional diligence for free. It’s not a bad way if that’s a real interest for your career, you should be willing to in invest that time to a degree. So that might be an easy way to differentiate yourself. 

[00:24:27] Chris Gaffney: So Mark, an age old debate is kind of the very well-planned career path versus the unplanned career path. They’re those who program their entire life and there are others who things happen to them and you’ve kind of lived in the middle. So, what’s your perspective for folks who have listened to this and many of our other episodes and seen that there is not likely just a natural path to travel. But what’s the balance between planning it and letting it come to you kind of thing? 

[00:24:54] Mark Shaughnessy: You’re making me think of S&OP. I’m a big believer in having a plan. The more detail the plan you have, I think the better, whether it’s in business or in your career. But what I found, during my time at Mars, we had so many one-on-one career conversations, I kept drawing out the same picture of basically a grid for a career map. I finally built an Excel template, but basically it was across the top it was current day plus one year plus five year, plus 15. 10, 15 years. And then on the left side was like current position and then in the future it’s desired position. And then, for that position, it was, there was a row for technical skills required. And then, management or leadership skills required.

I knew I wanted to be a CEO of a company within 15 years, and so I kind of put it out there. I knew a couple recruiters who gave me a couple of job specs, so I was able to like l lock down like what were the technical skills or domain experiences I’d need to have? What were the leadership competencies I’d need to have? And then that allowed me to see, wow, there’s a lot of different jobs that can help me accumulate towards that. It doesn’t always have to be up to the finance tree or up to the sales tree. I’ve used that to help associates see that there are way more jobs out there that will help you build towards what you’re trying to be long term than you might be thinking. 

I’m a manager. I wanna become a senior manager here and then a director there. No, no, the world’s way bigger than that. And so, I think having a plan to inform your competency development is really helpful. But more importantly, I think having that detailed plan will help your mentors, because even if you don’t know exactly what you want to be 10 years from now, you probably know there are some things you don’t wanna do. And the more you can help narrow the focus on what you’re trying to achieve or where you’d like to aspire to, then a mentor can really help. But if a mentor is having to kind of grasp at straws or ask 20 questions just to try to figure out what motivates you, they’re having to do a lot of work to be your mentor. So make it easy for them to give you advice to have an antenna up for you when opportunities pop up. So that’s probably the better reason to have a more detailed outline in what you’re trying to accomplish career-wise is so your mentors can be helpful to you, your manager can be helpful to you rather than try to use it as a way to plan your life. As I think my experience shows like there are a lot of curve balls that come at you. 

[00:27:00] Rodney Apple: Well, Mark, you’ve shared some amazing advice. You have a fascinating career journey and I know our audience is gonna appreciate hearing that. Is there anything else you wanna leave our audience with? Any last minute advice you wanna share before we wrap up?

[00:27:11] Mark Shaughnessy: The thing I didn’t see coming, was learning how to deal with what felt like failure. And learning to embrace it, like not learn how to handle it, but learn to embrace it. It’s totally okay to take risks and fall down. And if you haven’t fallen down once or twice, I challenge you to find a place to go fall down, cuz it’ll make you a better professional. It won’t feel great. I can guarantee you it won’t feel great at the time, but it’ll make you a better person at the core and that’ll make you a better professional. 

[00:27:35] Rodney Apple: This has been a wonderful conversation. We appreciate you sharing your very unique career journey, and all the wonderful advice with our audience. 

[00:27:43] Mark Shaughnessy: Yeah, hopefully helpful. Thanks for having me.