iFD People: Mark Allen, IFDA

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Mark Allen is president & CEO of the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), a role he has held for nearly 14 years. Earlier in his career, he was a sales rep for a Fortune 50 consumer packaged goods company. He called on wholesale grocers in the Mid-Atlantic and it was during this time that he developed an appreciation for the distribution business. Mark’s first jobs in foodservice occurred during high school. At various times, he was a busboy and dishwasher for a local seafood restaurant, a janitor at a Dunkin Donuts, and a delivery person for Domino’s Pizza.

What are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud to be able to serve such a wonderful industry. I am humbled every day to be able to work with such a smart and talented group of people – from IFDA’s leadership and members to our staff. Being part of IFDA’s growth and progression has been a real career highlight.

When you think of icons in the industry, who comes to mind first?
I had the opportunity, early in my tenure, to work closely with a group of people who had a tremendous influence on the industry – and me. Tom Lankford, Mike Roach and Dan Gordon come to mind. Today I work with a group of industry leaders who are every bit as talented and are leading in an environment that is, one could argue, quite a bit more challenging than that of their predecessors.

Who are your role models?
My father is a pretty simple man but did a great job leading by example. By watching him, I learned the value of a hard day’s work and the absolute importance of honesty and integrity in everything you do. He also taught us from an early age to treat people with the utmost respect and dignity.

What books or other reading matter are on your bedside table right now?
I am actually reading three very different books right now: “Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works”, “Hillbilly Elegy” and “Killing the Rising Sun”.

If you could time travel to another point in history, when would it be?
Probably the late 1940s and the 1950s as it was an incredibly interesting point in time not just for the United States, but the world at large. The ramifications of WWII have had an enduring impact on who we are today as we continue to deal with many of the decisions that came out of the new world order. What an amazing generation.

What three people, living or dead, would you like to have dinner with?
My maternal grandfather passed away when I was 18. He was a huge influence in my life and I’d love to be able to spend time telling him what I am doing today, as he was in the food industry too. I would also love for my wife and three boys to meet him as I know he would be proud and am certain he would have a big impact on them as well.

How would you describe yourself in one word?
Pragmatic.

What’s one dramatic change that you predict we’ll see in within the next 10 years?
I think the nature of how we work will continue to evolve – maybe more so in the next few years. Foodservice distribution has not changed much from a labor standpoint and the issues around labor (and lack thereof) aren’t projected to get any easier. How can we meld labor with automation and assist the workforce to make the industry’s physical jobs easier, especially in light of an aging workforce? How can we make foodservice distribution more attractive to younger generations? Labor, talent and workforce issues will continue to be both a challenge and opportunity for us.

iFD highlights heritage, people and progress through our corporate history writing services. Our blog series iFD People profiles foodservice leaders, sales stars and others who have made, or are making, a mark on the industry.

Good Answers, Bad Answers

When a customer asks you, the sales rep, “Why your company?” what do you say?

“Because we’re better.” Bad answer.
“We try harder.” Bad answer.
“Because we’ve been meeting and solving customer challenges for 50 years.” Good answer.

Next question: “What kind of challenges?”
“Pricing issues.” Bad answer.
“Delivery minimums.” Bad answer.
“Helping to revamp menus to reflect customers’ brand promise and maximize profitability.” Good answer.

“How do you know how to do that?”
“We have years of experience and in-house expertise. Our company has been around for a long time. We’ve built our reputation on our ability to solve challenges and help our customers grow their businesses. Would you like to hear a little more about our story?” Good answer.

“Sure. Come back to my office so we can talk.”

Does your sales and marketing team have your story at their fingertips? It’s what differentiates you from your competitors – the only thing that truly does.

As founders and long-term employees move on, would there be anyone to chronicle the turning points, successes, failures and people stories at your company? Is there a written record? Not just a timeline or an “about us” paragraph on your website, but a complete, compelling story of your company’s roots, culture and growth and future promise told in a strategic, brand-savvy way?

It’s a great story, just waiting to be told. We’re ready to help.