Mark Ward 2013-01-28 23:40:41
Two SNA Patrons—both former school nutrition directors— share the personal and professional benefits of K-12 networking. Meet Warren Casey Most of my professional opportunities have come by networking through SNA,” relates Warren Casey. His career has spanned both operations and industry, including service as a school nutrition director and his current position as a vice president of sales for Alto-Shaam, a Wisconsin-based equipment manufacturer— and an SNA Patron. The biggest bonus from his networking wasn’t professional, however, but personal: wife Pamela Casey, SNS, herself a longtime director. Casey views his work at Alto-Shaam as an extension of his school nutrition career. “I can capitalize on my operations experience to find equipment solutions for districts nationwide,” he avers. From his office in Louisville, Ky., he oversees a dealer and distributor network that spans all 50 states and annually generates up to $6 million in sales to schools. Although Casey sells products to all foodservice segments, he is the company’s “go-to” expert on the K-12 school market. The company is an SNA Patron, he explains, because “we want to demonstrate that we’re among the echelon of manufacturers that are not just selling to schools, but are investing in school nutrition.” Case in Point Casey’s own investment in food and nutrition started on the Illinois grain farm where he grew up. Cherished times in the kitchen with Grandma blossomed into a passion for cooking and, later, a 1993 degree in restaurant and hospitality management from Indiana’s Purdue University. In the years that followed, he worked in the restaurant trade and in healthcare foodservice. But marriage and family eventually led to the desire for a friendlier work schedule. In 1999, Casey was named foodservice director for Franklin (Ind.) Community Schools. Not only did it offer a more accommodating schedule, “compared to the healthcare segment, school foodservice put me on the preventive side of nutrition— a chance to exercise my passion for creative cooking,” he recollects. “Though I had to master an entirely new set of regulations, my management experience gave me the business background needed to financially turn around my program.” Looking back, Casey takes pride in the impressive gains in student participation Franklin’s operation enjoyed during his tenure there—rising from 50% to 97% at one middle school! As improved management generated positive fund balances, he and his team reinvested financial gains to improve quality and boost marketing efforts, including Nutrition Advisory Councils and taste tests for student involvement. On the Case But by 2007, Casey recounts, “I was ready for something new in my school nutrition career.” The extensive professional network he’d built through SNA involvement soon turned up new avenues. That year, he became a food broker for a leading company and, as a commodity processing specialist, worked for school districts across Indiana. In 2008, he switched to the equipment side as U.S. sales director for a European manufacturer. And two years ago, Casey seized an opportunity to join Alto-Shaam and help boost its visibility and presence in the K-12 school market. SNA networking led Casey to another life change. After becoming single again, Casey met wife-to-be Pamela in 2006. Both helped to launch a purchasing cooperative while he was at Franklin Community Schools and she directed school nutrition at nearby Floyd County (Ind.) Schools. The two were married in 2009. “It’s great to have operations and industry in the same family,” relates Warren. “From daily dinner conversations to attending conferences together, Pamela helps me see things through different eyes. She’ll tell me how my trade show booth compares with the competition or what [education] sessions I need to attend.” Reflecting on a career that now has crossed most foodservice segments, Casey observes, “There’s a lot of passion and commitment among customers in all segments.” But, he notes, “In the school segment, that passion and commitment is all directed toward making a difference.” Meet Cheryl Buckley When Cheryl Buckley ran into Kyle O’Brien at SNA’s 2009 Annual National Conference in Las Vegas, the two had a lot of catching up to do. They had last crossed paths years earlier, when Buckley was nutrition director at a former school district and O’Brien was a food sales representative. In the interim, much had changed for them both. O’Brien had gone on to become executive vice president of sales for Chobani, Inc., a manufacturer of Greek yogurt products. Buckley was close to earning an MBA degree. O’Brien encouraged her to contact him after graduation, and when Buckley followed through, “He called me the next day to tell me Chobani was ramping up its outreach to the K-12 school market and ask if I’d like to head it up,” she recounts. “A week later, he flew me to the sales office in Charlotte and offered me the job.” In January 2011, she became Chobani’s director of nutrition services. While leaving operations behind after 17 years was not an easy transition to make, Buckley embraces her new role as part of a natural career path. “I love being around school nutrition professionals and around kids, using my experience to help them,” she enthuses about extending her influence beyond a single district. She is usually on the road every week of the year— attending SNA national and state conferences, training Chobani distributors on the intricacies of the K-12 market and accompanying visiting customers in school districts. Luck & Pluck For Chobani, explains Buckley, being an SNA Patron is a “vital part of our commitment to visibly show the K-12 market that we’re invested in school nutrition.” By the same token, Buckley and her company derive numerous benefits from SNA involvement, including “the chance to network with members and learn firsthand from their operations experience.” The chance meeting that brought Buckley to Chobani was serendipitous, but it’s not the first time that her willingness to network and be open to possibilities has created new opportunities. “I enjoyed cooking as a kid,” she recalls, “but went to college with a ‘practical’ goal of becoming a lawyer.” The need for an elective led to a nutrition class taught by a professor who brokered an opportunity to work with the basketball team, showing Buckley the scope of career opportunities in nutrition. So, instead of sticking with pre-law, the native New Yorker graduated from Buffalo State University in 1989 with a degree in food and nutrition management. Two years later, Buckley enrolled in the Rochester Institute of Technology to earn a master’s degree in nutrition management, while also working to accrue the clinical hours needed to sit for the Registered Dietitian exam. Serendipity intervened once again. One class requirement was interviewing a director in a non-clinical setting. “I chose Bob Kelly, the director for the Rochester school district. I’d never realized that schools could be a setting for a dietitian, but Bob invited me to work part-time for him, and I was excited to accept,” she recounts. When Buckley finished her degree (and passed the RD exam), Kelly created a full-time position for her. “Even more,” she continues, “he became a mentor who exposed me to all aspects of school foodservice. In time, I decided that I wanted to become a director myself.” A Date With Destiny Buckley’s aspiration became a reality in 1999, when she was hired to direct school nutrition for Pittsford (N.Y.) Central Schools. In 2005, she moved on to Webster (N.Y.) Central Schools and soon after started her MBA studies at the University of Rochester. “I wanted to stretch myself,” Buckley says, “and get more education to help me with the business and marketing side of school nutrition operations.” Buckley believes her fateful position at Chobani provides her with an effective platform to advocate for school nutrition. “My 17 years in operations remains a big piece of who I am and gives me credibility as an advocate,” she explains, “while my work at Chobani lets me extend my outreach and my voice. Our commitment to providing solutions for operators extends to partnering with them to advance the cause of school nutrition.” Current Title: Vice President of Sales Company: Alto-Shaam, Inc. Favorite School Food As a Kid: “Horseshoe sandwich” (ham, turkey and fries smothered in cheese) Alternate Profession You’d Choose: Fighter pilot Bedside Book/ Magazine: Semper FiW.E.B. Griffin Dream Dinner Guest: Abraham Lincoln Hobbies: Trap shooting, yard work, gardening, cooking Current Title: Director of Nutrition Services Company: Chobani, Inc. Nickname: “Cheryl, Cheryl, Peanut Barrel” (”I love peanut butter!”) Alternate Profession You’d Choose : Veterinarian/ dog rescuer Top of Your Bucket List: Visit Australia, Alaska and British Columbia Dream Dinner Guest: Giada De Laurentiis Favorite Subject in School: Math
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