Fostering a Passion for Food Into a Career in Supply Chain
Pam Erb has built a 30+ year career at Wegmans, a regional supermarket chain. Her career with Wegmans all started with gourmet foods and cheeses and today, she is the vice president of supply chain. From a love of food growing up in an Italian and Irish family, Pam shares her learnings that as much as it is important to say yes to opportunity, it is important to identify what you love to do, go do it, and never look back.
Pam and family enjoying time together!
SCN: What was your first job (ever)?
PE: My first job was at Wegmans. After I graduated with a degree in communications and determined that broadcasting and PR were not for me, I was looking for a job that would have a high level of involvement with people. I started working in the gourmet food and cheese department at Wegmans in high school. They have a really great scholarship program and I knew that I could get a good paycheck and some experience, all while helping pay for my education.
SCN: You have quite an impressive career at Wegmans, can you walk me through your journey?
PE: I have always loved food and to start my first job working with food and people, was really a dream. I stayed in the stores for a bit and then applied for a job in HR, when I relocated to Rochester (where Wegmans is headquartered) to live closer to my (now) husband, as I have always loved working with people and putting that love to good use. We have a role called an employee representative that works with each department. It was such a natural fit for me, and I spent a lot of time supporting various departments and eventually supported every core area – marketing, finance, account and IT, at one point or another.
My last assignment in HR was a promotion to HR manager for the distribution and supply chain area. It was an area that did not have much of an HR structure at the time. This was a big challenge but also an exciting opportunity for me to build something from the ground up. It was one of my favorite jobs at Wegmans.
It was fun to be able to help educate and partner with my customers on how to use HR and why it is an important function. Being responsible for transforming a group that was relatively used to doing their own thing, to building a lot of process, and organizational structure and relationships, too. It is one of those stops along my career path I draw from even today.
This job gave me exposure to the supply chain area and the work we do. It was around the same time that I was feeling like I was lacking in fundamental leadership skills so I went back to school for my MBA. I got the itch to find a position that was less about supporting the business but more about having an impact on the business.
I began to think about going to the store operations side. At the time, we were expanding rapidly into new markets in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I was then asked to take on a leadership role in distribution operations. I was surprised as I didn’t think I was qualified as I didn’t have the educational background in supply chain or logistics. But I was excited to give it a try. From there, I worked in a variety of capacities in warehouse operations and logistics operations and a couple of tech roles in the warehouse. I hopped around and got a lot of experience in a short time and I loved it! The pace was great and so were the people.
This was a turning point for me because I knew this was an area I wanted to continue to learn about and I’ve never looked back!
SCN: How did you get approached for this leadership position in supply chain?
PE: I had raised my hand saying that I want an operational assignment. I had taken the time to look back on my career and look at gaps in where I wanted to learn and do, which is why I went back to school for my MBA in the first place. And I knew I wanted to go into operations. From then on, it was just a gradual process of learning and growing into the role I have today.
SCN: What advice do you have for those that want to move ahead in their career?
PE: I don’t think a lot of people think about what they want. They think: this is the job I am in and this is what I am doing. They don’t think about reflecting on what am I good at and what do I like to do? The perfect job is the best of both of those. You don’t want to be exposed to weaknesses constantly, but those are what help you grow –because let’s face it, we all have weaknesses. And you want a mix of what you are good at and what you love.
We do a lot of lateral learning at Wegmans to learn and grow. It’s so important to get other people’s perspectives so you aren’t short-sighted. If I can gain a broader view of what our company is all about and how we do what we do, it makes me more valuable as a leader because I understand what you do, and value. If I can speak your language, there is nothing better. And, you gain a lot of knowledge more broadly and don’t pigeonhole yourself. I still use the learnings from jobs I haven’t loved because I learned a lot about myself too.
SCN: Is saying yes to your job in supply chain the best risk you’ve taken?
PE: Yes, I do. But, at the time, I didn’t think it was a risk. I thought: wow, they are giving me a chance to test the water – my wish has been granted!
I can’t say I wasn’t apprehensive. I didn’t have a logistics or supply chain degree or even a business degree, I thought: how am I going to maneuver in this environment? In looking back, it was certainly an unorthodox career path. Looking back now, it was a risk, but at the time, it didn’t feel like it. It was the best move I have ever made. I enjoyed HR but was wanting to push further on what I could contribute, and felt better suited in operational role.
SCN: It goes without saying that supply chain is pretty male-dominated. Did you ever feel that way?
PE: When I first joined this operational area, I was the only female in management and leadership. It was initially intimidating but then I quickly realized that so many in my peer group were caring, respectful, wonderful role models for me to learn the business. They wanted to teach me what I needed. It was my own mindset, not theirs.
Industry-wide though, it is something we have made great strides in. We have attracted all types of diversity, not only women and there is a good awareness of it. Ten years ago, it was a big topic. One of the first conferences I went to and spoke at was a great opportunity to educate and talk frankly about what needed to change. Now, supply chain is a career path of choice for many females and there is much better diversity. It is such a great job and career path for people and the excitement of the job takes the gender issue out of it.
SCN: What is the best advice you ever received? Who gave it to you?
PE: My role model is my dad (who has since passed) in shaping me as a professional and a person. He was definitely one of the hardest working people I know. He showed me the value of relationships and people and truly just being the kind of person others wanted to be around. He always said the work will fall into place.
Some of the advice he gave me was: always look in the mirror. If things aren’t going well, see what you can do to make the situation better first. Come to the table with self-improvement and ownership for what didn’t go well, and you’ll win over the person on the other side. Always reflect and make yourself better. When you do that, you’ll be a better partner.
SCN: What is your proudest achievement?
PE: My 15-year-old-daughter for sure! My husband and I are proud of the young lady she’s become. She’s truly her own person with her own set of ideas, confidence and independence. And believe it or not, she works at Wegmans! It was her choice. She plays three sports, job, babysits, and travels for sports. She’s a hard worker!
SCN: What do you wish you knew when you were starting out that you know now?
PE: Early in my career, I lost sight of work/life balance (though I hate that phrase, as it means something different to everyone). I needed to learn how to keep my hours in check, how to put first some of the needs of my family first over some challenges at work. I again had great advice around me and wise truth tellers that told me to make adjustments or I would regret it. I am so glad I did though I wished I realized it sooner.