November 2015 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Sean Smith: Ingredients for a Great Career

Tags: Warehousing, Transportation, Logistics, Education, Careers, Supply Chain

Sean Smith is supply chain director at Agropur Ingredients in La Crosse, Wis. He has worked for the company since 2013.

Responsibilities: Purchasing, inbound and outbound logistics, production planning, inventory management, analytics, and warehouse operations.

Experience: Supply chain manager, U.S. Army; strategic sourcing manager—facilities, Citigroup; supply chain manager—contracting and sourcing, Adventist Health Systems.

Education: Diploma, supply chain management, U.S. Army Quartermaster School, 2003; BS, finance, University of Maryland, 2010; MBA, supply chain management, University of South Florida, 2012.


During my eight years in the military, I was deployed to Iraq for a time, and I was part of a group that went to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. In New Orleans, my team brought in equipment and supplies to sustain soldiers who were running rescue and recovery. During supply runs, we'd drive off in all directions. We had to make our own supply chains because they didn't exist anywhere. If we found a Home Depot, we'd clean it out and bring equipment back for the soldiers who were going house to house, and rescuing survivors.

We brought in chain saws, axes, and even truckloads of fishing waders to protect the task force from the contents of the water they were wading through. We lived on caffeine for almost two months.

Today, at Agropur, I work for the ingredients business unit. We operate from a 500,000-square-foot facility that includes a dry blending and packaging plant with 11 production lines, plus warehouse and distribution space. We sell our ingredients—products such as anti-caking agents, stabilizers, and whey protein powders—to food manufacturers. We also do packaging for several large customers.

One main challenge is complexity. We have about 9,000 SKUs—90 percent are ingredients and 10 percent are packaging. The shelf life for a given ingredient varies. A lot of our components come from China, often taking four months to get here. That uses up quite a bit of the shelf life. So we have to a manage a complicated balancing act, not bringing in product too soon but also not holding it too long .

Because we do contract manufacturing, make our own branded products, and distribute products, each sales segment requires different supply chain channels.

Packaging has no expiration date, but we have to strike a balance between keeping enough in stock and not taking up too much room with bulky items such as plastic jars.

When Agropur Ingredients hired me, I was responsible for just purchasing and logistics. Now, my department controls the supply chain from end to end. We're redoing processes to eliminate paper and manual work, getting ready to implement a transportation management system, and planning to start developing a warehouse management system in house. We started to do our own forecasting, rather than relying entirely on customer forecasts. And we're putting in systems to better coordinate our purchasing and production scheduling. We're also starting up a new, 126,000-square-foot distribution center.

I've been a big proponent of education at Agropur. I've brought in APICS to teach the Certified Supply Chain Professional course to most of my department. Six people, including myself, will soon be sitting for that exam.

I get bored if I'm not challenged. Supply chains always create a new challenge that we need to tackle or figure out. That's why, when the Army made me a supply chain manager, I fell in love with that work. I still love it today.n

The Big Questions

When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?

I like watching football, and spending time with my wife, and our four cats and three dogs. We try to take one big trip each year. Last year it was Ireland, and this year it was Hawaii.

With whom would you like to change places for a day?

The head of the CIA, so I could know all our secrets.

What's one major thing you hope to accomplish someday?

I've always wanted to build a large distribution center from the ground up, with automated storage and retrieval, automated guided vehicles—everything to make it as automated as possible.

What movie can you watch over and over and never get tired of?

Super Troopers.