Winning a place on a list of up-and-coming young professionals is getting to be a habit for Stephanie Kessler Thayer, who appeared in the St. Louis Business Journal's 30 Under 30 list in 2014. An accomplished project manager, Kessler Thayer is the go-to person for furniture, fixtures, and equipment in more than 1,800 Panera Bread cafés across half the United States.
When it's time to open a new café, replace existing equipment, or roll out an innovation—such as electronic kiosks for placing orders—Kessler Thayer makes sure everything comes together correctly and on time. She creates and maintains work plans, budgets, scopes of work, and rules of engagement for $27.5 million worth of rollout and replacement activity.
Before earning her MBA and embarking on a supply chain career, Kessler Thayer majored in international relations at Webster University. But even as an undergraduate, when she first heard about supply chain management, she felt the attraction. "I discovered that supply chain involved all my professional passions—negotiation, estimation, working with people, and finding common ground," she says.
Before joining Panera in 2013, Kessler Thayer worked at Ralcorp, later purchased by ConAgra. As a procurement specialist in packaging, she quickly spotted a problem with the inventory data used to forecast product demand.
"I noticed some severe forecasting inaccuracies," she recalls. "The database was missing some information, and that provided an opportunity to improve the process." Further investigation revealed that the database was missing about 30,000 item numbers that hadn't carried over during a system conversion five years earlier. "That was skewing the data sets by about 20 percent," she notes.
Once Kessler Thayer pinpointed this, and other errors in the database, she and her colleagues were able to address them. Then she invented a new, hybrid forecasting method that took better account of factors such as seasonal demand. "We streamlined that supply chain process, making sure we were not missing the data that was so valuable for our suppliers and our plants," she says.
As busy as her job keeps her, Thayer Kessler also invests energy in her community. She serves on the boards of the St. Louis Public Radio Young Friends, and the Young Friends of the Missouri Botanical Garden. She also volunteers at the Academy of Science—St. Louis.
For fun, she and her husband rebuild 1970s-era motorcycles. "You should see me clean a carburetor!" she says. "And I bake because, after all, I work for a company that prides itself on bread and pumpkin muffins. I spend most Saturday afternoons in the kitchen—after my run, of course."
HOMETOWN: St. Louis, Missouri
ALMA MATER: Webster University
CURRENT POSITION: Manager, Development Purchasing, Panera Bread, St. Louis, Missouri
NOMINATED BY: Self-nominated
From maintaining supplier relationships to implementing cost-savings initiatives, procurement has a significant impact on a business’ ability to operate and grow efficiently.
I highly recommend it. If you love numbers, people, and exciting projects, supply chain is a great field.