With a staff of eight and a territory that is 2,261 miles wide and 1,420 miles long - that's 1 employee per 83,000 square miles - Jeff Pugh, General Manager for Bargreen Ellingson in Alaska certainly has his plate full (pun intended). In our latest Branching Out interview, Pugh takes us from the beginning of his career to the present, letting us in on his secret recipe for success while sharing some wisdom and wit along the way. Read his interview below and discover why maintaining a desire to learn throughout life can bring more opportunities than you can imagine.
How it All Began
"I used to work in a completely different field - the emergency room and pediatric intensive care unit at Tacoma General," says Pugh. "I wasn't completely happy working there, though, so I asked a friend of mine, Bobby McGivern, Distribution Center Manager for Bargreen Ellingson if there were any job openings where he worked. A few weeks later, I was working in the DC."
Although Pugh had no experience in warehouse operations, his dedication, and natural leadership qualities along with McGivern's mentoring helped him become the Yakima branch Operations Manager in just one year. A few years later, he became the Ops Manager for the Portland branch.
Pugh has worked in several different departments at Bargreen Ellingson; Purchasing, Sales, and since 2011, as the Branch Manager for Alaska. In each role, he has taken on a new set of challenges and created opportunities for himself along the way thanks to his constant desire to learn.
"I have always liked learning. Once I feel I am competent and have learned a job to the best of my ability, I feel compelled to move on to the next thing," says Pugh. And he is quick to acknowledge the opportunity to do so at Bargreen Ellingson, saying that one of the things he has always liked about the Ellingson family "is their willingness to let employees make job changes within the company."
"Moving into a sales position was really the first time I had to work for the change. Admittedly, I think there was some reluctance at first because I didn’t seem like the salesperson type but I am very thankful the Ellingson’s were willing to give me that opportunity," he says. "The adage 'if you enjoy what you do for a living, it's not work' became a reality for me. For the next 5 years, I felt like I got to spend every day going to see my friends and talking to them about something that we both love; food, cooking, and the hospitality industry."
In 2011, Pugh was given the opportunity to start up a branch in Alaska and become the Branch Manager. Naturally, he took the challenge and has since created a strong, dedicated team that credits much of their success to his leadership and ability to create a thriving work atmosphere.
Pugh and his team have primarily focused on the major metro areas of Anchorage, Palmer/Wasilla Valley, and Fairbanks, though they are starting to branch out to the outlying areas. "It has forced us to become a little more creative in how and what we sell, especially from a freight logistics standpoint. Some places are only served by barge twice a year, some can only be serviced by bush plane. Some places are several hundred miles from the next nearest town."
But can you think of a better person than Pugh to lead the team into the Last Frontier? We didn't think so.
Read his interview below.
What do you enjoy most about being the General Manager for the Alaska branch?
On a personal level, I love Alaska. I have always loved the outdoors, and this is a great place to be for outdoor activities. My wife has lived in Alaska most of her life, and it was a great opportunity for her and me to move back to a place she loved as well.
On a work level, I like the challenge of getting sales and operations to work cohesively. I have loved working in both operations and sales positions, but they can be completely different mindsets. I enjoy the challenge of getting both sides to work together as a team.
What is your biggest challenge as General Manager?
Myself. I love helping and interacting with customers, and I like working hard. I love it to the point that sometimes I forget I am here to help coach others to do the same. It’s a work in progress. I constantly have to tell myself to work smart, and look for opportunities to teach rather than do.
What has been your greatest success?
Finding the talented people that make up our team. They are smart, witty, and passionate about what they do. Looking back, I wouldn’t make any changes to who we have hired. They have excelled on their natural talent alone. I count myself fortunate for finding the talented staff that we have. It’s going to be scary when that is coupled with some more direct training on my part.
Anchorage isn’t exactly known for its strong work pool. Many of our customers have had to look to out of state sources for employees. I would gladly rehire any of them regardless of what market we were in, and who they were being compared to.
How do you measure success?
One of my favorite quotes is, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” - Henry Ford
The concept of synergy is profound and well worth striving after. I feel it is applicable regardless of whether it is applied to a business, a customer, an employee, a friend, a spouse, or a child. It requires a little humility, but the payoff is well worth it.
What draws you to the restaurant and hospitality industry?
It’s the closest match to what my personal life is like. My wife and I both love to cook. We also like to be hospitable people. We love having friends over for meals and treating them like royalty.
Our customers have a passion for the same thing, but most of the time it is for complete strangers. That poses a unique challenge in a world that has become ever more demanding and saturated with a sense of entitlement. I love helping our customers find solutions to how they can meet that challenge.
What is the best advice you have ever received throughout your career and how do you apply this advice to your job every day?
When I first started in sales, Kevin Harris, former Director of Purchasing and Joe McDaniel, Special Acct. Sales constantly told me “Don’t let the highs get too high, and the lows too low.” I’ve passed this quote along to others, and constantly remind myself of it day to day. My tendency is to follow the emotional roller coaster that the ups and downs of this industry throw at you. I still think of this quote just about every day, and it helps me to go about things a little more even keeled.
What is the most inspiring client story you’ve recently experienced?
This experience is a little older, but I remember it like it was yesterday...
While I was on an anniversary trip, my largest customer called and left me a voice mail that consisted of which body part he was going to remove, and how it would be fed to me. If that doesn’t inspire you to action I don’t know what will. A few phone calls later and we had the problem resolved. For safe measure, though, I bought a replica of said body part when I returned. I left it on the customer’s desk with my card and a note that said, “Next time all you have to do is ask”. We both had a good laugh, and it seemed to have worked. Our sales with them doubled over the following year.
Do you have any branch traditions?
I think we are going to start a new hoopla tradition this year. Several of us like to ride bicycles. Sarah Mulligan had the idea of a “Tour de Franzia”. Imagine, bicycling meets box wine... We will let you know how it goes.
You can find #TeamAlaska at 365 Industrial Way Anchorage, AK 99501