Keurig Green Mountain, maker of the ubiquitous K-Cup coffees and coffeemakers, has its roots in Vermont, where everyone in town either knows each other, or knows each other once removed. It’s owned by a global private equity firm today—with 6,000 employees and nine manufacturing facilities.
But the former Green Mountain Coffee Roasters hasn’t entirely parted ways with its grassroots, neighborly identity. Its Top 100 Suppliers event in Burlington, Mass, emphasizes face time instead of FaceTime. The past two years, one of the highlights has been a hands-on series of charitable events. This year had suppliers from all over sit down together in the company’s cafeteria and make blankets and assemble backpacks for schoolkids for a charity called Cradles to Crayons.
Amena Smith, the 13-year employee with roots in the hospitality industry who spearheaded the event, talked with IndustryWeek about relationship-building at Keurig and how service works fits into it.
Tell me about your Top 100 supply chain conference.
We invite the top 100 strategic suppliers to come to our Burlington, location every year and hear about what’s going on the company from our senior leadership. So it’s not the voices of procurement, but our CEO and CFO sharing their vision and product plans directly. It’s an opportunity to hear from them on a level just a person we were transacting with wouldn’t have access to.
So what’s your involvement in planning this event?
My responsibility has been the logistical piece of it. Last year, we talked about, “How can we really bring another element to this?” We always plan a fun event, like a golf outing, but we thought what would be a lot more meaningful is to ask our suppliers to participate in a charitable event to support our building a better world value stream. Last year was the first year we did it—an offsite and onsite event—and all of the people who participated in it commented on how valuable it was.
This year we had much more participation and there was more on-site visibility. We had it in our cafeteria so people could see what was going on and join in. We had several competing activities, some onsite at Cradles to Crayons also.
What kind of feedback did you get from the folks who participated?
Generally, what we heard is suppliers feel it allows them to engage on a deeper level. Making the blankets, you’re sitting across the table from someone, working side by side, so all the networking takes place. But you also get firsthand exposure and involvement in something that’s really important to our company, which is community involvement and volunteerism.
What did you change after the first year?
The first year, we actually had a day and a half of meetings and tried to fit that in as well. We gave it more time this year. And the first year we had the onsite events in a set of second-floor conference rooms. So if somebody hadn’t signed up for it, it didn’t really trigger them to go and sit down and participate. This year we did these events in our cafeteria where our suppliers were going anyway, so it encouraged a lot of involvement. It made a huge difference.
Is there a lot of service work going on at Keurig right now?
We have a program that gives employee 52 hours of paid time off to volunteer, and I think roughly over 50% of people do those volunteering times. I don’t think there’s a week that goes by that we don’t’ get a group message—here are the different things you can volunteer in. But the nice thing about the program, you can spend you time doing something that’s very important to you.
In Vermont [she’s now based in Burlington], I did a lot with the local schools in their theater program, and I could take three hours at the end of the work day to help the middle schools with their production.
There are some things we do every year. A river cleanup project. We send employees to help at local farms pretty regularly, the local food pantry. We’re sponsoring a local park this year, so there will be a lot of work to get the park ready.
What’s the payoff in this? How does it foster workplace culture?
We promise our top 100 suppliers that we will have a different sort of relationship than other people we do business with. It’s a much deeper relationship where we share a lot of information. And I think part of that is sharing the values—the match in the values for the companies.
One of the things that come out of an event like this, is that you get to know each other company-to-company in a different way. There’s a depth to it you might not get in another situation.
The more that you do together and work together in a variety of environments, the more you know about each other. That builds partnership and collaboration and even triggers ideas. You never know what’s going to happen—you’re talking over making a fleece blanket and the next great idea comes up.
You’ve worked in the hospitality industry--how’s the culture different at Keurig? What stands out to you?
I’m going to sound very Vermont-y, I lived there 22 years, but the fact of the matter is, people are not just their home, their work their volunteer time—they’re all those things together. And when your work allows you to have those connections and endorses those connections in the rest of your life, that’s something special.
There are lots of well-paying jobs, but what this program and several others remind the people who work here and do business with us, is that we value them as holistic humans. I’ve never worked at someplace that endorsed it so publicly. There were certainly places you could say, “I need to leave early today to volunteer at my child’s school,” but there wasn’t an endorsement that said, “We’re going to give you this time and pay you for this time to do these things.”