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NC State Jenkins MBA Puts Eliot Lee on Track for Sustainable Food Industry Career

Eliot Lee explains his project during Kellogg's internship showcase.
Eliot Lee explains his project during Kellogg's internship showcase.

Eliot Lee is on track to graduate in 2018 with two master’s degrees – one from the NC State Jenkins MBA program and one from the College of Engineering’s industrial engineering program.

As he progresses toward his degrees, Lee has been taking advantage of opportunities to build on his deep interest in sustainable food chains, gaining both a depth of knowledge in how those food chains work and valuable experience in helping companies to make their food chains more sustainable.

Gaining experience with food industry processes, supply chains

This summer, he completed a Supply Chain Manufacturing Reliability Internship with Kellogg Company, where he focused on statistical process control and a capability study on one of the company’s products. The experience showed him the importance of a well-designed process that could be controlled and monitored in the supply chain manufacturing function.

Since 2016, Lee has worked with NC Growing Together (NCGT), a six-year (2013-2018), U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded project managed by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) at NC State. That project “aims to bring more locally produced foods into mainstream markets, strengthening the economics of small- to mid-size farm and fishing operations and their communities,” he said in an email interview with Poole College communications. His projects have included mapping the supply chain for a micro-mill in western North Carolina and working with suppliers to identify buyer-level measurements of product satisfaction.

Prior to entering the MBA program, Lee also worked for two years as a program assistant at CEFS. During this time, he coordinated the NCGT Local Food Supply Chain Apprenticeship Program that gives undergraduate students from around the country the opportunity to work with North Carolina-based food supply chain intermediaries and support organizations.

Eliot Lee (front row, right) with NCTG interns on a field trip. To his left is Graham Givens, (MBA '17), now with Compass Group, previous NCTG coordinator and now with Compass Group.
Eliot Lee (front row, right) with NCTG interns on a field trip. To his left is Graham Givens, (MBA ’17), previous NCTG coordinator, now with Compass Group, who accompanied them.

“The North Carolina-based businesses included national produce distributors and regional grocery chains that were working to incorporate more source-identified foods from small and mid-scale farms into their supply chains,” Lee said, adding, “It was my first exposure to companies trying to address food supply chain complexities.” Companies have included  FreshPoint, Lowes Foods, FoodBuy, and Foster-Caviness.

Exploring Sustainable Agriculture

Through the NCGT Program, CEFS had been a partner entity in the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative (SCRC), a Poole College-based initiative that connects students, thought leaders and industry professionals, providing a platform for real world experiences for students and real world solutions for partner companies.

Lee said he was “first introduced to CEFS through their sustainable agriculture internship program during the summer of 2015.” He had just graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s degree in technical systems management, which focused on the application of engineering principles, the study of technology used in agriculture, and the integration of business management concepts in the food and agricultural industries.

As an undergraduate student, Lee said, “I was always interested in sustainability and wanted to learn more about sustainable agriculture. During the CEFS internship, I gained experience through hands-on farming, learning about the research, and talking to subject matter experts.”

This past April, Lee attended Expo West, the country’s largest natural products tradeshow. “My trip was supported by the Jenkins MBA office and the MBArk program,” he said. MBArk is an organization that develops programs to promote and accelerate synergy between the new generation of progressive MBA students and business schools, and triple-bottom-line businesses within the natural foods industry.

“It was really eye-opening to see other industries that are looking for talent outside of the typical routes most MBA students take,” Lee said, adding that it was “a great place to start” for business students interested in the natural food industry. “It’s not a typical job fair, but you can make a lot of great connections with fellow like-minded students and companies. I am thankful that the Jenkins program recognized this opportunity and supported the trip,” he said.

Lee is now entering his second year as a CEFS Compass Group USA Fellow. He will be working on sustainability related projects with a former CEFS employee and NC State Jenkins MBA alumnus Graham Givens (’16), who is the food implementation manager of product specificity and sustainability of FoodBuy, the exclusive distributor of Compass Group. One of Graham’s many roles is to help the company drive compliance in product specification and sustainability initiatives with their suppliers and partners. Read more about the fellowship here.

“Coming into grad school,” Lee said, “I believed that the Jenkins MBA would train me to provide realistic and creative solutions to the sustainable food supply chain. My familiarity with current barriers within the supply chain – from the needed capacity-building of farmers to provide adequate supplies, to the tweaking of procurement policies so larger buyers can source from small-scale producers – equips me to immediately begin to apply newly acquired business skills to real world problems,” he said.

“Food companies are beginning to listen to consumers who are asking for more transparency and sustainability in their business practices. However, as expected, change doesn’t come immediately. But when large, well-established companies like Compass Group begin changing their polices, the impact is profound,” Lee said.

“Compass Group has worked hard to maintain the integrity of their supply chain by ensuring polices such as the use of humanely raised animal products or suppliers who advocate farm worker rights. As a future employee – where ever it may be – my desire is to work for a company that uses its business model or products to address the world’s problems,” he said.

“Joe Dobrow (who launched MBArk) states it perfectly when he says that ‘… food is a cornerstone of global sustainability, a beacon for entrepreneurship, and an industry that is ripe for disruption’,” Lee said. “I believe partnering with Compass Group will help me realize this dream.”

About Compass Group N.A.

Based in Charlotte, NC, Compass Group North America is the leading foodservice and support services company with over 250,000 associates and $17 billion in revenues in 2017. With over 550,000 associates worldwide, its parent company, UK-based Compass Group PLC, has been named in the Forbes Global 2000 – World’s Best Employer list for 2017. Compass Group North America was named by Fast Company as one of 50 Most Innovative Companies 2018 (number one in Food); by Forbes as Best Employer for Diversity; and by Fortune in 2016 as one of 50 Companies That Change the World.Compass Group PLC had revenues of £22.9 billion ($29 billion USD) in the fiscal year ended September 30, 2017.