meez podcast

Tommy Gordon on Gordon Food Service

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About this episode

#37. Tommy Gordon, the General Manager of the Great Lakes Central Division at Gordon Food Service (GFS), is a key figure in the largest and oldest division of the company. GFS, the largest privately owned wholesale food service distributor in North America, boasts over 20,000 employees and an annual revenue exceeding 16 billion dollars. With a rich history spanning 125 years since its founding in 1897, GFS is now managed by over five generations of families.Tommy formerly served as the North American Director of  Digital Products and Services at GFS. Tommy's new role is responsible for overseeing operations in the Great Lakes Central Division, which plays a pivotal role in GFS's extensive network. The company serves over 115,000 customers with a remarkable 19,000 deliveries on any given day. GFS also maintains 175 storefronts across the country, providing easy access for customers to purchase their products directly.In this episode of The meez Podcast, Tommy delves into GFS's unique approach, discussing the company's strategy, perspective on technology, and its ability to operate and innovate with agility despite its size. One notable aspect of GFS that stands out is its unwavering focus on the customer, a culture that has been cultivated over the years. The company's obsession with prioritizing customers above all else has not only led to business success but has also fostered a positive and loyal team culture among its workforce.

What We Cover

(02:18) Tommy Gordon's background

(05:52) Tommy's start in non-profits

(07:37) Gordon Food Service's start

(14:09) War Room Mentality

(17:05) The culture at GFS

(23:13) GFS customer diversity

(25:44) Serving commercial vs. non commercial customers

(27:11) GFS storefronts

(32:59) How GFS thinks about competition

(47:48) GFS Partnerships

(56:15) Final thoughts from Tommy


[00:00:05] Josh Sharkey: 

Welcome to the meez podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show.

[00:00:30] Josh Sharkey: 

My guest today is Tommy Gordon of Gordon Food Service. Tommy is currently the general manager of the Great Lakes Central Division. The largest division and I believe the oldest division of the company, Gordon Food Service, which for short I'll call GFS, is the largest privately owned wholesale food service distributor in North America with over 20,000 employees and over 16 billion in annual revenue.


The company just recently celebrated its 125 year anniversary. It was founded in 1897 and now with over five generations of families overseeing the organization. There are over 115,000 customers receiving truck deliveries. And 19,000 deliveries on any given day. GFS also has 175, these storefronts across the country where really anyone can drop in and buy their products.


Tom and I have had the pleasure of getting to know each other over the last couple of years. And we spent a lot of today's conversation talking about GFS’s unique approach to what they do, their strategy, their perspective on technology and how they navigate operating and innovating with agility.


being such a large company. The one thing that always comes to mind whenever I'm thinking about or talking about GFS, having met so many of their team members, is they have this obsession with customers over everything. They really, really, really love their customers. I mean, they love and obsess over making sure that their customers are happy.


And it's been really inspiring to see how this culture can create such an incredible result in the business, as well as really happy and really loyal team members. So as always, I hope that you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

[00:02:15] Josh Sharkey:

Super excited to have you here.

[00:02:16] Tommy Gordon: 

Good to be here. 

[00:02:18] Josh Sharkey: 

A lot to go over today. And I think I was going to start off either talking about You and going down the rabbit hole with Tommy Gordon, or... Gordon food service and then we have a bunch of other stuff. We're gonna talk about it as well But yeah, maybe just to sort of get the obligatory out of the way a little background on yourself Yes, how you got here.

[00:02:39] Tommy Gordon: 

That works. That'll be like the vanilla boring part. Yeah, so Tommy Gordon, I am currently the Director of Digital Products and Services at Gordon Food Service, but as you know, Josh, I'm mid flight, mid move into, into a new role at Gordon Food Service, which is General Manager of our Great Lakes Central Division. So, I'm in that super fun window where you're kind of doing.


80 percent of two different jobs and you're like, wait, that, that doesn't equal a hundred. Somehow it's shaking out to a little more than that, which is all good. But yeah, I've been with Gordon food service officially for about eight years, maybe almost nine years here coming up this winter. So 

[00:03:23] Josh Sharkey: 

You were in like fundraising and nonprofit before this, right?

[00:03:26] Tommy Gordon: 

I was yeah. So I lived out in Colorado after college and got my career start doing first kind worked for a homelessness organization based in downtown Denver, kind of working with both specifically like housing service, but wraparound services for the homeless homeless population there. And then particularly like on the corporate development side, so I did all of our corporate fundraising.


Volunteers, events, all that stuff. And then I moved into international development where I worked with, uh, an organization that was bringing clean water and sanitation to the developing world. So, did that for a couple years. Just also loved Denver and, like, living in Colorado and, like, your 20s and... t's the best.

[00:04:08] Josh Sharkey: 

I mean, how did you end up there? You're from Michigan originally. 

[00:04:12] Tommy Gordon: 

Yeah. So I graduated from Hope College, which is a small liberal arts school in Michigan. Me and four, it was 2008. So nobody could get jobs anywhere. So me and four of my buddies knew that we kind of loved skiing and backpacking and climbing and that kind of thing.


So we kind of folded the map in half and started throwing darts basically. And we're like, where do we want to go fellas? One guy ended up getting into grad school at University of Denver, and then one guy ended up getting a job. And so we were like, well, I guess, guess it's Denver for the rest of us. And yeah, and then we all ended up kind of making a life out there for a decade or so.


So met our spouses, got married, all lived out there for a while. A lot of those guys have moved back, but it was a great seasonal life, man. Have you spent much time in Colorado?

[00:04:58] Josh Sharkey: 

I have never been to Colorado. And I've actually never even been to that area. I'm going to Phoenix for the first time, to Arizona for the first time in a few weeks or a month or so.

[00:05:10] Tommy Gordon: 

Pack some antiperspirant. It's hot. 

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