Q&A with Mark Schuster

VP Global Manufacturing, Lamb Weston

Mark Schuster

Employees you oversee:

5,000

What is your current role? How long have you been in it? Where are you based? Where do you spend most of your time?

My current role is to lead global manufacturing and global engineering for Lamb Weston. We currently have 15 facilities in North America and four international facilities (located in China, Argentina, and two in Australia).

I moved into this role about a year ago and am located out of our Supply Chain corporate office in Kennewick, but I do travel to our different locations throughout the year.

What is Lamb Weston and what is its footprint in the Tri-Cities?

Lamb Weston is one of the world’s largest suppliers of frozen potato products. We make about every kind of potato product you can think of: french fries of all different cut styles, sizes and flavors, hash brown patties, shredded hash browns, roundabouts, roasted and mashed potatoes.

We also have our own farm, dairy, frozen warehouse, packaging center and vegetable production facility.

Our products are served in over 100 different countries in sit-down restaurants, drive-thru chains and in homes with our retail brands. 

We have a strong presence in the Tri-Cities with two potato production facilities (Richland, Pasco), a batter facility (Pasco), Technical Center (Richland), Innovation Center (Richland) and our Supply Chain, Engineering and Ag Services headquarters (Kennewick).

Lamb Weston employs 1,900 people in the Tri-Cities.

Why should people in the Tri-Cities care about food processing and frozen potatoes?

Our products have a large economic impact in the area, all the way from the potatoes the local farmers grow, the ingredients and materials we use, transportation, warehousing and our great employees.

The products we make right here are enjoyed by people all over the United States and the world.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

A leader needs to support, trust and believe in their team. The power of a team that is operating in a good culture of support is amazing.

What is the biggest challenge facing business owners/managers today? Would that have been your answer prior to the Covid-19 pandemic?

The ability to react to change. The pandemic certainly has thrown a lot of changes our way, some with very little notice. That is when the team really shines as they use their skill and passion to solve problems for our customers.

Before the pandemic this would have been the same answer, but with different types of changes that were coming our way. One thing that hasn’t changed is those businesses that can adapt and thrive during change will be successful.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your industry?

One thing that has come from the pandemic is more people are aware of what a supply chain is.

It is a complicated process that starts with a raw material that produces a finished good that ends up with in the hands of a customer. When there are interruptions to that process you can end up with shortages of the goods that you want to buy.

My hope is that this visibility will continue to drive continuous improvement in the industry’s supply chain and encourage people to pursue careers in the food manufacturing business.

What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

There is an old phrase that states “people are born a leader,” I actually disagree with that.  Whether you are a new or experienced leader, you must work hard at it. That means you are always learning from other leaders around you, which does not mean they have a title but rather they act like a leader.

You also need to learn about leadership from reading books, talking to people and self-reflecting to learn from your leadership successes and opportunities.

Who are your role models or mentors?

It started with my parents and grandparents that gave me early life leadership lessons. As I entered the workforce with Lamb Weston, I found some of my best role models were the team that works on the equipment.

They know that equipment and process better than anyone, and they know how to work as a team across different departments. This was a great start to my leadership journey with Lamb Weston.

How do you keep your team members motivated?

I like to keep a positive and creative environment. The work is hard, and the team puts out great effort every day, so we make sure to pause and celebrate success. We also like to have fun and be creative as we look forward with our continuous improvement mindset.

How did you decide to pursue the career that you are working in today?

I was a business major from Washington State University, and after graduation I was looking to join a Tri-City company.

At the time I knew very little about food manufacturing and the global scale and opportunities it has. But I knew Lamb Weston was a well-established company that had a great reputation, and when offered a position in operations, I decided it would be a great place to start a career.

Over my 25 years with the company, it has enabled me many opportunities in different departments, including moving to Inner Mongolia, China, with my family to start up our first international plant.

How do you measure success in your workplace?

We always start with the safety of our people, that is the first thing we talk about because nothing is more important than that. We then talk about the quality of our products, to make sure we are servicing our customers the right way.

We then look at the efficiency and costs of our facilities and use a zero-loss mentality to find where our opportunities are.

What do you consider your leadership style to be?

I would consider my style to be positive and collaborative.

Growing up playing sports gave me a great foundation of team and the impact a positive environment can have. That sense of team and family is what drew me to Lamb Weston, and it is what has kept me there for my entire career.

How do you balance work and family life?

I really work to keep my evenings open so I can be very engaged in family activities. One way I do that is I am an early riser, so sometimes when extra work needs to be done, I can do that in the mornings before everyone else wakes up.

This has enabled me to be very involved in whatever my kids are doing.

What do you like to do when you are not at work?

I love to watch, coach and cheer on any activity my kids are doing. We spend a lot of time around sporting events and we love it. I am also very active with Washington State University which includes as a fan watching games, helping put on events for the Cougar Athletic Fund, or as a board member of the WSU Alumni Association. Go Cougs!

What’s your best time management strategy?

Organization is key for me, and I find it helps me stay focused on the right things. I have found different tools and techniques to help keep both my short- and long-term projects on track.

Best tip to relieve stress?

A phrase we have used many times during the pandemic is to “control what you can control.”  This keeps your focus and attention on what you, and the team, can directly act on and have a positive impact. This helps reduce the stress that can come from things you have no control over.

What’s your favorite book?

A book I read many years ago, and have read it several times since is “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard,” by Chip and Dan Heath.

It is about leading change and how to get it to stick. I had a mentor tell me about their strategy of reading the same impactful book every couple years to remind yourself of the lessons and to reflect on them in your current situation.

I have found that to be impactful advice with this book, as it has been helpful to read the book again and apply it to my current situation.

Do you have a personal mantra, phrase or quote you like to use?

For years I have used a phrase from a safety program: “Work safe. Home safe.” It is a simple but effective way to remind us all why we want everyone to work safe every day.

We all have reasons and people that are waiting for us at home, and that is why we must always look out for ourselves and each other every day.

Waffle, curly, straight, wedge, crinkle or dipper? Ketchup or Catsup? Ranch – yes or no?

I joke that I haven’t met a fry I didn’t like during the 25 years of my career. But if I have to narrow it down to one, I like a skin-on waffle-cut fry.

It has great potato flavor in a unique shape. They are so good that no sauces are needed, but if you decide to dip, they are perfect for picking up the flavors of your favorite sauce, which would be ranch for me.

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