When it comes to well-rounded foodservice industry veterans, it would be difficult to find someone comparable to Cameell Hanna Jr.
After graduating with a degree in hotel/restaurant management from Michigan State, he worked for a major hotel chain, ran private clubs, handled blue collar feeders and oversaw corporate cafeterias before starting his career as a DSR.
As an account representative at Stafford-Smith's Ferndale, Mich., office for the last five years, Hanna has cultivated a large and diverse customer base. Drawing on his past experience, institutional feeders, specifically healthcare foodservice providers, make up the bulk of his clientele.
FE&S: You earned a degree in hospitality management from Michigan State. What first drew you to this industry?
CH: I like working with people. As a young kid of 21 years old, I opened 3 to 4 hotels and enjoyed the glamour of it. As I became older and started a family, working 80 hours a week got old fast. When I became a salesman in 1980, I knew I could bring a lot to the table. Going through a hotel training program gave me a broad view of the industry.
FE&S: You have worked as a DSR for roughly 35 years. What keeps you engaged in the industry?
CH: I'm a service-minded individual. In my current role, I can take projects from concept to completion and see the satisfaction in the client's eyes. Being involved with custom fabrication and solving problems is very satisfying.
FE&S: How has the industry evolved since you first started?
CH: Early in my career, it was always me in front of the customer selling myself as well as doing the job for my company. Those personal relationships grew. I was still the constant during times of change. Now, people are just looking for a quote, not a face-to-face meeting. This is a personal business, and I'm a salesman at heart. Also, there isn't the same training as there was in the past. We need to go back to basics, get sales people back in front of customers and start building relationships again. This is more long-lasting than e-mailing.
FE&S: You're known for developing good working relationships with purchasing managers, foodservice directors and even other members of the supply chain. Describe your approach to developing these relationships.
CH: Customers need to see the end result, and I help them develop this. It means a lot that customers from 10 years ago still contact me to help them out. Unfortunately, today there are many customers that have a different tactic. Much of the focus is on price, and experience doesn't mean as much. But the old adage, 'you get what you pay for' is still true.
FE&S: You have a reputation for being very knowledgeable. How do you keep your information base current?
CH: It can be difficult staying up-to-date when I'm so involved with current projects. Trade shows like NAFEM are key in providing information on how equipment is used, installed and maintained.
FE&S: What's the most important lesson you've learned during the course of your career?
CH: Do what you say, listen to the customer, find out what their needs are and fulfill them.