I’m proud and honored to know Tom Peck, one of the most widely admired executives in our field. As most of you know, Tom is Executive Vice President/Chief Information and Digital Officer at Houston-based food distribution giant Sysco. Before joining Sysco in January 2021, he was a technology executive at NBC Universal, MGM Mirage, Levi Strauss & Co., AECOM and Ingram Micro.

From my perspective, Tom ranks among the finest and most respected technology leaders of the modern business era. At Sysco, Tom has helped guide a customer-facing digital transformation and opened important new markets. Despite the many pressures and the incredible challenges of his role, he is remarkably open and humble.

 

“Sysco really is an amazing company. We’re the lead provider for food away from home. Think restaurants, sports stadiums, cafeterias. Our fiscal ’21 sales were over $50 billion. We have about 650,000 customers in 90 countries, almost 350 distribution centers, almost 60,000 associates and 14,000 trucks,” Tom explains. “The size and scale are tremendous, but what’s most unique about our culture is our relentless focus on both the customer and growth. These are not just words, they’re a rallying cry. They’re how we run the business.”

 

In our conversation, I asked Tom how he reached his decision to join Sysco and to talk about his business relationship with Sysco President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Hourican.

 

“They say you join companies because of your boss, and you leave companies because of your boss. Kevin took the time to explain the company, the culture, the mission, the vision, the strategy. He was able to clearly articulate our recipe for growth. He provided a lot of clarity around my role, my team’s role,” Tom says. “Kevin and I joke that people like us and the other leaders on our team have a — quote/unquote — bigger motor than others. A bigger motor in reference to our work ethic, our dedication. Our leadership team is inspiring. It’s motivating. It makes us want to do better each and every day.”

 

Tom and I have spoken numerous times over the past several years. A recurring topic has been the idea of a “higher purpose.” I asked him about Sysco’s larger goals beyond business success.

 

“Our purpose at Sysco is, ‘connecting the world to share food and care for one another.’ We believe that what we do helps bring people together and brings goodness and conversations, whether it’s at restaurants or your kitchen table. That purpose, our corporate responsibility and our philanthropic goals, all focused on customer and growth, are what rallies this amazing company and its amazing associates. Our associates want to be attached to a company that has a higher purpose,” Tom says.

 

We also spoke about understanding the difference between “reordering” and “shopping.” It might seem like a subtle shift in perspective, but the results can be astonishing.

 

“We have an online e-commerce platform called Sysco Shop, and it’s been a huge success. As we try to deliver these consumer-like experiences, we want to move our customers off of the reorder list. We want them to shop. We want them to experience recommendations, upselling, and cross-selling. We’re seeing higher net sales per order and higher lines per order because of this personalization, self-service and empowered online experience,” Tom explains.

 

I also asked Tom about collaborating with the C-suite to reimagine and reinvent Sysco’s digital platform and customer interface during the pandemic.

 

“I think the huge lesson here for all of us is you need to transform and digitize before a crisis,” Tom says. “You can’t be reactive. You need to anticipate and see around those corners. Because during a crisis, you can either hunker down and try to survive or you can do what we did at Sysco. We went on offense, and now we’re winning. We’re emerging and trying to get ahead and perform and innovate before the next crisis.”