Alumni Success Story: Danielle Cimek ‘08, BAS CIS Database Management

Danielle Cimek

Danielle Cimek ‘08 has an 11-year history at Gordon Food Service. She started as an intern and, as a result of experience gained through working in various departments/roles, became a valuable team player in a company-wide initiative to move computer applications to an ERP system. With her degree in CIS Database Management and her passion for creating opportunities and connections for people, it’s no wonder GFS called on her expertise when creating the group to implement “The One” project.

Tell us about yourself. Family, life, background, interests…

I grew up in West Michigan and attended Kentwood Schools. I am happily married to a wonderful man also born and raised in West Michigan. With two boys, ages 5 and 8 years old, we are a busy family! We love the West Michigan community and calling this area home.

 Tell me why you picked DU for your degree. 

After high school, I attended GVSU initially pursuing a degree in pre-law. From a young age, I grew up with the wish of being an attorney someday. As part of the degree, I took ‘Intro to Information Systems’ for a gen-ed class and I couldn’t believe that you could do that as a career. I changed my major and started taking IT classes. Living in the Cascade area at the time, Davenport had recently built the Kraft location, which was perfect since it was close. Davenport also offered online courses that were great for me as I was working full-time student. I would work 40 to 52 hours a week and after my shift come home and do course work before bed. The degree I received in 2008 was in Information Systems with a specialty in Database Management.

 How long have you worked at Gordon Food Service?

I was blessed to start off as an intern at Gordon Food Service. Although an internship wasn’t required for my degree, I thought it would increase my knowledge in the industry – and it sure did! I was selected by Gordon Food Service to be an intern on their Business Intelligence team. I’ve been with the company for over 11 years.

 What was your career path which led you to your current job as the business change manager?

After my internship, GFS did not have enough funding to hire me as a full-time employee. They hired me as a consultant and, soon after, a position opened up on the Warehouse Management Team for the custom development system. I was hired as the Release Coordinator where I coordinated the upgrades for various locations. Throughout the years, I’ve transitioned through different roles in project management and then a team manager role. GFS created a role for me as there were challenges between the infrastructure team and the application team, so my role’s responsibility was to find a way to help build a bridge to bring the two teams together to work through different issues. I then transitioned into being a Team Manager for the endpoint and collaboration team.  We transitioned employees from using Microsoft to Google tools. I also oversaw telecommunication, which included fax, phones, the contact center, and computers. As of last summer, I am the business change manager for our largest business transformation project in GFS history. I am helping to lead our employees through the change to the new ERP solution. I help coordinate the information and content for training and bridging the old and new data, so the transition makes sense to our business users. My focus is around the Procure to Pay work stream which includes all processes from sourcing products to receiving and shipping the product from our 24 distribution centers.

 As a leader for “The One” project, how does your team keep this project from getting stalled? How do you keep it moving forward?

Before they started building our team of 50 subject matter experts from across the organization, a plan was presented to the North American Senior Leadership Team and the Board of Directors.  This included the scope, timeline, costs/ benefits and the reasons why they wanted to implement this technology. In order to keep the project moving, GFS set up a decision matrix. Based on the type of decision that needs to be made, certain level team members are involved. Coupled with a constant communication loop – everyone on the team is informed and gets the critical information. It empowers the group members. We have also partnered with a third party systems integrator that brings leadership and experiences from other integrations.  Lastly, our leadership also reached out to many other SAP customers and used their experiences to help set up our structure. 

 Were there any mentors or people at GFS who have helped you along the way?

When I started my career, I was very shy and kept to myself, which can be typical of IT professionals. During my internship, the person I was paired with told me that I needed to stand up and stand out – which led me to lead a training session. My direct manager had confidence in me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Now, it is not uncommon for me to speak/lead 300 people at a time. My manager that I had when I was first hired, moved to another position. At the time, I thought only your manager could be your mentor, but he encouraged me to reach out to someone on the business side of the organization and possibly even a woman. Someone who could help me grow in a different way and I could bounce ideas off of. I reached out to someone on the business side. I’m so grateful for her! She’s helped be that sponsor and advocate for me within the organization. It’s been an asset to have a crossover with other departments at Gordon.

 Tell me about a project you worked on that you were particularly proud of.

In the last year, GFS was having an IT recruiting problem – IT isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when hearing “Gordon Food Service.”  We need to change this, so we formed a group to find a way to market our IT department. We surveyed current employees and talked to the community and consulting firms about what they heard about GFS. We ended up creating a video and posting it to our career page – it takes the viewer on a journey through Gordon Food Service history and why it’s so awesome to work here. The HR department was so impressed that they mirrored their career page after it.

 What other accomplishments or next steps do you see yourself doing in the future on your career path?

My current position is a step away from IT and the director’s track I was on. This position is a good leadership role because it’s allowing me to grow and gain experience in leading through change. I’m also getting a broader base of knowledge/experiences with this new role. I deliberately chose to take this direction when faced with a fork in the road. “The One” project will keep me busy for four years, but I feel like I will be equipped to move anywhere within the organization for future roles. I really enjoy leading people and helping people think strategically and leverage technology to make the business grow. We’ll have to see what my next step will be.

 What are you passionate about professionally? Personally?

I’m passionate about helping people and bringing diverse groups of people together. I invest in the local community and often wear t-shirts promoting local initiatives. Another trait of mine is knowing and finding the right people to bring together. Whether it’s for a block party, a mentor group, or a committee.

A big push for me professionally and personally is getting involved in the IT community outside of GFS. I have expanded my personal network and promoted the GFS IT department at the same time. My name was passed along to get involved with a local IT conferencing committee. I’ve been involved for two years and am now their chairperson. I also started a mentorship program within GFS, which started out as networking with women in technology and has now expanded to all women in the organization. We all paired up based on interest and then I distributed resources and role expectations. I monitored it and had regular check-ins and supplied materials for discussions. Unfortunately, with the commitments of my new position, I wasn’t able to facilitate another round of pairings, but the group has reached out to me and is continuing. I still see pairings from the original group getting together and that’s very rewarding.

 What do you do when you are not working – any hobbies, interests, passions?

Recently I have gotten back into running. I also enjoy hiking – especially with the family. We have a family cottage on Silver Lake and we go there and hike the dunes or bike trails. I am involved with the Michigan Council for Women in Technology (MCWT) and its mission to connect young girls with technology. We tour elementary schools and talk to kids about IT and give them simple programming tasks in order to spark their interest in technology.

 What’s the best advice you ever received?

Don’t let fear stop me. I need to get out of my own head when I try and talk myself out of things. I have wondered if I’m the right person to take on these new roles at work, but people tell me to acknowledge my strengths and don’t be afraid to challenge myself.  This advice has certainly paid off.

 How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be that person someone can come to for any issue, being that someone who brought groups together that may not have connected otherwise. It is important that I have a positive impact on the lives of others, and see people and groups succeed that I have had a part in supporting and bringing together.


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