Business Profile | Mark Laven

November 2015 View more

Mark Laven, VP Supply of Diageo, for Naperville Magazine

Diageo is a global leader in beverage alcohol. Their collection of brands across spirits, beer and wine includes Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, J&B, Bulleit and Buchanan’s whiskies; Smirnoff, Cîroc and Ketel One vodkas, Baileys, Captain Morgan, Don Julio, Tanqueray, and Guinness, and Beaulieu Vineyard and Sterling Vineyards wines. Naperville Magazine recently spoke with Mark Laven, vice president of Diageo about the recent expansion of its facility in Plainfield.

Tell us about this expansion effort and what takes place at the facility.

In 2013, Diageo had a grand opening of our expanded facility, which came after a substantial investment in the site. We implemented three new high-speed bottling lines that now package a wide variety of our brands in glass and PET (high gloss, crack-resistant plastic). In addition, our expansion included a state of the art liquid processing area that gives our site the flexibility to make products that are more complex, as well as support Diageo North America’s innovation efforts, which is our term for new products, brand changes, and renovations of existing products.

Today, the Plainfield site is the largest of Diageo’s North America production facilities and our second largest globally.

We also recently purchased additional acreage, which will give us opportunity for future development, so Diageo’s investment in this site continues.

This year at Plainfield we will produce more than 32 million cases of beverage alcohol, including “ready to drink” products like Smirnoff Ice, and other spirits such as Smirnoff Vodka and Captain Morgan. In total, we produce more than 600 products at Plainfield.

The Plainfield facility is also Diageo’s first zero waste to landfill site, meaning no trash is sent to landfills. Tell us more about this environmentally friendly facility.

Plainfield is very proud of our zero waste to landfill accomplishment, which was possible thanks to the dedication and drive of all of our 500+ employees. Achieving zero waste to landfill can be achieved easily by sending everything to incinerators, but Plainfield had the participation of all of the employees here to really analyze all of our waste streams and find ways to make them recyclable through changes to design, or separation of materials, or elimination of the creation of the waste altogether.

Today we have a very small amount of waste that goes to an incinerator for materials that can’t effectively be recycled, like food waste. But the amount going to incinerators has been vastly reduced over time to where it is today. To put it in perspective, we used to have large capacity compactors on site that were filled and sent out to be emptied every other day. Today, we have only one compactor, and it requires emptying just once every three weeks or so.

The Plainfield site also has several other initiatives to reduce our impact on the environment like using wind generation for parking lot lighting, daylight harvesting skylights, and the efficient use of compressed air that allows us to reduce our air pressure from 125psi to 85psi. This significantly reduces electricity usage. In fact, these improvements and others have resulted in a massive reduction in the site’s carbon emissions.

We were also very proud last year that our Plainfield site received recognition from Pratt Industries with an Environmental Impact Award, which highlighted our use of 100% recycled paper in our packaging.

What has been the biggest change in the beverage business?

I would say the biggest change that I have seen in the past 10 years is the evolving tastes and habits of consumers. Today’s consumer is more interested in trying new things. They’re looking for the experience that comes from discovering something new, and for that reason our supply chain needs to be able to deliver both high volume and smaller batch and custom products. It also keeps our Brand Technical Center, which is based at our site in Plainfield, quite busy. Plainfield is truly at the heart of Diageo North America’s innovation. Last year, the site produced approximately 250 new or renovated products for consumers to enjoy, such as Smirnoff Sours, Captain Morgan White flavors, Shady Fruit vodka and my one of my favorites that we’ve just started getting on the shelf—Captain Morgan Cannon Blast!

What has been your proudest accomplishment so far in your career?

Balancing a very busy work schedule while still having a very close relationship with my 21- and 23-year-old daughters and Cheryl, my wife of 29 years. I recently transferred from Diageo Chateau and Estates, our Wine division in California, to Naperville, and my youngest daughter Bethany transferred along with us from Sacramento University in California to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My eldest daughter, Ainsley, is just finishing up her degree at University of California, Davis, and she’ll be moving to Illinois at the end of September. I’m looking forward to having the family back close together again.

Who do you admire as a business mentor or role model?

Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors, is a great role model for me. I admire his drive and entrepreneurial spirit and the fact that he never backs away from a challenge. He has that “push forward” attitude and belief that there is always a solution and that you just need to change how you think about it, get out of the box, and don’t allow yourself to be constrained by the current way of doing things.

What motivates you to start your day?

That’s easy! I work for an incredible company filled with incredible people! I come to work knowing I have an amazingly talented team that have the goal of making amazing, top quality products, safely every day, day in and day out. Diageo’s stated purpose is to Celebrate Life every day, everywhere—what great words to live by!

When you are not busy running the operations in Plainfield, how do you enjoy spending your free time?

I have two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Kinchie and Whinnie named after my two favorite Scotches, Glenkinchie and Dalwhinnie. They keep us busy playing and going on walks around White Eagle.

I also have a longstanding passion for photography, and I tend to take a lot of pictures. I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit and my camera will always be along with me. There are so many stories and intricacies that go into development and production at Diageo that our facility at Plainfield has been the inspiration for many creative photos!

Photo by Mike Hudson