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Kirk Purnell starts 29th year with Ben E. Keith Co.

General manager joins food service distributor's illustrious history.
by Paula Burkes Published: December 2, 2012

Q: What was your first job and how old were you?

A: At age 14, or maybe 15. I worked in a warehouse and on a farm. I always had a good work ethic, whether it was mowing grass, shoveling manure or baling hay.

Q: And college?

A: I went to Mississippi State, which was about an hour's drive from Tupelo. I probably should have been a better student, but I got an A in social life. I joined Sigma Chi fraternity, and learned how to build relationships and deal with all sorts of people. The experience has served me well in business. At Ben E. Keith, we're all about developing good employees, who build loyal customers.

Q: Can you tell us about your work history, after graduation and before Ben E. Keith?

A: The first year out, I worked in warehouse and other odd jobs — six months in Denver and, after my paternal grandfather died, six months back home in Tupelo. Then, with hopes of landing an opportunity in Dallas/Fort Worth, I moved to Arlington, Texas, where my aunt and uncle lived.

Q: Did your big opportunity come with Ben E. Keith?

A: Yes. I interviewed on a Tuesday and went to work the following Friday, driving a forklift in their Fort Worth warehouse. I was glad to have the opportunity to prove myself and I did. After six months, I was promoted to customer service and, after a year, moved to Denison, Texas, where I worked five years in outside sales, then two years in sales management in Fort Worth and a year in Little Rock as a buyer, before moving to Oklahoma in '93 as a general manager. It's a nice advantage as a manager to know enough about your employees' jobs to appreciate what they do. I made the most of all the places I lived, and never wanted to leave any of them. Obviously, Oklahoma is home now. This is the longest I've lived anywhere — even under my mom and dad's roof.

by Paula Burkes
Reporter
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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PERSONALLY SPEAKING

Position: General manager, Ben E. Keith Oklahoma division

Birth date: Sept. 25, 1959

Family: Wife Shannon, an interior designer. They were friends five years before they started dating; married 10 years ago and have one child, Sam, 7

Residence: Edgemere Heights

Education: Mississippi State University, bachelor's in business marketing

Community involvement: Attends Westminster Presbyterian Church and serves on the boards of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, the Oklahoma Hospitality Foundation and the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

Pastimes: Running (a former marathoner, he meets friends to run Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, and swims Sundays), reading (latest read “Quiet Strength” by Tony Dungy), dining at area customers' restaurants and helping coach his son's sports teams

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