Meeting the Goal
June 01, 2009
by Jennifer Fox
Change has become an undeniable theme during the past year, and the baking industry continues to adjust to demands for increased automation, formulation adaptations, staffing expectations and policy changes, making it necessary for industry leaders to think and work in new ways. Oftentimes the actions of these leaders become so integral to the industry that their work becomes accepted as a collective victory, when in actuality that success is a direct result of individuals working quietly but diligently behind the scenes.
To honor those enriching the industry through their actions, Baking & Snack presents its inaugural Leadership Awards to John Khoury, president, Custom Foods, Inc., DeSoto, KS; Stuart Rosen, vice-president, Highland Baking, Inc., Northbrook, IL; and Lee Sanders, senior vice-president, government relations and public affairs, American Bakers Association, Washington, DC.
In the office, she’s known as the Steel Magnolia. This Georgia native has perfected the use of Southern manners and diplomacy to build consensus among members of the baking industry as well as legislators and regulators. Lee Sanders, senior vice-president, government relations and public affairs, American Bakers Association (ABA), is no stranger to politics.
After college, Ms. Sanders worked for Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi, and later served in the White House under George H.W. Bush as an assistant to the associate counsel to the President and with the US Treasury as confidential assistant to the under secretary for legislative affairs. At the conclusion of the first Bush administration, Ms. Sanders moved into the private sector to work for ABA.
Being already familiar with the legislative and regulatory process, Ms. Sanders began learning the baking industry by serving as assistant to the president for legislative and regulatory affairs for Paul Abenante, ABA president and c.e.o. She was next promoted to director of legislative and regulatory affairs. In these roles, Ms. Sanders set out to conquer the technical side of the business, learn to manage a large committee and create the consensus for which the Food Technical Regulatory Affairs Committee (FTRAC) has become know.
"There are constantly new things to learn about the industry," Ms. Sanders said. "Washington, DC, is always evolving and changing, especially when there is a turnover in presidential administration."
According to Ms. Sanders, ABA currently represents more than 80% of wholesale baking companies and their suppliers. She acknowledged that there was some membership overlap with the Independent Bakers Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Biscuit and Cracker Manufacturers Association.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES. Ms. Sanders continued to advance within the association serving next as vice-president of regulatory and technical services and corporate secretary. When Mr. Abenante retired after 26 years with ABA, there was a change in the leadership team and ABA’s Executive Committee, led by Gary Prince at the time, created the position of senior vice-president of government relations and public affairs specifically for Ms. Sanders in 2006. She set out to master managing ABA’s government relations team and to make ABA and its priorities more visible on Capitol Hill and with the administration. She credits Mr. Abenante, past FTRAC chairman Rella Dwyer, formerly of The Long Co., and Len Heflich, Bimbo Bakeries USA, current FTRAC chair, with providing leadership, sharing their passion for the industry and mentoring during her career at ABA, through the transition and into the present.
She also noted that she gained a great deal of insight regarding effective leadership and management from observing the ABA Executive Committee and the past ABA chairmen, each of whom brought a different perspective and approach to the table.
"With the new leadership team in place ABA has hit its stride and is making great progress in achieving its objectives and goals for bakers, and people around town are taking notice of ABA’s accomplishments," Ms. Sanders said.
As chief lobbyist for ABA, Ms. Sanders leads the strategic implementation of government and public affairs at the international, federal and state levels and oversees the association’s team of lobbyists. Ms. Sanders’ expertise is in the area of food safety and labeling policy and public relations, as well as USDA-regulated issues such as nutrition, biotechnology and wheat research. She is one of the few in the baking industry with federal security clearance, making her the go-to source for all matters concerning food safety.
"Lee Sanders is a leader in all aspects of the baking industry," said Robb MacKie, president and c.e.o., ABA. Her role on the boards and executive committees of organizations such as ASB, American Institute of Baking (AIB), American Association of Cereal Chemists, Society of Bakery Women (SBW) and many others is proof of the high regard in which she is held."
During the past two years, Ms. Sanders rebuilt the ABA government relations team educating and imparting her passion for the baking industry to the politically savvy staff she assembled. "We live and breathe politics in this town, but it is important for ABA to approach things from the bakers’ perspective," Ms. Sanders said. "I try to always think about things not only from the legislative angle but how it will impact the bakers’ bottom line."
GIVING BACK. Like Stuart Rosen and John Khoury, Baking & Snack’s other Leadership Award recipients, Ms. Sanders believes in educating employees and, in turn, learning from them.
"In my work, I want to use my expertise to help others advance," she said.
That philosophy was instrumental for Ms. Sanders as a key member in the establishment of the Grain Foods Foundation and co-founder of SBW. Designed to showcase the opportunities for women in the baking industry, today SBW has more than 325 members. This year, the society, which also mentors students at KSU, gave its first scholarship.
Using Facebook and LinkedIn, SBW is expanding its network to appeal to women already established within the industry as well as a new generation of women entering the workforce. "These various outlets have enabled us to expand the network and also appeal to the new generation of women entering the workforce giving them a ‘home’ for networking, mentoring and making new connections in the industry," Ms. Sanders said.
GROWING INDUSTRY. As the longest tenured member of ABA, Ms. Sanders has made great efforts to unify the industry message and its efforts. "In the next five years, I’d like to see ABA become an even bigger umbrella organization, gathering industry for the betterment of all — a stronger, united and more powerful baking industry voice," Ms. Sanders said.
She was instrumental in the coordination of the successful Band of Bakers March on Washington, which encouraged bakers to be more active in the legislative process. Grassroots movements such as the March on DC and Day on the Hill have been initiated by ABA to provide a fresh approach to the way things have been traditionally done, evoking new energy to support ABA’s critical efforts.
"ABA wants to continue increasing the industry’s visibility in Washington, and encouraging a consensus among our members," Ms. Sanders said. "ABA and the baking industry can be even more effective with additional participants and increased understanding of the issues."
Over the past year, its Grassroots Action Center on www.americanbakers.org has received more than 30,200 hits and has generated more than 3,200 letters sent to Capitol Hill, according to Ms. Sanders. ABA has also recently established an online presence on LinkedIn.
"Careful strategic planning will enable ABA to be more successful as we address the changing needs and issues facing bakers," Ms. Sanders said. "Ongoing communication between bakers and legislators puts a personal face and story on many of the issues. In January, ABA identified 72 policy issues, and the organization realizes the need to focus its efforts on a more narrow scope in order to more effectively reach the goals and solutions that are the greatest benefit for the industry."
ABA has also increased communications resources among members through e-mail and biweekly newsletters. "We must be both strategic and creative in working with issues and with the people affected by the issues," she said.
"Since becoming president and c.e.o., I have relied heavily on Lee’s support, advice and enthusiasm to increase the value of ABA membership to its members and the effectiveness of ABA in Washington," Mr. MacKie said. Any successes ABA has enjoyed have been a direct result of Lee and the rest of the ABA team’s energetic efforts."
Climbing the Ladder
John Khoury’s baking career started on the ground floor and continues to climb. The president and co-owner of Custom Foods, Inc. was introduced to the baking industry by Jim McLain, the father of a high-school girlfriend who worked for Penny Curtiss Baking Co. in Syracuse, NY.
"Over the years, I’ve met so many who are passionate about the industry, and I’ll always remember Jim McLain telling me, ‘You won’t be rich. You won’t be poor. But you’ll always have a job,’" Mr. Khoury said.
MOVING UP. This humble start at Penny Curtiss found Mr. Khoury stacking bread pans at his first bakery job after high school. After two years of diverse production experience at Penny Curtiss, and on the advice of Mr. McLain, an American Institute of Baking (AIB) graduate, Mr. Khoury enrolled in the Bakery Science and Management program at Kansas State University (KSU), Manhattan, KS. There, Mr. Khoury experienced a technical and diversified scientific and business approach to the baking industry.
Bakery science students at KSU have the opportunity to work closely with AIB, also located in Manhattan, to further their scientific education with hands-on baking experience. Looking to enhance his baking knowledge, Mr. Khoury enrolled in AIB’s 20-week Baking Science and Technology course immediately after receiving his degree from KSU.
KSU encourages its bakery science students to become active in the baking industry, and through KSU’s Bakery Science club, they have the opportunity to attend the American Society of Baking (ASB) meetings in Chicago, IL, each year. At these ASB conferences, Mr. Khoury directly interacted with leaders of the industry and would always pick up valuable knowledge through these interactions.
"The combination of education and experience early in my career at KSU and AIB provided me with a broad horizon of the industry and many networking opportunities," Mr. Khoury said.
After graduation from AIB, Mr. Khoury returned to Penny Curtiss to serve as a production, quality and R&D supervisor over the next three years. While working at Penny Curtiss, Mr. Khoury gained hands-on experience with fresh breads, rolls and donuts, as well as a wide range of frozen dough experience. After leaving Penny Curtiss, Mr. Khoury accepted a position with Heinz Bakery Products, Mississagua, ON, as a Q&A manager and eventual plant manager at the age of 28. Subsequent career advancements were as a plant manager for Sara Lee/Wolferman’s, Lenexa, KS, and later as a plant and regional sales manager at ADM Arkady, Olathe, KS.
In each of these positions, Mr. Khoury made it a priority to observe how the company leaders interacted with staff and how they attended to the business and its employees, noting which efforts produced the best results. Mr. Khoury credited hard work and the power of observation for his success within the baking industry, making it a priority to incorporate the actions of successful leaders into his business and personal interactions.
Those leadership goals have also extended to his personal life. Active in his community, Mr. Khoury coaches his children’s basketball and baseball teams, stays active in their school events and has served as president and assistant district governor of his local Rotary Club. "I have lived by the philosophy that if you work hard while you are young, hopefully you can relax when you’re older. I also believe that you should always go above and beyond the call of duty," he said. "This is what will distance you from the crowd."
This intense work ethic drove Mr. Khoury for many years, but he admitted that over the years, he has mellowed and learned from experience that you can get more done by being nice and being clear about expectations for yourself and others, rather than being overly aggressive all of the time.
In 2002, Mr. Khoury joined Custom Foods and, within a few months, was named president of the company. In 2007, he became co-owner. Mr. Khoury attributed his wide range of industry experience as helpful when deciding to become a part of Custom Foods, which produces frozen dough. At Custom Foods Mr. Khoury oversees managers in sales, QA/R&D, maintenance and production.
Based upon observations from his first baking job, Mr. Khoury sought to emulate the actions of the president of Penny Curtiss, making it a priority to be visible on the production floor and participate in R&D work at Custom Foods. As the co-owner of a privately owned business, Mr. Khoury philosophized that while many private companies don’t have the deep pockets of larger corporations, they do have the luxury of giving back their time through teaching and mentoring.
INDUSTRY INVOLVEMENT. Mr. Khoury maintains a strong commitment to the industry by mentoring the next generation of bakers and staying active as a regular speaker at AIB seminars and KSU classes. He is also a board member of the Bakers National Education Foundation and ASB. This year, he was elected chairman of ASB.
Bolstered by his chairman’s theme of "Harvest the Past to Fortify the Future," Mr. Khoury plans to encourage mentoring and the involvement of the younger generation in the baking industry.
"I believe it’s the duty of the older generation to go out and promote the industry to the younger generation," he said. "The industry is built on friendships, and I count Jim McLain and Gerry Degnan of
Manildra Milling as people who have mentored me throughout the years and helped me to move ahead in the business. I hope that mentoring students and younger people in the industry becomes the norm."
Mr. Khoury plans to leave ASB with a legacy of promoting the industry and creating a support group of mentors for a future generation of bakers.
"I’ve had many challenges over my 25 years in the industry, and I always look to my experiences, whether good or bad, as learning experiences that have made me a well-rounded manager, father, husband and individual," Mr. Khoury said.
Strengthening the Family Business
Stuart Rosen, vice-president, Highland Baking, can trace his baking roots back several generations, but it’s not the bread that gets him out of bed in the morning; it’s the opportunity to be a part of the family business. Mr. Rosen likened his involvement with the family bakery as the occasion to "come home."
With the bakery as a home away from home, Mr. Rosen spent many hours there visiting his father Jim and later working alongside him. With encouragement from his father, Mr. Rosen assumed tasks within the bakery such as installing its first computer system at the age of 19. These projects solidified Mr. Rosen’s niche as a valuable member of the family business. While earning his undergraduate degree in management, Mr. Rosen sought out experiences and management opportunities that would ultimately prepare him to handle the financial and business aspects of Highland Baking.
"In a family business and in a bakery even when the work is hard, you know that the fruits of your labor are going to the people you care about," Mr. Rosen said. "Here, the highs are very high and the lows are low."
FULL CIRCLE. With many family businesses, it’s difficult to separate where the family ends and the business begins. Philosophies passed down by multiple generations of the Rosen family have taught that customers ultimately determine what will happen to any business. The family also applies this long-term view to the baking industry as a whole. "The future of the industry depends on what happens to its customers," Mr. Rosen said. "It’s not just in our industry’s control. Ultimately, it’s up to our customers to determine the future of the industry, so we must do our best to meet what the customer is going to require in the future."
The long-term approach also holds advantages for Highland Baking’s employees. The Rosen family prides itself as an organization that places little emphasis on titles. Employees within the bakery are known for jumping in where they are needed to accomplish the job the best way possible. Underscoring the team atmosphere, Mr. Rosen said that although blood relatives comprise a small ratio of Highland Baking’s employees, he relies on the managerial staff as much as, if not more than, he relies on actual family. "Other than having different blood, I consider them family," he said.
Mr. Rosen pointed out that family-owned businesses have the advantage of focusing on long-term rewards. Highland Baking chooses its staff and suppliers carefully, to make the company successful both now and in the future, as opposed to a short-term approach that focuses on quarterly gains and stock returns. "We make decisions that have effects one, five and even 20 years down the road," Mr. Rosen said. "We see people as a long-term commitment, something that deserves to be invested in, and the people who stay build a family."
Many employees come to work for Highland Baking based on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends or family, and the Rosen family likes that. The family approach has also proven successful in an industry that struggles to attract a younger generation. "Family can give a different selling tag to a job in the baking industry," Mr. Rosen said. "The combination of a strong industry and a strong family business hopefully appeals to a part of the workforce who looks to make baking their long-term career."
Highland Baking continues to experience growth as it expands within its newest plant. Mr. Rosen has witnessed the company increase from a staff of less than 100 to more than 400 employees presently. The growth has been built on the family’s approach to running the company like a team, which Mr. Rosen jokingly described as a "benevolent monarchy where my father gets the tie-breaking vote."
Company wide, Mr. Rosen and his father encourage upper-level management to cultivate a right-hand man approach so there is always someone who can substitute in the case of an emergency or staffing change. Mr. Rosen admitted he is still working on his delegation skills.
The right-hand-man concept is designed to prepare the bakery for the future, making the business more valuable because the bakery is training people to be better at their jobs and managers are learning something new from the people they are training in the process. "I look at this like raising your children — you want them to be better and have more
opportunities than you had," Mr. Rosen said. "I believe that supervisors have failed if they don’t create people better than themselves. And then, by not creating a better workforce, we ultimately fail as a company."
CREATING A BALANCE. Mr. Rosen is the first to credit his father Jim as the driving force in his life and in Highland Baking. "Don’t mistake my words — the real story is next door," he said, gesturing toward his father’s office. Both men firmly believe that it’s possible to teach baking but impossible to import good values and strong work ethic.
In an effort to recruit employees who possess these stellar qualities, Highland Baking invites new management hires and their families to visit the bakery. Mr. Rosen explained that it is important for its employees and their families to understand that Highland Baking expects everything an employee can give to the company, and at times that commitment demands the employee will be "taken" from the family in the form of longer hours or middle-of-the-night phone calls.
In terms of balance, at times the family must take priority over the bakery, and employees need that flexibility in a business that runs 24/7. "If it applies to Jim and Stu, it applies to others," Mr. Rosen said. "You need the freedom so you don’t get burned out, and you can avoid short-sighted gains if you cultivate balance in your life."
TEAM WORK. Mr. Rosen accepted the Baking & Snack Leadership Award on behalf of Highland Bakery. "Stuart has grown into the position at Highland Baking and in the process has learned a lot about himself," Jim Rosen said. "He’s learned that things are not just black and white."
For Stuart Rosen, it’s difficult to separate personal goals from business goals because the personal goals learned from his father are also the goals of the business. "A lot of my job is not to screw a good thing up. Because when you let down your dad, you also let down the company, your mentor and your best friend," Mr. Rosen said. "It’s all tied together, so how could I separate it out? Hopefully, I can assist in bringing some positive light to the bakery so that our employees continually feel proud to be here and more potential partners want to work with us."
This article can also be found in the digital edition of Baking & Snack, June 1, 2009, starting on Page 24. Click here to search that archive.