Joe Schwebel loved to tell the story about when he returned to the family bakery in 1960 as a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and asked his grandmother, Dora Schwebel, where his office was.
Mrs. Schwebel, whose husband passed away in 1928, raised six children on her own and helped feed the people of Youngstown, OH, during the Great Depression. She had a no-nonsense approach to life and told Joe the company had done just fine over the years without him. She suggested he start day two on the job at 4:30 a.m. on board route No. 1, followed by route No. 2 the day after and every one of the bakery’s 39 routes in the days following. Then she said they could talk about his future.
For 52 years, Joe worked in the family baking business, the last 28 as president. Lee Schwebel, vice-president of marketing, described his dad as a best friend and a “breadman’s breadman.”
Paul Schwebel, now president, called his older brother a natural leader. “He would sit and listen to a lot of ideas, and at the end, he had the ability to bring all of them together and move forward with a plan,” Paul said.
Paul and Joe were opposite in business roles yet totally complementary in results. Joe loved sales and marketing. Paul oversaw administration and manufacturing. For 44 years, the brothers shared major business decisions. Those roles, responsibilities and relationships continue with other family members in the business.
Joe was an active leader in the baking industry as well as with the local community. He was instrumental in establishing the Grain Foods Foundation. His humble and effective leadership earned him respect. When Joe talked, people listened. The day he passed away the industry lost a unique and important voice.
In 2009, Dora Schwebel, Joe’s grandmother, was inducted into the Baking Hall of Fame. Her incredible life journey and the Schwebels’ success story can be found on www.schwebels.com
or on the American Society of Baking’s website, www.asbe.org
In the December issue of Baking & Snack
, we recognize Michael Elenz, Schwebel’s vice-president, manufacturing, as our 2012 Operations Executive of the Year, for his dedication to the industry. Like many past recipients of this award, Mr. Elenz credits his team, his mentors and his service in the military for what he has accomplished. And he thanks the Schwebels for treating him like part of the family.
Lee mentioned that true legends live on forever. I could see that part of Joe lives on in Paul, Lee and other members of the Schwebel family and in people like Mr. Elenz who worked with him over the years.
Men like Joe Schwebel are a breed apart, and as his brother aptly noted, he will be missed by everyone who knew him.