Absence of 13 years from grain-based foods is sufficient to erase the memory of most industry executives. But in the case of Philip William Orth, who died soon after this year began, the time between his retirement and his death did little to diminish the memories of this remarkable man by those who knew him and prompted more than a few queries as to why he is recalled so vividly from others. In the half century of his leadership in behalf of not just his own company, Ph. Orth Company, but for the benefit of the entire baking and grain-based foods business, Mr. Orth set an example that is as instructive for present-day executives as it was during his long and productive career.
It hardly requires more than cursory awareness of how grain-based foods leadership has evolved in recent years to appreciate just how strikingly different was Mr. Orth’s pursuit of what he believed to be baking’s way forward. Regardless of the demands placed on him in his family’s business, he seldom, if ever, hesitated when asked to take on a task meant to foster the greater industry good. Hardly anything symbolizes this readiness, as well as the regard in which he was held, than his being asked and accepting the chairmanship of the American Institute of Baking at a critical moment in the Institute’s storied history.
His selection as A.I.B. chairman was unprecedented. Until then, safeguarding the Institute’s role of providing baking’s educational and research needs had meant the chairman was drawn solely from senior ranks of baking. That Mr. Orth was chosen as the first non-baker to hold this post reflected an appreciation for what he could, and, yes, did, accomplish. His selection served as a strong message to baking’s allied trades that they were welcome in the industry’s inner circles. To Mr. Orth’s great credit, he led the A.I.B. so ably, by staying within budget and by deciding on new program emphasis that the matter of an allied executive becoming A.I.B. chairman is now expected.
In much the same manner as the change he facilitated at the A.I.B. was his perception that allied executives had as great a duty to help educate consumers about the merits of grain-based foods as did bakers. He was an early and staunch supporter of industry-wide efforts launched to tell consumers about the merits of grain-based foods, and he never hesitated in voicing alarm about awful media treatment. His eagerness to do what he could is illustrated by his serving for years on a special advisory committee named by the Secretary of Agriculture to study ways the government could help promote consumption.
Mr. Orth was widely recognized for his skills in directing his business, bringing on young leaders, while managing to integrate the role he saw for himself in providing industry guidance. He was a stellar participant in civic affairs in his home city of Milwaukee. Tall of stature, with an easy-going, affable manner and a fine education, as well as an attractive wife, he cut quite a swath in a way that established enduring friendships. He prided himself on knowing what bakers wanted and needed from a company like his that made a wide array of flour-based ingredients. He had pride in how his business grew by focusing on specially created products for the rapidly expanding food service segment of baking. This approach, which included helping food service operators develop innovative signature items, gave him much pleasure to observe the way technology applied to ordinary ingredients could create something of much value.
The combination of pride in company and commitment to industry that guided Mr. Orth during his long industry career continues to be quite a rarity. It should not be too much to hope that remembering this remarkable man at his death will prompt others to embark on a similar course for baking’s benefit.
This article can also be found in the digital edition of Milling and Baking News, March 24, 2008, starting on Page 9. Click