Industry of big shoulders

by Joanie Spencer
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We’ve all heard the “generation gap” chatter. Consumers are getting younger … but the bakers aren’t. In fact, only a tiny portion of the industry’s leadership is younger than 35 years old. It creates a challenge not only in how bakeries can connect with end users but also in how they work with one another.

Boomers are asking, “How do we deal with millennials?” And as this generation ­solidifies its position in the work force — and moves up the ladder — they’re clamoring for their voices to be heard. As a Gen-X-er, I’m sitting smack dab in the middle of this generational tug-of-war, and I can’t help but ask, “How can we all get along?”

At the American Bakers Association’s Executive Leadership Development Committee (ELDC) meeting in Washington, DC, it was clear that millennials are building that bridge. ELDC, whose mission is to develop future industry leadership, is co-chaired by two exceptional young men: Jesse Amoroso of Amoroso’s Baking Co. and Morgan Murphy of Mother Murphy’s Flavors. Under their leadership, ELDC attendees, regardless of age or position, made their voices heard on the Hill.

In the keynote speech by Pepperidge Farm President Irene Britt, I found the answer to my question. Ms. Britt reminded us that it’s all about how people interact and about building a culture with the right attitude. “Millennials are a unique generation. On one hand they have a strong sense of nostalgia, and this translates into a love of the brands of their childhood — though they are looking for present-day twists. On the other, they are the first generation of true digital natives. They are on-the-go, getting their information and communicating from a variety of screens and platforms, and are looking to their peers for recommendations and advice,” she said.

“I have a fabulous team right now,” she continued. “They have the right skills and market knowledge to address millennials, as well as our other consumer segments. They take the business very seriously, but they don’t take themselves too seriously.” Her team works hard and plays hard. “If we can have fun together and do great work together, that combination works.”

It’s less about understanding entire generations and more about achieving a common goal and treating one another with respect. Ms. Britt explained that no matter where we work in the industry, we all got here on the shoulders of giants. Those who follow us will stand on our shoulders, so let’s make sure we’re strong enough to carry them. It’s the foundation of her “reach down and pull up” mentoring style.

Ms. Britt believes that each of us is here to write one chapter in a grand tale, but it’s also crucial to not lose sight of the “big shoulders” who laid the foundation. “It’s important that we remember how we got here,” she said. “There was someone here before you, and there will be someone after you. Make sure the chapter you write is magnificent.”

In our centuries-old industry, we must remember where we each stand in the big picture. If we can take care of one another, our shoulders will be strong enough to carry the next generation into the best chapter yet.               

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