Building for the future
In the popular 1989 baseball movie “Field of Dreams,” Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) hears a voice in his corn field tell him, “If you build it, he will come.” Mr. Kinsella builds a baseball field where ghosts of baseball past return to play, including his father, who Mr. Kinsella gets one last chance to play catch with.
In a similar vein, Andre Biane, president and chief executive officer of AIB International, is on a mission not unlike Mr. Kinsella. Instead of a baseball field, Mr. Biane has his eyes set on building AIB International into a bigger and better organization, and instead of ghosts of baseball past, Mr. Biane is bringing key players from the food and beverage industry together to create an all-star team of baking and food safety leaders.
A key part of building an all-star team is making sure that team has a state-of-the-art facility. So Mr. Biane is spearheading the renovation of AIB International’s existing headquarters, including the addition of a 10,000-square-foot administrative complex. The renovation will allow the organization to do a couple things differently than it has in the past.
“First, we’ll be able to do client-based work in the experimental labs and pilot plant area at the same time as our courses,” Mr. Biane said. “Because of the structure of the facility we weren’t able to do that. This gives us more flexibility to do both simultaneously and offer the confidentiality that clients expect. Due to these limitations, I think we’ve unfortunately trained the industry not to come to us in the past.
“Secondly, this building was constructed in the late 1970s. At that time it was fairly state-of-the-art for the baking industry. Well, regulations have changed and we should be using this facility as a showcase for what we’re preaching in the industry. That’s what this construction will help us do, help us to bring ourselves up to date and be able to use it as more of a showcase.”
The entire project is estimated to cost $15 million and scheduled to be completed in three phases. Phase 1, which is currently under way, has a price tag of about $7.5 million. This phase includes a new 10,000-square-foot office building that should be done in the fourth quarter and occupied by year’s end. AIB International officially broke ground on the renovation April 1.
Phases II and III are planned for the future. Mr. Biane said Phase II could include a redo of a lot of the existing office space to make it more open.
“We want to make it more conducive to what today’s workforce is looking for,” he said.
Additionally, AIB International plans to redo the entryway to the building so that visitors have access to only those areas that are appropriate.
“From a food defense standpoint, participants can be directed to one area, people coming in for client meetings can be directed elsewhere,” he said.
AIB International also intends to make the American Society of Baking’s Hall of Fame more of a showcase.
“We want to reposition that to be very much a celebration of our heritage and baking training,” he said. “We haven’t exactly figured out where it’s going to go, but believe me, it’s top-of-mind when we think about future renovation.”
The responsibility of ensuring that industry will come to the new and improved AIB International lies in the hands of Mr. Biane and the organization’s leadership.
“Although many people know what AIB International stands for, some in the industry don’t, and it’s our job to reach out to the people to educate as well as extend invitations to industry to come and check it out.
“We’re going to take a more proactive approach in communicating and selling and sharing with the industry what is happening here. I’ve tasked our people in the baking group and client development for a game plan on how are we going to leverage this expanded and more flexible capability. It’s unacceptable for us to sit back and wait for people to come. We’re going to have to reach out and market ourselves, which again, is something that AIB International hasn’t done well in the past. We’re going to have to spend more time and energy to demonstrate this value for clients.
“Secondly, we are in the heart of the grain belt. We can do a lot of things quickly and effectively to help clients with product development and in testing. That’s where our marketing efforts are going to come into play. To be honest, it’s beyond just the bread and bun bakers of the world. We have capabilities in cookies and crackers, tortillas, cakes, specialty baked goods for retail and food service type products.
“Another opportunity is with an increasingly global food system an international grain-based foods company from Japan or China for example may not have R.&D. capabilities in North America. We can do work for them until such time that they feel they have to build something here or perennially contract with us to use as an extension of their R.&D.
“You have to be knocking on doors to attract and get your concept understood.”
Renovation aside, Mr. Biane said AIB International remains on track with the long-term strategic initiatives he laid out in 2014. But for 2015, the organization has narrowed its focus down to four goals.
The first of these goals involves improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the GFSI licensed audits offered by AIB International Certification Services.
“We had really over-engineered our certification body,” Mr. Biane said. “That was partly why we put Stephanie Lopez in the role of president of AIB International Certification Services. She has made great strides to redefine what truly needs to be in the certification body and what can be leveraged with the broader organization to enable us to become more effective and efficient.”
The second initiative is to grow overall business through significant revenue increase.
“It’s been a building year for sure, and we’ve done some things to gain some momentum,” Mr. Biane said. “We’ve got a very substantial pipeline of new business built up and some exciting new projects we’re working on, really not limited to baking but across the entire food industry.”
AIB International has been able to take a sales pipeline that basically was at zero a year ago and build it up to $10 million over a 12-month period, thanks to the new client development team.
“It’s a substantial gain for the organization and it all really stems from professionalizing the commercial approach,” he said. “We instituted key account management, so we’re working with our clients the way they want to be worked with. In addition, we are getting so much more precise and focused in our go-to-market approach in terms of focusing on our key core areas of baking, food and beverage, warehousing and distribution.
“We’re also trying to understand the competitive set and looking for innovation opportunities that don’t exist in the marketplace. AIB’s sales pipeline is beginning to grow behind a variety of new product offerings as well as some of AIB’s traditional core products.”
Focusing more intently on the needs of the customer has been key.
“Some of our internal analysis shows that activities that are good like public seminars may not be the most effective way to address client needs, as well as it may not be the most effective set of activities for us,” he said. “We’re not eliminating public seminars, but we’re really trying to refocus our energies on targeted efforts toward our more strategic clients, and we’ve repositioned recently Katie Mayes’ (director of marketing) area from broad-based communications to external target marketing and P.R. so we can line up the resources to really drive toward what our clients expect from us in terms of outreach.”
To support the sales function, Mr. Biane said AIB International also has trained more than 50 people in the organization around key account management and large account management process steps so that even general managers and regional managers who interface with clients on a regular basis have the rudimentary tools and know-how to ask the right kind of questions to fully understand the needs of the client.
“That way we can better turn it into an opportunity for them locally or on a larger scale,” he said.
Third, Mr. Biane said AIB International has recognized the need to develop better business metrics and key performance indicators. He likened the strategy to that of a pilot in a cockpit.
“When you step into a cockpit you see all the dials and gauges that the pilots use for the different aspects of flying a plane, whether it’s taking off, cruising or landing,” he said. “Similarly, we needed to build those to give us better insight not only into what is happening in the rearview, but also so we can see what is out ahead so we can plan better and listening to our clients so that we understand where our pitfalls may be and we can focus resources on fixing those things.”
The fourth initiative under way involves growing AIB International’s international efficiency. This plan has included continued expansion of food safety professional capabilities by adding staff, restructuring internationally and putting the right people in the right places for both general manager purposes as well as key regional people, Mr. Biane said. He indicated that it’s important to have “boots on the ground.”
“With all of those (goals) we’ve made strides, starting at the end of last year and now into this year to hit upon several of those areas,” he said. “With any organization undergoing this magnitude of transformation we’ve had bumps and challenges along the way, but I think for the most part we’re making some success and headway into those.”
Casting an eye toward the remainder of 2015, Mr. Biane said he sees a lot of opportunity on the horizon.
“I was in Asia for two weeks at the beginning of March,” he said. “As commercial food production increases in those parts of the world there is clearly opportunity for food safety training. Helping people put in good manufacturing practices they need and then helping elevate them to a GFSI certification.”
Additionally, he said there is a “huge” need for providing the kind of baking training AIB International provides in the United States in Asia because commercial bakers are dealing with many similar quality and competency issues.
“That’s why we’re really pushing to find what I call ‘boots on the ground’ baking professionals who could go into commercial facilities and help clients in those parts of the world,” he said.