Construction, e-learning curriculums and careers

Progress in 2015 placed AIB International on solid footing for 2016.

The company has new e-learning products for both bakery and food safety professionals, as well as the first ever kill step validation protocol and calculator enabling bakers to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Physical changes to the organization’s facility also have expanded its Manhattan, Kas., footprint by 10,000 square feet and included significant upgrades to the baking laboratories and pilot plant.

“Our results in 2015 demonstrate what an organization can do when it’s focused and aligned on a finite number of goals,” said Andre Biane, president and chief executive officer of AIB International.

Facility upgrades

Groundbreaking for the construction on the Manhattan facility took place in April 2015. Staff from food safety services, the certification body, customer service, client development and marketing moved into the new building in January. The facility brings together departments in a more open collaborative working environment, Mr. Biane said.

“The people who should be collaborating daily can do so in close proximity of each other,” he said.

He gave an example of an outbound caller from AIB International reaching out to a small company and asking if the company needed assistance. If the company needed a GMP inspection or GFSI audit, the outbound caller could immediately connect the company with the right person to schedule the service.

In addition to the new facility’s collaborative environment, the older facility now has more flexibility for simultaneous baking training and client projects.

Andre Biane, AIB International
Andre Biane, president and chief executive officer of AIB International

“We’ve been able to complete phase I on time and under budget, which is a testament to cross-functional teamwork by all stakeholders,” Mr. Biane said. “The money saved in phase I has enabled us to buy new equipment for the baking laboratories and pilot plant. We also appreciate the equipment manufacturers who have donated equipment.

“Before initiating phase II, we’re pausing to understand any lessons learned from the initial construction. If we see the right type of growth and utilization of the facilities, then phase II may include further upgrades in the existing building, and additional pilot plant or lab capacity as well.”

Digital learning

Besides physical construction, AIB International has built new e-learning products. Several baking modules have been released, with more planned later this year for both baking and food safety.

The e-learning courses are designed to build technical knowledge and boost people’s problem solving skills, as well as appeal to younger learners who grew up in the digital age. E-learning also makes training more flexible and economical for customers.

Kill step validation

New baking process kill step calculators allow bakers to input time and temperature data into a calculator and demonstrate how the baking process kills pathogens such as Salmonella, thus enabling them to demonstrate that they comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act.

“If the F.D.A. walks into a facility and says, ‘Show me the verification and validation that your oven is performing a kill step,’ the food safety professional at that facility can point to the foundational research and the verification from this protocol,” Mr. Biane said.

Career and company growth

AIB International’s progress with employee engagement has been one disappointment, Mr. Biane said.

“Every year we have conducted a system-wide survey of all employees and have not yet moved the needle,” he said. “An in-depth analysis revealed that we were not paying enough attention to the career needs of our scientific professionals and support staff.

AIB International new facility
A new 10,000-square-foot facility became operational in January.

“Very simply they were asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’ And ‘How can I advance?’ ’If I’m an individual contributor and a really good specialist, how can I potentially succeed?’ So, at the beginning of this year, with the help of many associates, we launched a framework for a career path.

“As somebody gains capability and then demonstrates it, we want to make sure there is an opportunity for a person to move up.”

With this approach an individual contributor has the potential to advance to a higher level, and with that comes recognition and compensation. Mr. Biane said an example is a food safety professional who already is qualified to do GMP inspections, and now becomes qualified in a GFSI certification audit or HACCP, who could then be eligible for advancement.

Becoming a well-known expert within industry, speaking at industry forums and serving on scientific advisory committees also may help an employee advance their career, he said.

Better employee engagement is one reason AIB International grew in 2015 for the first time in three years, he said. In addition, the company has hired several key account managers and changed the way it recruits new business and manages strategic accounts.

“With those efforts we’re starting to have better relationships with existing clients, reestablish relationships with clients that have drifted away, as well as connecting with new clients in other parts of the world,” Mr. Biane said.

Because of company growth in 2015, it was the first time in four years all employees earned a bonus, Mr. Biane said.

“Yes, we had some happy campers,” he said. “It really is a tribute to their hard work, and their efforts led to them to participate in the fruits of growing the business.”

Creating and maintaining a good culture could become more vital in the next few years when the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (N.B.A.F.) starts up in Manhattan. N.B.A.F. is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s foremost animal disease research center. The facility’s core mission is to prevent and protect the country from foreign animal and emerging diseases.

“This area will become a hotbed for food safety research, thereby attracting biotech companies, pharmaceutical companies and probably pet food/feed types of companies,” Mr. Biane said. “Manhattan is going to change quite dramatically in the next 10 years.”

It is estimated that a fully operational N.B.A.F. will require about 400 full-time employees, Mr. Biane said.

“This region will experience some very big strains on talent in the next several years,” Mr. Biane said.

The facility will start to become operational around 2021, he said. Once it is up and running the competition for talent will be fierce.

“I want the AIB International name to be recognized in the community as one of the top three employers of choice,” Mr. Biane said.

Looking forward in 2016

Part of AIB International’s recent success may be attributed to its focus on particular goals, and 2016 will be no different.

First, the organization will continue to invest in employees, to assure that AIB International has enough baking and food safety professional capacity to meet planned growth and improve the professional’s quality of work-life balance. The implementation of the career ladder will provide employees with a path on which to grow and develop.

Inside new AIB International facility
The new facility brings together departments in a more open collaborative environment.

“We have a ways to go, but we’re making progress,” Mr. Biane said.

Second, AIB International will continue to use proven strategic selling and marketing tools segments to work more closely with food and beverage clients.

Third, the organization will simplify how it operates every day to become a more effective global company. For example, expanding call center capability globally will enable better connectivity with customers around the world. The adoption of technology also will simplify travel and expense reporting systems.

Mr. Biane listed the fourth goal as “Wi-Fi.” In this digital age that means building and delivering more baking and food safety e-learning programs, and continued support of the kill step validation initiative.

“Overall, I see us on a solid growth trajectory,” he said. “We’re not anywhere near perfection and still have significant opportunities to improve our business, but on the bright side we are seeing definite signs that our transformation is taking root.

“We’re in our third year of transformation. These journeys are probably best described as constantly evolving. The nature of our client base and the nature of our industry is always changing.

“Our challenge is not only to get caught up, but get ahead of the curve because our partners expect us to provide insights into the future and solutions to protect their brands and consumers.”