For bakers, members of a centuries-old industry charged with feeding the world, Jeff Dearduff has one piece of advice: “Stay small. Stay close. Stay strong.”

Coming from the person in charge of supply chain strategy for Aryzta Americas, one of the nation’s largest wholesale bakery operators, that sounds like quite a challenge. But not really, if you ask him. In fact, keeping the “stay small” mentality is easy, he said, if you keep the focus in the right place.

“When I say, ‘Stay small,’ that’s directed at people,” Mr. Dearduff explained. “People need to keep their communities small, and that’s all about networking.”

The key, for him, is in the associations — BEMA, American Bakers Association and even AIB International. They make the industry a tight community.

“If you took these associations away, this would just be another industry with a lot of big companies doing their own thing,” he said. “It’s these associations that make the industry close.”

By actively engaging in such industry groups, bakery professionals get the opportunity to come at the same issues from different angles.

“It exposes you to different ways of looking at the same problem and coming up with various ways to deal with those challenges,” he added.

Check out more about what Mr. Dearduff,Baking & Snack’s2014 Operations Executive of the Year, thinks in the magazine’s December issue.