Unlike school, life gives experience first and lessons later. That’s always been one of my favorite sayings. But after Joanie Spencer, our managing editor, and I recently sat down with Jeff Dearduff, a 36-year industry veteran and our 2014 Operations Executive of the Year, I have a whole bunch more Dearduffian-isms to add to my collection.

Some, like “slow down to go fast,” come from his experience as a race car driver. On an oval race track, drivers know that the speed around a curve should be half of that on the straightaways. If you don’t slow down going around a corner, you’re going to crash. For Jeff, a lifelong bakery engineer, that lesson is the key to working safely and getting the job done correctly the first time.

Others, like “listen twice, speak once,” come from the Bible. Listening allows him to formulate ideas within the appropriate time, then act decisively.

Jeff is a student of life. He refers to his favorite search engine as Google University. “That’s how I learn. I reach out. I find things. There are lessons in every step we take in a day,” he said. Although he’s not a big reader, his favorite book is Chief, written by his younger brother Scott about his Air Force service in Iraq. It inspired Jeff about the best of life and the worst of war and made him a huge fan of the military.

On the other hand, Jeff has published more than 80 columns and podcasts — most driven by what he or his friends learned on the job — all to build a stronger industry. Jeff’s management style is one of teaching. “I like helping people succeed and helping them find their way and seeing that they have had every chance to make a difference,” he said.

His biggest challenge? Do you show people how to do something, or do you let them learn by doing it themselves? Give them fish or let them fish? “I like to be the teacher of fishermen,” he said.

Since he started in the baking industry, Jeff has seen a lot of changes in the way people operate on the production floor. “Back then, the baking process was far more hands-on, far more touches [and] far more interactive between people and machines,” he recalled. “Today, it’s more monitoring; the automation, which causes people to stand back and not get their hands in the dough. Of course, there are big changes in the industry in general. You used to be able to walk up to a machine and get next to it. Now, you have to stay back because of the safety and the regulations.”

In the end, what does he bring to any bakery that he works for? “I think industry knowledge, good treatment of people and a calm demeanor help anyone be a leader. It works for me,” he said.

That’s the Dearduffian way.

Thanks, Jeff, for being our Operations Executive of the Year.