Cordia Harrington

Living the dream
For some, an entrepreneurial spirit may be enough to get a business off the ground and running. But to create products for more than 400 companies that include McDonald’s, Pepperidge Farm, Sara Lee, Whole Foods and Conagra, it requires “The Bun Lady,” also known as Cordia Harrington.

Founder and chief executive officer of Nashville, Tenn.-based The Bakery Cos., formerly known as Tennessee Bun Co., Ms. Harrington’s path to success isn’t conventional. She spent eight years owning a real estate business before opening three successful McDonald’s franchises that she owned from 1990 to 1998. During this time, she strengthened her leadership abilities and capitalized on a growing fast-food market. The jump to bakery owner happened while Ms. Harrington served on McDonald’s Bun Committee where she learned about the inner-workings of supply chain management and saw an increasing demand for buns.

In 1996, she opened the Tennessee Bun Co. Ms. Harrington increased sales from $4.6 million to more than $70 million in eight years. Her focus on regulations, sustainability, employee policies and financial management allowed the company to flourish, said Russ Bundy, founder, Bundy Baking Solutions.

The Bakery Cos. currently brings in $100 million in annual revenue and operates four plants, located in Tennessee and Georgia, which produce a wide range of products that include buns, bread, pastries and more. The acquisition ofMasada Bakery, Norcross, Ga., in 2014 marked its dedication to specialty bread. Other successful business ventures such as trucking company Bakery Express and freezer facility Cold Storage of Nashville demonstrated her business savvy.

“This company would not be what it is without her warm, charismatic and enthusiastic leadership,” said Joe Waters, chief development officer, The Bakery Cos. “Ms. Harrington is much more interested in the success of those around her than the individual accolades she rightly deserves.”

Throughout her journey, Ms. Harrington has put her business prowess on display. Serving on numerous boards that include the McDonald’s Supplier Advisory Council and the American Bakers Association (A.B.A.), she has been instrumental in enhancing many aspects of the baking industry. From sharing best practices to supporting the next generation of bakery owners, her capacity to educate and innovate has helped push the industry forward as it tackles new challenges.

One of only six women to be inducted into the American Society of Baking’s Hall of Fame, Ms. Harrington and her position within the field have inspired and encouraged many.

“In a male-dominated industry, we need more leaders like Ms. Harrington,” said Kelly Knowles, senior director of political affairs for the A.B.A. “An executive who is generous with praise, celebrates achievements and milestones and genuinely wants individuals to accomplish their best and succeed.”