Cordia Harrington
Cordia Harrington speaks to women and young professionals on the value of authenticity and longevity and the power of operations experience when mapping a career path in the baking industry.

CHICAGO — Kicking off the American Society of Baking (A.S.B.)’s BakingTech conference, which ran Feb. 25-27 in Chicago, the Society of Bakery Women (S.B.W.) held a networking event that featured a keynote from Cordia Harrington, chief executive officer of The Bakery Cos., Nashville, Tenn. 

With more than 500 employees and well over $100 million in sales serving food service customers across the country, Ms. Harrington, who was inducted into A.S.B.’s Baking Hall of Fame during the conference, spoke to attendees about the power of risk taking, especially for women and young professionals in the baking industry. 

“The question we’re all interested in is, ‘What does tomorrow look like?’ In other words, how can the time I spend today help me accomplish what I’m trying to do tomorrow?” she asked.

In an industry rooted in tradition, Ms. Harrington’s vision for The Bakery Cos. is to create a company that will live on through generations of her own family. 

“Rich family history is one of the things that I love about the baking business," she said. "We all want to work somewhere that has a purpose greater than just our individual selves. I love being in an industry with people of such high integrity.  And you find that with so many bakers.”

Ms. Harrington noted Turano Baking Co., Berwyn, Ill., as a family bakery that exemplifies the integrity and longevity required to sustain a business through multiple generations. 

“I’m trying to build what the Turano family has done,” she said. “My dream is that this business will carry forth through future generations. Everything we’ve done in the first generation is to plan for it to go on successfully.”

The culture of The Bakery Cos. is not just rooted in carrying the business into the future. For Ms. Harrington, it’s about something bigger. 

“The mission is to create opportunities, make a difference and impact lives," she said. "It doesn’t say a thing about making money or baking bread. I look at my business as my vision field, the place where I can impact lives, a place where I can make a difference.”

As many young professionals enter the industry, Ms. Harrington advised S.B.W. attendees to get involved, both inside and out of the workplace, in areas such as chambers of commerce, charitable organizations and places of worship as well as workplace projects and committees. She quickly pointed out that her participation on the bun committee while operating a McDonald’s restaurant was her point of entry into the baking industry.

“Say yes, show up,” she said. “You never know where saying yes will take you.”

In looking to the future, Ms. Harrington suggested there’s never been a better time than now to break into the baking industry. 

“Anyone in this room could be the person to invent the next great bakery product,” she said. “Our industry is in flux right now, so the door is wide open for you to come with your crazy ideas for a product or a protein carrier … I’ve never seen a better time in our industry for people to be open-minded and ready to try something new.”

As a committee member for the proposed checkoff program to be led by the Grain Foods Foundation to promote the consumption of grain-based foods in the United States, Ms. Harrington noted that not only is it the right time for young bakery professionals to bring new ideas to the forefront, but also the industry is poised to have the financial support to promote it. 

Finally, Ms. Harrington encouraged new bakers to leverage experience through bakery operations and not just food science, quality assurance and R.&D. 

“It’s a way to gain a lot more credibility,” she said. “Say yes to getting on the plant floor. If you can say, ‘I’ve spent time in operations,' it will speak volumes about your interest in learning the industry and how it all really works.”