ATLANTA — The baking industry is changing at a significantly fast rate. No one knows that better than Cordia Harrington, chief executive officer, Nashville, Tenn.-based The Bakery Cos., and keynote speaker at the American Bakers Association’s annual technical conference.

A journey that has spanned two decades, Ms. Harrington welcomed conference attendees on opening day with a message of growth, change and leadership.

She commented on the partnership The Bakery Cos. formed with Yianny and George Caparos and Arbor Investments that was announced on Sept. 30. With this partnership, The Bakery Cos. expects to grow from a $125 million business today to about $1 billion in sales in the next five to seven years, she said.

“It’s taken 20 years for our family to get the bakery to $125 million, and now we’re expecting exponential growth over the next five to seven years,” Ms. Harrington told attendees. “Life is moving pretty fast … business is moving really fast.”

She recalled that from the time she had a conversation to visualize what the future looked like to the time the partnership was announced, only 67 days had passed.

“That is lightning speed,” she said.

Successfully executing on a vision requires an element of servant leadership, Ms. Harrington said.

She identified “aha” moments based on futurist Jack Uldrich’s ideas — awareness, humility and agility — as key leadership strategies, suggesting tactics such as being open to new ideas and implementing “reverse mentorships,” where industry veterans provide opportunities to learn from younger professionals in areas like technology and mobile apps.

“If you think about it, your life — all our lives and businesses — are moving just as fast,” she suggested.  “It’s an exciting time to be in the baking industry. To succeed in the days ahead, we need to be aware, be humble and be agile. We need to be open to new ways of doing old tasks. We have a bright, bold future in this industry.”

Ms. Harrington welcomed conference attendees to Masada Bakery, the company’s operation in Norcross, Ga. The Bakery Cos. acquired Masada in 2014.

“It’s a plant that has a passion in the eyes of the bakers that’s like no other,” she said. “I’m very proud of it.”