Those in the baking industry know it’s a fraternal group. The competition can be intense, but when bakers need help, they support one another. While this pervasive atmosphere could not be attributed to a single individual, Gordon Smith, founder of Smith’s Bakeries, Mobile, Ala., certainly embodied it and helped cement that spirit of helpfulness into all aspects of the baking industry through his strength of character and the founding of the Allied Trades of the Baking Industry (ATBI).
“Building relationship is the core value in the baking industry, and I learned the importance of developing and sustaining relationships under the direct leadership of Gordon Smith,” said Steve Cooper, president and chief executive officer of Schwebel Baking Co., Youngstown, Ohio, in his letter of recommendation to the ASB. “This is the legacy that he left at Smith’s Bakery.”
According to his company’s history, Mr. Smith arrived in Mobile from his native New Orleans with only 80¢ in his pocket and a job to help a family friend’s grocery and bakery business. Trained by his father in the baking trade, Mr. Smith bought the bakery side of R.O. Harris Grocery in 1900 and launched Smith’s Bakeries. The business grew to encompass five bakeries throughout the Gulf states by 1948. Mr. Smith died Sept. 10, 1964, while still active chairman of Smith’s Bakeries. The company remained family-owned until 1989, when it was acquired and became the foundation for CooperSmith Inc. It is currently operated by Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham, Pa.
In his 64 years at Smith’s Bakeries, Mr. Smith was on the cutting edge of technology and policy. Smith’s Bakeries was an early producer of sliced, wrapped bread in the 1920s. The company was one of the first to enrich bread with vitamins and minerals. When hygienic operating regulations were enacted in Alabama, the business was the first to apply for a permit. And Smith’s Bakeries also created a pension profit sharing trust for its employees in 1943 and had already been providing life insurance protection.
In 1918, at the Southeastern Association of the Baking Industry, Mr. Smith focused his keynote address on the baking challenge of the day: reducing wheat flour by 25% in accordance with the new Food Administration’s plea to help the war effort. The baking industry found this difficult to comply with, but Mr. Smith advocated that bakers must work together to figure it out.
“If there is any baker who is having trouble making war bread, he should help him out — by mail, if possible; if not, then he should go to him or send a captain to him so that all may bake Victory bread that will really be worth of the name,” he said. “That’s the spirit of the whole proposition — the spirit of helpfulness.”
It was this same spirit that spurred Mr. Smith to create ATBI 100 years ago. At a time when the baking industry was fractured and competition was cutthroat, he saw the benefit of the “cooperation of strength” between suppliers and bakers.
“Gordon Smith’s contribution to the baking industry was to recognize that the relationship between supplier and customer must benefit both, that mutual respect and professionalism is paramount,” said William McCurry, a past officer of ATBI.
His priority of helping others extended beyond the baking industry to his local community as well.
“He was a dynamo in the Mobile community,” said Jane Burton, Mr. Smith’s granddaughter. “He was always the most generous person. He was very involved in philanthropy and was well-known for it.”
As an industry and community leader, Mr. Smith left a lasting legacy of hard work, innovation and supporting the industry and its people, one that reverberates today.