When Mike Porter got started in the baking industry, he had no aspirations of becoming a company executive. But after learning from strong mentors, working relentlessly toward personal improvement and grabbing every opportunity, he is now president and chief operating officer of New Horizons Baking Co. (NHBC), Norwalk, Ohio. He hopes that his story will inspire others to reach their full potential.

NHBC and its subsidiary Genesis Baking Co. provide soft rolls and English muffins for some of the most iconic brands in the United States, including McDonald’s, as well as contract manufacturing for other companies. With NHBC’s latest acquisition — Coalescence NHBC — the company enters the nutrition and seasonings space. All together NHBC employs around 500 people across three different baking facilities, and Mr. Porter takes his responsibility to those employees and their families seriously. 

Mr. Porter joined NHBC in 1997, and over his 25-year career, he has developed an empathetic approach to leadership and ability to adapt to an ever-evolving industry. His wealth of knowledge across the bakery business has made him an asset to NHBC, and his dedication to the industry that has given him so much has enriched the careers of others. It is these qualities that made Baking & Snack select Mr. Porter as 2022 Operations Executive of the Year.  

Mr. Porter grew up in rural Ohio with modest dreams for his baking career. His family owned a small retail bakery where he got his first taste of the industry. His father told him if he graduated from AIB International, his baking career would be set. 

“All I wanted was to be a production supervisor,” Mr. Porter recalled. “I thought if I could be a supervisor, then I will have made it further than anyone in my family.” 

After barely graduating high school, at 19 years old and a new dad himself, Mr. Porter moved to Manhattan, Kan., to attend AIB’s four-month baking course. When he considered quitting, his girlfriend, Jamie, flew with their 14-month-old baby to support him as he worked his way through the course. 

“People don’t understand how intense it really was,” he said. “You went to school from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and then I spent all night studying. Most people are sent to that course by their companies, so their meals and housing are paid for, but I took a different approach. This was my education for my livelihood, and we had nothing.”

Unmarried couples were not allowed to live together on campus, so they did the only thing that made sense: They got married. They’ve been married for 25 years, raised three kids — Brooklyn, Noah and Caleb — and now are proud grandparents of three. 

“To have somebody believe in me like my wife did — traveling out there with our baby to be with me,” he remembered. “I probably wouldn’t have gotten through without that to be honest with you.”

It’s a theme that has emerged again and again in Mr. Porter’s career and life: a kid from Ohio who people took a chance on. He’s made sure they didn’t regret it.

As his mentor Tim Brown, chairman of NHBC, often says, “It’s not how you got the opportunity but what you do with it,” and Mr. Porter is a living testament to that truth. 

After the AIB course, Mr. Porter immediately had an interview with Interstate Bakeries Co. 

He was all set to take the job, but then an opportunity came from a bakery closer to home at NHBC. Enticed by the familiarity and proximity to family, Mr. Porter started his baking career as production supervisor at NHBC at 19 years old in 1997. He had achieved his goal and had no idea what trajectory his career could take. 

“I met Tim Brown, who was president at the time, and I never thought that could be me,” Mr. Porter said. 

Mr. Porter will be the first to say his story is one about the grace of God in his life and the opportunities and mentors he’s been blessed with, but he made the most of them through hard work and a drive to always improve. 

His first big move was from production supervisor to quality assurance. Within two years of that change, he became plant manager. From plant manager, Mr. Porter began bouncing between operations and sales until 2018 when he made a major career change. After a neck injury that required surgery and eight weeks of recovery, Mr. Porter decided to leave the safety net of NHBC to find himself. 

“I was with the company for so long, I wanted to see what I was capable of myself,” he explained. 

Mr. Porter landed at DuPont, which is now IFF, in a sales role. Moving from a small family-owned bakery to a large ingredient supplier, Mr. Porter was exposed to a new level of business. 

“I got to see the processes and programs they had in place at DuPont that we should have been using at NHBC,” he said. “And then I also saw the benefit of the family-owned business where you can change direction more quickly and smoothly without bureaucracy.” 

This time away from NHBC also gave him and NHBC’s current Chief Executive Officer Trina Bediako the space to grow as individuals after working closely for so long. Ms. Bediako started at NHBC in 2002 as director of human resources. The two essentially grew up in the business under the guidance and mentorship of Ms. Bediako’s father, Mr. Brown. 

“We had to work closely together because he was on the production floor, and I had the responsibility of supporting from the human capital perspective. It was really good way for me to get know our staff,” Ms. Bediako said. “We just gelled right away. We worked together well, and then we became friends.”

While Mr. Porter was growing his career, Ms. Bediako was growing hers, working in every department of the company: finance, operations, sales. She became the point person for the company’s largest customer, McDonald’s. At the end of 2017, Ms. Bediako became president of NHBC herself, and during Mr. Porter’s hiatus, she took on the role of chief operating officer as well. In 2020, when Mr. Brown decided to be chairman of NHBC, it was only natural that he promote the company’s current president, with her wealth of experience in the company, to the chief executive role. When he asked Ms. Bediako who her president would be, she said there was only one answer: Mike Porter. 

“As the owner’s daughter, folks always size you up,” she said. “Mike never judged me. He just got to know who I was, and we always had a mutual respect. I knew I had to have team members who believed in me and supported me, and with Mike, there was always a respect, both professionally and personally.”

In the fall of 2020, Mr. Porter rejoined NHBC as president and COO. 

This article is an excerpt from the December 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire special feature on Operations Executive of the Year, click here.