Mike Porter’s leadership style has been heavily influenced by his heavyweight mentors like Tim Brown, chairman of New Horizons Baking Co. (NHBC), and Russ Bundy, owner of Bundy Baking Solutions, he has taken the lessons they have taught him and made them his own. Trina Bediako, chief executive officer of Norwalk, Ohio-based NHBC, said it best when she described the company’s president and chief operating officer as a coach. 

“Mike provides clear goals and objectives, and then he gets out of the way and lets the experts do their thing,” she said. “It’s really nice to watch.” 

It was a lesson he had to learn the hard way. As someone with a wealth of experience on the production floor, Mr. Porter said he had to learn to stop micromanaging his team and let them do the work. 

“I was a perfectionist, and I wanted to make sure everything was right,” he said. “It’s hard to let people do their jobs, but it is so rewarding to watch them succeed. When I was micromanaging, I was crippling my team and not allowing them to be the best version of themselves. You must trust them and give them the opportunity to rise to the occasion.”

Today, he tries giving them tools and resources to do that and then getting out of the way. 

 “I need you to be the best version of you,” he said. “If I can get that every day out of everybody, there’s nothing that can stop us.”

While the motivational speeches and equipping is important, it’s not Mr. Porter’s only strength as a leader. His extensive experience working multiple roles within the bakery have given him the credibility he needs with his team. He also has earned their trust.

“We all have one goal as a team, but we each have a different role,” he said. “I’m not going to be the best at supply chain — I have great people who can do that — but I understand enough about it that I can support them well. I can walk the production floor, and I understand the process, the people and what they’re going through because I lived it.”

Ms. Bediako pointed out the asset Mr. Porter’s experience has brought to NHBC.

“He really brings an amazing amount of operational and industry knowledge to the business, yet he cares about the people he works with,” Ms. Bediako pointed out. “He’s respected in the business and the industry, and that’s just as important.”

Every morning starts off with Ms. Bediako and Mr. Porter making the rounds to greet their employees. Then Mr. Porter spends each day focused on a different aspect of the bakery: One day he might be in meetings with operations, the next he focuses on supply chain or purchasing. In Norwalk, he tries to stay off the production floor to give the operations managers the space to do their jobs and lead their teams. When he’s at one of NHBC’s other facilities, he’ll spend more time on the floor to get a sense for how operations are running. It’s all an effort to help keep the leadership accessible to the employees and let them feel cared for and empowered.

The management team Mr. Porter and Ms. Bediako have assembled ranges from veterans to newcomers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Porter pointed out the team was truly tested, and he was blown away by what he saw. 

Operating under extreme stress and uncertainty reveals people’s true character and what they are made of, Mr. Porter pointed out, and he could not be more proud of the NHBC team and how they handled the pandemic and its subsequent challenges.

“After what we’ve been through together, there’s nothing I’m afraid of with this team,” he said. “I would take on anything with them because I trust them. They’re loyal, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. I don’t want any more challenges for them because they’ve been through enough, but I don’t fear anything now because of them.”

At the end of the day, what gets Mr. Porter out of bed in the morning and into the office is his commitment to that team, and the 500 families they represent. 

“That’s a great responsibility if you think about it; if you estimate four people per family, that’s 2,000 people,” he said. “And then there are the suppliers and customers who support us and help us. It’s not being motivated. It’s the only reason to get up because it includes my own family. I’ve been here 25 years, and I think about the people who have been here for 50 years and the time they’ve put in, and then I think about the person who has been here for one year, and they have a 25-year story coming. I want to be a part of that story.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Porter was able to visit one of his old high schools and share his story with the students. It was a true full-circle moment. 

“There was no example for me of how I could be anything more than a production supervisor,” he said. “I could see myself in those kids, and I got to be that person for them. It was a humbling experience.”

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.