THOMASVILLE, GA. — Flowers Foods, Inc., announced the retirement of Robert L. Benton Jr., executive vice president of network optimization, after 43 years of service to the company. Mr. Benton’s retirement will be effective July 14. 

Mr. Benton joined Flowers Foods in 1980, and his career has spanned all levels of the company, from local and regional manufacturing positions to executive positions, including vice president of manufacturing, senior vice president of manufacturing and operations support, and senior vice president and chief manufacturing officer.

Prior to being named to his current position in 2019, Mr. Benton served as chief supply chain officer. His responsibilities have included manufacturing and distribution productivity and efficiency, capital projects, regulatory and quality assurance, and safety and environmental affairs. 

“On behalf of the entire Flowers team, I wish to express my deep appreciation to Robert for his years of service,” said A. Ryals McMullian, chairman, chief executive officer, and president. “Robert is one of the most knowledgeable and capable engineers in the baking industry. In his career at Flowers, he oversaw the design and construction of 10 new bakeries while redesigning and updating countless others to better serve our customers and adapt to changing consumer markets. Few people in the history of our company have made such a lasting, positive impact on our growth and prosperity. We wish him the very best in his retirement." 

Mr. Benton’s impact goes beyond his tenure at Flowers to the entire baking industry. He has held leadership roles in several industry groups, including the American Institute of Baking, BEMA and the American Society of Baking (ASB), the last of which he served as chairman. 

In 2001, during Mr. Benton’s turn as Flowers’ vice president of manufacturing, Baking & Snack named Mr. Benton its Operations Executive of the Year. Laurie Gorton, executive editor at the time, described Mr. Benton in the article as “one of the best of today’s new production men,” noting that Flowers had delegated its mission to turn its bakery plants into the most efficient in the industry to him. 

George Deese, Flowers’ president and chief operating officer at that time, explained why: “Robert delivers the goods. He brings a great deal of energy to his work, knows a tremendous amount, sets a good example and strives to be always the best. And he does it in all parts of his life.”

While Mr. Benton is known for the bakeries he has designed and built, he said it’s the relationships that he has built that are most meaningful to him. 

“Most people who know me would expect me to say that I love building bakeries, and it’s true I do,” he said. “But that doesn’t come before the joy that I have received from building teams and the friendships I have gained within the company and outside of it, especially with our vendors. Those will last for a lifetime.” 

Mr. Benton encouraged young professionals in the industry to be all in when it comes to their careers. 

“To be successful in this business is to be all in, fully invested, and to operate with respect, integrity and trust,” he said.

Mr. Benton, who could count 16 times he relocated during his career, reflected on what that commitment reaped for him and how it impacted his own personal development. 

“Those 16 moves I wouldn’t trade for anything in my life because I got to build relationships and bakeries and did so much that made me who I am, but you have to be willing to be invested,” he said. “I got to see so many more processes and kinds of products because I had the opportunity and I always said yes. And it has worked out wonderfully.”   

After 43 years, Mr. Benton noted that the industry has become a way of life, but he is excited about the future. 

“A lot of old-timers used to tell me that, in the bakery, if you stay long enough, you’ll get flour in your veins, and sure enough, I have plenty in mine,” he said. “There’s a lot of things yet to come, and it’s going to be fun.”