Bakery leaders dish on how to motivate, achieve and inspire their people

By Kristine Sherred

- Last updated on GMT

'The role of the leader is to build more leaders,' said Weston Foods' Roy Benin (left), while Flowers Foods' Brad Alexander (right) emphasized the importance of sharing the company vision with everyone. Pic: American Bakers Association
'The role of the leader is to build more leaders,' said Weston Foods' Roy Benin (left), while Flowers Foods' Brad Alexander (right) emphasized the importance of sharing the company vision with everyone. Pic: American Bakers Association

Related tags Bakery American bakers association IBIE Leadership Grupo bimbo Daniel Servitje Dawn foods Flowers foods Amf bakery systems Weston Foods

Grupo Bimbo's Daniel Servitje, Dawn Foods' Carrie Jones-Barber, Flower Foods' Brad Alexander and Weston Foods' Roy Benin were invited by the American Bakers Association (ABA) to share their management approach in a fast-paced, multigenerational workplace. Their message at IBIE 2019 was one of collaboration, passion, transparency and authenticity.

ABA’s NextGenBaker platform provides up-and-coming bakery business leaders with avenues for professional development, networking and public policy engagements, as well as access to valuable trends data.

The NextGenBaker panel discussion, held on the second last day of IBIE in Las Vegas earlier this month, revealed that these leaders focus not only on numbers but also on an authentic exchange of ideas with their management teams and employees – ​not despite but in light of their global reach.

People want to feel they are a part of something

“It’s important for us as managers to really get to know [our employees], to challenge them, to give them feedback,”​ said Flowers Foods COO Brad Alexander. Flowers’ senior VP of core brands and a NextGenBaker co-chair, Brent Bradshaw, led the discussion alongside AMF Bakery Systems’ Brandon Woods, a co-chair of the future leaders program.

Asked how to manage a workforce that spans generations, Alexander said that in the past, a chat with the boss often spelled trouble. Millennials especially want to be challenged and praised and they want to be involved.

“I think everyone in our company wants to do the right thing, but I think sometimes they don’t know what we want them to do, or what the vision [is]," ​he said, adding, as leaders, they must consciously help them get there.

“We bring a lot of the younger team into key meetings so they can observe and be a part of it. We’re including them in a lot of things.”

Grupo Bimbo chairman and CEO Daniel Servitje and Dawn Foods’ CEO Carrie Jones-Barber agreed that their companies’ international presence allows them to cross both generational and cultural divides.

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Daniel Servitje at the NextGenBaker panel at IBIE 2019. Pic: American Bakers Association

"My advice for the next generation is to really make sure that you realize the importance of adaptability. You’re constantly changing because things change – you can’t do the same thing every year... and this becomes a process that really is interesting and high-spirited." ​- Daniel Servitje, Grupo Bimbo

“It’s certainly complex,” ​said Servitje. “We’re talking a lot about millennials, but, at the end of the day, we have to foster an environment where everyone can be accepted and treated in the right way, and we have been changing ourselves.”

Grupo Bimbo has nurtured a culture that strives to ease tension among age groups by embracing the same set of values in each of its 32 markets. That approach ‘translates’ no matter the country, according to Servitje.

“When you’re bonded by a strong culture, I think that eases many generation and gaps issues.”

Jones-Barber echoed that sentiment, emphasizing the ‘value of diversity of thought.’

“When you have different experiences – by looking at different cultures or ethnicities, religions or backgrounds – you bring that with you. Being able to surround yourself with those that think differently gives you a creative ability to answer questions in a completely different way.”

Let people be themselves – ​and let them talk about it

Several of the leaders mentioned the usefulness of one-on-one meetings, as well as weekly meetings where larger attendance happens but only briefly. These conversations allow for a ‘free flow’ of dialogue, where “good news and bad news travel at the same speed,” ​said Roy Benin, president of category strategy and innovation at Weston Foods.

“When you have transparency, you build trust. Everyone wants to work with people that they trust. That’s really, really important in a fast-paced world because things can change so quickly – on a dime – and if I get that news too late, I can’t impact it.”

Dawn, meanwhile, has embraced technology in its approach to company connectivity, according to Jones-Barber.

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Harnessing technology to connect 5,000 employees around the world has been 'transformative,' said Dawn Foods' CEO Carrie Jones-Barber, pictured here at the NextGenBaker panel at IBIE. Pic: American Bakers Association

The Michigan-based company – nearing its centenary​ – enlisted a tool called Workplace by Facebook, where team members can exchange ideas, problems and potential solutions.

“We found every generation is using it,” ​said Jones-Barber. “The baby boomers are using it just as much as the millennials and Gen X – and that is what we didn’t expect.

"In fact, Facebook called us and said, ‘What are you guys doing? We have never seen anyone have this kind of uptake across the organization the way you have.’

"It’s connecting all 5,000 of our team members to each­ other and that’s transformative.”

Added Benin, “I think people want to be the same person at work that they are outside of work. That’s important, and as a leader, I try to show up that way.”​ 

Build more leaders and change with the times

The four panelists all touched on some element of passion and agility, along with cultivating a comfortable workplace that encourages collaboration.

“The role of the leader is to build more leaders,” ​said Benin, prompted by a query of lessons learned.

“That got me thinking – you’re going to be recognized for your results. The real thing that motivates me is you want to be remembered by the number of leaders that you’ve influenced and the amount of leaders that you’ve grown.

“I often say to people, 'We’re in the talent business, but we just happen to be in bakery. If you take care of that, then everything else will kind of take care of itself.'”

For Grupo Bimbo, that means remembering that bread and bakery itself connects people.

“It’s really improving the lives of the people that we serve or that we connect to. It’s a tall order. We provide moments of joy, of simple pleasure and simple needs. This is something that should make us really proud of our industry,” ​said Servitje.

Power of Bakery snapshot with ABA

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ABA's Robb MacKie and Rabobank's Cyrille Filott present bakery survey data at the NextGenBaker panel at IBIE 2019. Pic: American Bakers Association

ABA president Robb MacKie and Cyrille Filott, a global strategist for consumer foods at the Netherlands-based Rabobank, delved into data revealed in May​.

Omnichannel retail will become increasingly important, according to Filott, who pointed to Alibaba and in China – ecommerce sites that have amassed incredible amounts of consumer data. That information led to the creation of new products, he said, such as a spicy Snickers and a chicken-flavored wasabi Oreo.

Bakery benefits from being shorter on startups and disruptors than other sectors of the food industry, he added. In more than a third of food categories, however, big brands are losing share to new ones.

“These startups are very agile. They are very quick,”​ he said, prodding the audience to amp investment in innovation. Less than 2% of revenue supports R&D today, according to Rabobank, compared to up to 3% in years past.

“To survive and grow, much more money needs to be spent on innovation. We should always be mindful that something might disrupt.”

Yes, sustainability matters

The ABA’s bakery survey of millennial and Gen Z consumers revealed this powerful demographic demands responsible sourcing. They also hate waste, with a whopping three-quarters saying they are ‘bothered’ by wasting bread. Another 20% reported skipping buying a loaf after tossing their previous purchase.

These generations are more ‘purpose-driven’ than their predecessors, noted MacKie at the NextGenBaker event.

In addition to physically improving packaging sustainability, he said, “We need to tell that story a little bit better. Sustainability and purpose: they go hand in glove."

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