The Bakery Cos. CEO, Cordia Harrington, has spent the last 25 years building a bakery business. During the 2019 ABA Technical Conference, she took the stage as the keynote speaker to share her beginnings and all of the hard work that went into growing the baking empire.
A native of Waco, Texas, Harrington started in real estate while her three kids were young. Eventually, the hustle of the sales kept her away from her kids, and away from her priority of finding work that would allow her more time at home. “The goal all along, in all of my businesses, has been to spend more time with my family,” she said. “And I didn’t achieve the goal of spending more time with my kids until I got into the bakery business.”
Building the Bun Business
Harrington built the Tennessee Bun Company in 1996 after landing a deal with McDonald’s. Back then, they were baking 1,000 buns a minute. In the years since, they’ve acquired several other baking operations and rebranded to The Bakery Cos. to better represent all of their holdings.
Today, The Bakery Cos. has more than 400 highly-recognizable customers. But they are not content to rest on their laurels and enjoy status quo.
In October 2019, The Bakery Cos. entered a partnership with Arbor Investments with the aim of growing the business exponentially over the next five to seven years. It might seem like a lofty goal, but the company’s success has proven it has the potential to reach even greater market saturation.
“I know that my character was developed during those hard times. I proved to myself that I just wouldn’t give up,” said Harrington. “And I think success is persisting through difficult times. I love to mentor when I can open a door for somebody. There’s nothing more fulfilling.”
However, Harrington says that the digital world has caused the industry has become extremely fast-paced, and they are struggling to take the time needed to press pause and listen. “With convenience being the future, there are three things that we need to recognize, adapt, and focus on to be successful,” she says.
Leaders need to communicate clearly, and to do that, they need to focus on awareness, humility, and agility. This “AHA” mindset is one outlined by futurist Jack Uldrich in his writings.
To gain awareness, Harrington recommends reverse mentoring. Sometimes the younger talent is given low-level, unenjoyable positions within the business because of the idea that they need to learn “like we did.” The old-school methodology of sink or swim is employed in workplaces all too often. But, is there a better way to retain that talent and teach them more effectively than throwing people in the deep end without water wings?
Older bakers are used to teaching the art and science of baking, but by pairing them with a younger, tech-savvy associate, they can work together to see what’s truly possible.
Harrington says that humility as a leader doesn’t always translate to “eagerness to give my opinion of how things should be handled.” The best thing leaders can do for their company, she says, is to listen. Encourage people to start asking questions and empower associates to come up with solutions on their own.
The important thing, she says is “having humility and really knowing that we don’t always have the right answer because there’s usually more than one right answer.”
“If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance even less,” Harrington says. The only way to grow is to keep iterating, thinking big, and exploring new ways to do things.
“I wouldn’t have dreamed that we can have driverless trucks, and they’re being tested all over the United States. We, as leaders, need to be skeptical. When someone says something can’t be done, we need to think about how it could be or ask ‘why not?’”
“We need to keep open minds because in our future, we’re going to see exponential growth and incredible changes in our industry. Let’s think big. Let’s ask questions. Let’s be curious learners,” she says.
Be open minded, be flexible and know there is always room for improvement, no matter how successful you already are.