The pandemic has been a giant learning experience that no one signed up for.
Senior baking executives have been tested like never before and are navigating this period by leveraging strong leadership skills. Rising leaders, meanwhile, are stepping up while absorbing key lessons from their more seasoned colleagues.
Those lessons — on topics ranging from enhancing supply chain to supporting employees — were relayed by senior leaders during American Bakers Association’s NextGenBaker Virtual Leadership Forum. The session, called “Leading in the Landscape of Today,” made it clear that even veteran executives hadn’t been fully prepared for the pandemic pressures they would face.
“The duration of the crisis has been a key challenge,” said Tom Benner, President and CEO, Lesaffre Corp./Red Start Yeast Co. “Many of us have had crisis training. While this situation shares things in common with what I’ve personally experienced before, the unique aspect is the length of time of this crisis.”
Forum Brought Together Veteran and Rising Leaders
In addition to Benner, other senior leaders who spoke were Trina Bediako, President and COO, New Horizons Baking Co; Mario Somoza, President and CEO, Pan Pepin, and Luc Mongeau, President, Weston Foods.
Questions were posed by ABA NextGenBaker Co-Chairs: Kelly Mariotti, Director of Talent Management for Weston Foods, and Campbell Williams, Co-President of B.C. Williams Bakery Service and BCW Food Products.
ABA executives participating included Christina Donnelly, NextGenBaker Staff Liaison and Director of Industry Relations and Strategic Initiatives, and Robb MacKie, President and CEO.
Supply Chain Agility Emphasized
Senior leaders said agility has been a crucial supply chain strategy.
“We saw the shift from the foodservice to retail channels during the crisis, and we were able to shift resources,” said Somoza. “We had to make adjustments.”
Mongeau said Weston Foods “accelerated our rate of forecasting, inventory replenishment and demand planning” in order to be agile in responding to the new landscape.
Supporting and Motivating Employees
The need to support employees — through measures from safety to financial — came up as an essential priority.
“We focused on acts of appreciation,” said Bediako about New Horizons. “Appreciation bonuses. Lunches. Things we can do to let employees know they’re important.”
Somoza said his company moved early to provide PPE to employees. Benner said his organization has taken extra steps to welcome newly joining employees who have to begin their tenures by working remotely in a pandemic.
Prioritizing Diversity and Inclusion
Baking leaders also addressed the topic of diversity and inclusion, a conversation increasingly in the spotlight during a period of national protests on race.
Bediako said she feels it’s important for the baking industry to reflect the society and customer base it serves, noting that about 40% of Americans identify as racial or ethnic minorities.
“Our industry is evolving,” she said. “The workforce we deal with today is different than that of the first generations of our businesses. This topic begins with accepting that there is diverse talent out there. We must consider the value adds that diversity brings, and utilize resources familiar and unfamiliar to locate and invest in the appropriate people.”
Mongeau relayed a personal perspective on this subject as he urged the bakery industry to rise to the occasion.
“As a French Canadian gay male, I understand about bias and the pressures people face,” he said. “There’s also pressure that individuals put on themselves to fit in and succeed. We need to create environments where everyone can be at their best.”
Helping to Guide Rising Leaders
Speakers didn’t just relay lessons — they also offered advice to next gen executives.
“Never get comfortable with the status quo,” advised Bediako.
“Take time to care for your own physical and mental health so you can be there for others,” offered Benner.
Meanwhile, Somoza emphasized that rising leaders need to become comfortable with making course corrections as needed.
“Things change so quickly,” he said. “Be willing to back track and swallow your pride if conditions change.”