Breaking the Bounds

Rotman Commerce Women in Business

The Sixth Annual Women’s Leadership Symposium

March 6, 2015

 

I was honored, and pleasantly surprised, to be invited to participate on the Food Panel at the Sixth Annual Women’s Leadership Symposium, presented by Rotman Commerce Women in Business.  I was in great company, with other food industry leaders.  While there are many career options in the food industry, it quickly became clear that food people are friendly, food is something that brings people together, and the passion for the industry is infectious!

The 2015 Food Panel:

Nicole Karmali – Operations Manager, Oliver & Bonacini Events & Catering

Nancy Klassen – Associate Director – Human Resources, Kerr Bros. Limited; Board Chair, Women in Food Industry Management (WFIM);

Krista Payne – Director of Operations, Sobeys

Joanna Pleta – PR & Marketing Manager, Momofuku

Nadege Nourian – Chef & Owner, Nadege Bakery

Moderator:  Louisa Clements, “Living Lou” Food Blogger

Career Paths

While each leader had a different path to get to where they are, it was clear that hard work, taking hold of opportunities (and making your own!), and transferable skills were important to their success.

Nicole graduated with a B. Comm in Hospitality from the University of Guelph. She started as a bartender at Oliver & Bonacini, with plans for being promoted into management.  She found this helpful to understand the culture & the brand.  She pitched to the owners that O&B should do events.  They loved the idea & they took over the operations at the Toronto Board of Trade – with Nicole in charge!  Nicole used her 4 years of experience to build the division.  Her strategy is to hire people that can do the things you can’t do, and to work off each other’s strengths.    She states that she has fallen into the position as much as she lead the way.

Joanna also graduated with a B. Comm, in marketing & web design.  She liked food, and found herself freelancing on the side with restaurants in the city to design their websites for free.  She found that knowing the operations, she was better able to market the concept.

Krista worked in retail pharmacy then hospital pharmacy, and then was a manager at Shopper’s Drug Mart.  She was hired on at Sobey’s as Operations Manager, and hasn’t looked back since!  She moved into a talent management role to develop Department Managers, Asst Store Managers & Store Managers.  As a female in a male-dominated industry, she found that she had to have perseverance, stay focused, work with a mentor, and continually set new goals.

Nancy, also a University of Guelph grad in the B. Comm, hospitality program, started her career managing restaurants.   She loved the people side, training them, and seeing them grow, so she moved in a training role.   Wanting a change in her career, she found that she had a lot of transferable skills to move into Human Resources.   She received her HR diploma, and is now working in the food manufacturing industry, where her knowledge of food safety is an asset in her role.

Nadege’s great grandparents and grandparents had a pastry shop.   From a very young age she was working in the bakery.  She went to pastry school in France.  She knew that you have to be passionate and work long hours on your feet to be successful in the baking industry.

Daily Roles

Through the conversation, we discovered that in any position in the food industry, people, hiring, training are a key part of a leadership role.

Joanna states that it is hard to pin down daily activities as there are so many moving parts.   On a higher level, it’s about building relationships.  You need to be very entrepreneurial.  It’s what you make of it.

Nadege usually works 7 days a week, starting at 4 am.  Being in charge of the team in the kitchen, they have to make everything to be ready for the opening of the shop.  After that, the day can change: testing new recipes, checking on the different sections like cake, bread, croissants.  She is close to the kitchen team & the managers. As the owner, she also needs to sign for bills, spend time on e-mail & phone, taking care of the business end.

Nicole’s days vary depending upon the events and season.   Marketing, setting the tone of owning the events, hiring, training & development are some of her many activities.  One of her favorite roles is developing young managers coming up from serving staff.   She meets with the O&B executive team about new properties, where they talk about design, carpet, chairs, glassware, uniforms, what suppliers to use, etc.!     She is responsible for the financials, and she negotiates contracts, so she is also close with the sales team.

Every day is a little different for Krista, with communication being a big part of it.   She is responsible for the operational execution at the stores:  making sure brand standard are up to spec, i.e. meat cuts, cupcakes, etc. And she is responsible for the performance of team, in addition to financial accountability, sales, shrink, margin, & controllable expenses.  She spends a lot of time with her store managers, to make sure they understand where they are & creating development plans to strengthen their competencies in leadership and execution.   Even though Sobey’s is selling food, it’s truly a people business.

In food manufacturing, Nancy has more regular days than the others.  She attends a daily production meeting where the management team discusses what’s happening out on the floor, are the shipments on time, what’s happening with purchasing & inventory.   Then throughout the day, she has various meetings and interviews.  She is in the plant everyday to meet with the employees, because they can’t get away from their machines.  She has to be ready to handle any surprise that may come up: be it an employee issue, health & safety issue, or the MOL can walk in, and she has to drop everything to handle it.   You have to be flexible & adaptable to manage that.

Every job has its challenges.  How do you overcome them?

Nancy:  recruiting for the factory is a challenge.  People don’t understand fully what it is to be in food manufacturing.  There are so many things to think about from food safety, to health & safety, and operating a machine, the cost of ingredients, productivity.   To help the industry overcome this, Nancy has been involved with 2 groups that have government funding to get people working in food processing, so that they have more training & certification to be qualified to work in the food industry.

Krista’s challenge has been being a female in a primarily male-dominated industry.  She finds that you have to know what you’re talking about, and show that you’re here to support them.

Working with chefs can be a big challenge for Nicole, in that they have different ideas of how to run your team.  But she finds that the mentality of back-of house to front of house is closing in – more respect is happening.  Another challenge is maintaining the reputation of the company, as everyone expects that it will be a flawless experience, and you need to meet those expectations.  Communication is a challenge, making sure everyone is on the same page.

Joanna also finds that meeting expectations of customers is a challenge.  However, if you do make mistakes, you need to find ways to get over it to make the experience positive.

Despite the challenges, there are successes!

Helping to build the partnership between Sobey’s & Jamie Oliver has been a highlight for Krista over the last couple of years, having him travel to the stores & meet the people.   Second – When you have “opportunity” employees and you invest time & programs in them & you see them succeed – when they become better than us, that’s a great feeling.

Nadege finds that giving emotion to people shows her success.  She tells a story of a woman who was buying a croissant everyday for 5 days in a row, for her son who was in the hospital nearby.  The first time her son bit into the croissant, he started to smile with happiness.   Stories like that make you feel good, that what you’re doing is worthwhile.

Being elected to the Chair of WFIM is a success story for Nancy.  Volunteering in some capacity is a good thing when you have the time to do it.  WFIM is all volunteers, from marketing to writing the cheques.  Nancy finds that being a volunteer is a great experience – whether it’s in your industry or not.

Nicole – before fully launching the catering division, she won an event, and afterwards, she met with the executive team for the event, and he said that his only mistake was not selecting her the year before!

What Advice do these leaders have for students today?

Joanna – There is nothing stopping you…do what it takes to make it happen.  Work for free.  Talk to people. People are very open & willing to talk to you.

Nadege – You have to be passionate to be in the kitchen as a pastry chef.  Work hard to move up.  Maybe if the kitchen isn’t the right place, there are other opportunities, in the office, project management, social media, that you can do in the food industry.

Nicole – Find a company that aligns with your values & what you believe in.  Respect for food, and respect for the people you work with.  If the decision is right for me, then I know its right for the company.   And, work your ass off all the way.  You are your own brand.   There is always something that can go wrong, so you have to be present and be prepared to handle anything.

Krista – Mentorship – reach out.  Whether it’s your own business, marketing, operations etc.  A great place to reach out is WFIM.  Its food, we’re passionate about it. People are very willing to help out.   Find out where your passion fits within the organization.

Nancy – Transferable skills – even if you do something in a completely unrelated industry, it can be transferable into food.  Also, flexibility. Be flexible, willing & able to do whatever it takes to a get the job done, and to move your career ahead to help the company to survive & grow.

Louisa – Building relationships.   People really want to help you, want to encourage young talent.

Finally, a few questions from the students:

Has there been mentor  that helped you in your career?  Louisa formed a relationship with a mentor who helped form her career.  Krista has always had a mentor, but finds that the person will change over time with the focus of her development.   Nancy is currently mentoring 2 people in HR, and hopes what she is able to give back will help them in their careers.

Work-life balance: Nadege says you need to love what you do and be passionate about it, so that the hours don’t matter.  Krista found that early in her career she was poor at it, but now she realizes that it helps to schedule everything.    Nicole worked ridiculous hours when she was younger.  She says with experience, you get better at delegating & managing your people, your time.  You make the choices of what you want to happen in your life.  Nicole & Nancy also both agree that it is easier to balance if your partner is also in the food industry.

Is education a competitive advantage?  Nancy recruits for many  different positions, and finds that anyone that has co-op experience seems to be  more qualified than others with the same education.  As Joanna mentioned, work for free, or volunteer:  students need to gain experience to build the skills that are transferable. You need to know what skills you need.  Nicole says that her personality & drive got her where she is.  When she is hiring, she is looking for personality, because she knows that she can train the skills that are required.  Louisa suggest that you need to be able to show how you use the skills you’ve learned.  Nancy says that having an education shows that you can learn, and it definitely shows that you can complete a task!

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