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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Year in review

It’s that time of year…activities wind down so that one can relax and enjoy the sunshine!
It was only a few short months ago that I was standing up on a bus in front of WFIM members & guests saying my first welcome speech!   As the new chair of the board for WFIM, I’ve learned a lot in this past year about our organization, and I’ve gotten to know so many of our members.   We’ve had some changes in the board during the year, and many of us were new in our positions, so there was a rather large learning curve.   We had some issues with the website, but I’m happy to say that our marketing team, led by Michelle shebib, has the new website almost already to launch!
Our events team Bren de Leeuw, Mariana Macocei, and newcomer Brenda Seto have executed many great events this year…starting with our day trip to Niagara on the lake visiting a Chocolate F/X factory and Pilliteri Estates winery.  We had a great networking event with our own Donna Messer. Mary Jezerinac & Nadine Farran-Gatti executed our annual round table leadership academy, and plans are already well underway for the 2014 Academy.  December’s gala dinner featuring Ashley Chapman was our largest event ever- with 180 attendees.   We supported our membership with a health event in January featuring Leah Warner, developed our membership with a leadership event featuring Vanessa Judelman in March, and inspired our membership with street food and a fantastic tour of Griffith laboratories in April.    Our golf tournament at Eagles Nest, executed by Sanja Kivac, our golf chair, was a fantastic day of networking and golf.  To end our year, we had a wonderful dinner, followed by an inspiring presentation from Rose Reisman on the Art of Living Well.
I’d also like to note that our sponsors and members have supported great causes this year.   Between a turkey drive, raffles and donations, we have raised over $6000 for Second Harvest, and through sponsoring a participant in the culinary showdown, speaker  honorariums and a raffle at the June Gala, we have donated over $1000 to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
I am very pleased with WFIM’s success this year.  I would like to thank all of the volunteers on the board – I wasn’t able to name you all in this speech, but you have been invaluable to me and our membership.   As well, big thanks to all of the volunteers at all of our events who help make them successful.  Finally, big thanks to our sponsors who support us financially to make all these good things happen.
Looking into 2014-15, we already have great events lined up:  a special Volunteer Appreciation night in September, Chef John Placko in October, Academy in November, and another Gala Dinner in December to get us going.
I’d also like to announce the newly renovated Scholarship program!  This award will honor a female graduating student from a recognized post-secondary program in the food industry.  Keep an eye on our website for application instructions.
Have a safe & wonderful summer!  See you at an event in the fall.
Nancy Klassen
WFIM Chair

2014 Nine & Dine Golf Tournament a Success!

While the weather might have been a bit cold and drizzly, over 100 golfers took to the course at Eagles Nest Golf Course in Maple, ON on Tuesday May 20th.  And the helicopter was able to take off to fly over the 18th hole & drop our lucky golf balls as we watched from the balcony of the Great Hall.   Then we enjoyed networking and a fabulous meal!

Thank you to all of the volunteers who helped in the planning & execution of the event.   Your time & energy is much appreciated by all who attended.

Thank you to everyone who donated items for the swag bag – they were chock full of exciting products! Thanks to everyone who donated prizes for the charity raffle.  And finally, thank you to all of the sponsors of the tournament.   With 20% of the sponsorship fees and 100% of the raffle ticket sales going to Second Harvest, we raised $3850, which turns into 7700 meals for Toronto’s hungry families.   What a success!

 

Nancy Klassen

WFIM Chair

The 4 Chairs of WFIM

We asked the present and 3 past Chairs: “What’s it like being the Chair of WFIM?”

Donna Messer: (Past Chair)

Well, considering that I’m probably one of the oldest members of the association, I must like not only being a Chair, but being connected with such a vibrant group of professional women.

I was the Director of Agriculture when I first joined WFIM, and I was a speaker and a board member before I became Chair. I have been Chair more than once. The first time, I took over from Angela Holtham, who was the CFO for Christie Biscuits.

When I was Chair, I was an enabler. I believed in the team, and was always bringing in new board members. I recruited both Barb and Susanne and they have both been awesome Chairs and leaders!

I like WFIM because here we are all equal. There is no them and us, only “we”. We laugh, we work, we support each other and we thoroughly enjoy our time together.

At WFIM, while I was Chair, we grew; we evolved and learned the importance of building relationships. We recognized the importance of succession planning and with each new Chair, our association has grown stronger and more cohesive.

Susanne Mikler: (Chair: May 2007 to July 2009)

WFIM is an organization of extraordinary possibilities and it has enabled me to explore aspects of business and personal interaction that are new and innovative. Through WFIM I have been able to lead and be led, create and observe creativity, plan events and attend events, mentor and be mentored. The value of WFIM cannot be measured by general standards as it gives the gift of possibilities and a friendly, open group in which to share ideas.

Being the Chair of WFIM enabled me to set goals, work towards the end result and see the results implemented. There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing the final outcome of a worthy project.

Passing along the baton to a new Chair was bittersweet. Knowing that the organization is thriving and watching it grow under the careful, new leadership leaves a sense of well-being and a legacy for the future.

I’m proud of WFIM and our accomplishments. I believe we make a difference and have a positive impact on our membership.

Barbara Onyskow: (Chair: July 2009- June 2013)

I have been an active part of the Women in Food Industry Management board for many years. I’ve always been hands on, and passionately involved in whatever needed to be done as a part of the WFIM team. I am part of WFIM because I care deeply about the food sector and the women who are part of it. My platform as Chair was to “Pay it Forward” – to listen, learn and share what our members need most.

From my perspective the need was greatest in face to face connections. We live in a world of high technology and little contact. Everyone is a name or number with impersonal contact only via email – we need that face to face connection and WFIM provides that with our many networking events. I love the way we can connect and enjoy each other’s company plus make new, lasting and supportive WFIM friends!

My goal was to make WFIM our networking family; to lead a group of women who we can call upon for support and advice. I also hoped that I could inspire everyone, both board and members, to have passion for helping others within our industry, without expecting anything in return.

I love being in an organization where we are not in competition with each other; we are in support of each other. Our role is to give positive karma and a sense of belonging and being special to everyone who is part of the WFIM network. I do miss being Chair, but I know that the reigns are in good hands with Nancy, and she can always count on our support to help her make her mark on the organization.

Nancy Klassen: (Chair: July 2013 – present)

I feel like I am very new to WFIM compared to my predecessors! I became the Director of Volunteers shortly after becoming a member in September 2011. That role fit nicely with my HR career. Then, when Barbara’s term as Chair was coming to a close, she and the board “voluntold” me that I should be the next Chair. I was worried, because I felt like I had such limited experience with the association. But, when I thought about it, being Director of Volunteers (Dec. 2011-June 2013) helped me get to know the members of the organization, and arranging volunteers for all of the events helped me understand a little bit about event planning. I was also on a committee that streamlined our sponsorship program to have annual sponsors, and I made a connection with a winery to be a product sponsor, so I knew a little bit about that role, too.

In a few short months I have been learning the ins and outs of the website (one of my personal goals), and understanding the fine details of event planning & budgeting. As Chair, I am frequently introduced to potential members, sponsors, speakers and other associations that might make a good connection with WFIM.

I am thankful that I have such wonderful mentors to help me along the way! Barbara, Susanne & Donna are a great inspiration, and all of the board members are wonderful assets to the organization. And as well, thanks to everyone who volunteers at our events – it may seem like a small role, but the old saying “Many hands make light work” (John Heywood) is definitely true. I look forward to the rest of my term as Chair, continuing the vision of connecting, developing, and supporting our members to be The Best Women at the Table!

Volunteering provides you with so many opportunites and then some!

I am a firm believer in Volunteering – of giving back to your community, to a cause you believe in, to an organization you support, to a student who wants to grow, to a Team to better your workplace experiences…  whatever it is that you choose to support with your time, ideas, experience, talent, skills or hands-on labour, will inevitably leave you with exposure to new ideas and new networks and an appreciation for the strength that comes in teamwork and of the talents that volunteers bring to the table…  making anything possible!

There are a number of organizations that I have worked with during my lifetime and it is safe to say that I have held just about every role from Press Reporter to President beginning at an early age in 4-H…  that followed with early volunteer presentations as a Dairy Princess and Fall Fair Queen…  Eventually, community activities caught my interest and I eagerly joined a tiny group of people with a huge amount of spirit, drive and ambition in the development of our Kincardine Scottish Festival.  Despite the odds against us – 15 years later – our Festival is stronger than ever – in fact, it recently won an award!  And then there was  a whole summer spent with my husband both of us working full time and project managing a double build for Habitat for Humanity with 200+ volunteers and limited experience – in fact, I can still remember pouring cement and raking sidewalks at midnight to prepare for an open house the next day, and the list goes on…  I am sure that you and your families too have similar stories to tell!

Volunteering helps us grow – it helps us appreciate the organizations we believe in, the communities that we live in, the people that we work with.  Today, in addition to actively volunteering as a Mentor at the University of Western Ontario – something that I have truly enjoyed – and participating in a rural Women’s Institute Organization that I have been a Member of for the past 30 years, I was recently honoured to be elected to the position of Director of Events for WFIM (Women in Food Industry Management) – a role I have eagerly embraced and look forward to growing in!

WFIM – Women in Food Industry Management (www.wfim.ca) is an organization that I became familiar with in 2009 through a friend in the Food Industry who suggested I might like to attend an event.  I was delighted to be invited and eager to learn about the organization.  The first session I attended had me at the get-go – in fact, I even blogged about it, I was so impressed at the time!   (http://www.emccanada.org/blogs/emcfoodsec/learningth)…  Needless to say, I’ve attended several sessions since that first meeting, have met countless wonderful people and learned so much in the process.

So who is WFIM – well, this is an organization that is dedicated to supporting professionals to become “The Best Women at the Table” by encouraging advancement through networking and executive development.  Its Board is guided by common goals – to support women in our field, to connect them for their mutual benefit, and to help them develop into what we like to call “The Best Women at the Table”.  There are close to 200 Members from all facets of the food industry (CEO’s, Sales, Marketing, HR, Food Safety, Services, etc.) with representation in Ontario and Quebec.

We host special events featuring topics of interest, book reviews, culinary sessions, tours, roundtable networking academies, Gala dinners and a golf tournament – and, we always provide ample time to network with one another!  My favourite tour to date has to be at SCM (Supply Chain Management) – watching that distribution centre in action left me in awe and hearing about their best practices in sustainability and employee engagement – had me scratching notes frantically in an effort to learn all that I could.  And also, without a doubt, I am a solid supporter of the Roundtable Networking Academy Event that runs every fall – this is an incredible opportunity to connect with industry leaders on leadership principles, self-development and careers in the food sector and business in general.

As the new Director of Events, I am humbled by the opportunity to work with a talented Team of ladies with a variety of backgrounds and experience all relating to the food industry.  Together with the Board of Directors, we are looking forward to showcasing some interesting subject matter over the next couple of years and we welcome anyone with an interest in taking part to join in on the fun!  And yes, men are welcome too!

If you would like to know more about WFIM or are interested in joining us at one of our upcoming events, please feel free to drop me a line at events@wfim.ca!  We would love to have you participate!

Yes, volunteering truly broadens your perspectives and exposure to new things.  It provides you with an opportunity to enhance your team-building skills, to network with others and develop relationships, understand operational tactics, and to seek out answers perhaps in unfamiliar territories enhancing your learning experience.   It builds stronger organizations like WFIM, it strengthens companies through involvement of their staff, it enhances community development, and it lends to our own individual experiences, knowledge-base and self-confidence!

I encourage you to volunteer whether for a few minutes or a few years – you will be glad you did because getting involved brings so much more back to you in so many countless ways!

All the best!

Bren de Leeuw