Eight years ago, few people knew who Jeff Dearduff was. Now everybody seems to know his name at the American Society of Baking. Here’s why.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

By Jeff Dearduff

Getting ahead in the world of baking takes everything you’ve got. With American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2008 conference in Chicago recently coming to a close, I can share with you some ways you can gain more knowledge and insight to improve your value to your company and the industry in the long run.

Come on and pull a bar stool over and have a beer on me.

For starters, let’s take networking. That’s one key benefit to attending this type of large industry gathering. It can lead to many new ideas, concepts and contacts that can help your career move along.

About eight years ago after being in the industry for 20-plus years, I finally got the chance to become a member of ASB. That’s not because the society let me in, but rather because my company allowed me to finally reach out past the walls of our own organization.

Initially back in 2000, I only knew the names of only a handful of folks in attendance and most of them were equipment suppliers. Today, I probably recognize half of the 900-plus people in attendance. The privilege of sharing experiences with so many people is totally driven by the camaraderie that this society and other groups like to promote.

But what are the real benefits of networking in this type of organization? Keep in mind, my thoughts are not solely directed at the ASB, but rather toward any group that lets you feel a part of the larger organization. It can be a supplier group, or regulatory-based gathering or any other association that services our industry. All of them provide the educational opportunities along with the availability to obtain industry information that is just too important to miss.

Some senior managers might not think that this is a necessary activity, especially when it involves people at the plant management level. However, when you can get out once or twice a year and attend an event where there are so many different views on the industry, its trends and challenges, you can’t help but pick up something that you can take back to your job to improve your skills and knowledge base.

You might run into a fellow baker or engineer who has solved a problem that you had been struggling with for months. You could come across a new piece of equipment, an emerging ingredient or some other innovative system that otherwise goes unknown to yourself unless you are in an environment where this information is exchanged openly. You also can catch the front end of the upcoming movements in the market or an emerging, troublesome regulation that could affect your company’s business future.

These nuggets of knowledge aren’t always presented in a paper or at a tabletop display. Sometimes you can get your best tidbits about these topics just by milling around the meeting, breaking bread with some industry associates or being introduced to someone new at a reception. You never know what you could be missing that might bring value to you and your organization.

In addition to networking is the more formal opportunity for education. Inside the plant, employees tend to be locked into the same group of peers who share the maintenance or engineering functions at their companies. However, when you are part of a broader organization, you have the chance to gain insight about areas of the business that may not come in front of you everyday. For instance, you could pick up a better understanding of ingredient functionality, federal regulation or food safety laws. You can delve into the details about what the industry is facing with commodities and environmental initiatives.

To broaden your knowledge base, you should consider becoming an active part of the industry as a whole. Joining regulatory or issue-specific committees such as food safety, commodities, environmental awareness or bakery machine design are ideal for learning about and contributing to resolving critical issues that everyone faces. Once you get involved with a committee, you will find yourself on the leading edge of news and information that can result in solving problems and anticipating issues that can save your company money in the long run.

The industry’s various groups offer their members many options to get involved, but you have to decide to do it. Now here is where the sales pitch comes in. If your management doesn’t perceive participation in such a group as a benefit to you or the company, it’s your option to argue the points and find a way to make it happen. Or you can give up and let the industry pass you by.

If you want to be a leader in this industry, you have to be informed. You need to be involved. Join a committee today and make a difference.

You will be surprised how much little time and effort it takes before you find yourself walking into a lot of rooms where everybody knows your name.