Jeff of all Trades
By Deborah Cassell
When he’s not working as director of engineering at East Balt, Inc., Chicago, or handing out advice to Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery readers in his monthly column, Jeff Dearduff is on the golf course, coaching baseball, spending time with his six children, playing the guitar, enjoying the bread basket at Outback Steakhouse and perhaps even reminiscing about his days as a racecar driver. Here, Dearduff shares how his experiences both on and off the job have contributed to his success in the industry.
Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery: What was your father’s involvement in the baking industry? How did you get into it?
Jeff Dearduff: Starting back in the mid ‘60s, just out of the Air Force, my father, Robert, worked for the Kroger Bakery in Indianapolis for a few years as a mechanic. He then moved back to his hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., and met Mr. John Popp of Perfection Biscuit Co., where he worked as a maintenance manager until 1976.
Dad is an innovator and highly respected bakery maintenance professional. Through the years, after moving the family to Florida, he worked in and around the industry as a field service technician and self-employed bakery machine fabricator. Fact is, he is still doing it today, some 40 plus years later.
Me? I got into the bakery maintenance field at 18 years old after trying a few other ventures. My start was also at Perfection and, like many others in the industry today, the family connection was helpful in kicking the door open.
SF&WB: You’re a member of the American Bakers Association’s Energy & Environmental committee, as well as environmental manager for your company. Tell us about your interest in these subjects.
JD: Back in 1985, while working in Florida, the bakery I was responsible for was being scrutinized by the local municipality regarding wastewater and storm water. I guess the problem fell in my lap because there weren’t too many other laps at the time. Through the process of understanding the problem and becoming part of the solution, the subject just seemed interesting. From there, I looked for opportunities to learn more.
Today, as a committee member with ABA, as well as other organizations, I find myself on the front end of most “next big thing” issues. This allows me to put my employer’s interests in a decent position. The committee involvement allows me access to information that would be difficult to gather any other way. I encourage everyone I talk with to become involved with our industry’s trade organizations.
SF&WB: From an operations perspective, what is the single biggest issue facing the baking industry, and why?
JD: There’s not enough pages in one issue of this magazine to cover this question properly. If you dissect the industry into its various elements, every area has issues that they have dealt with, are dealing with and will deal with in the future. From an operations perspective, it involves labor issues, safety issues, quality issues, environmental issues, capacity issues and so on. How’s that for a politician’s answer?
SF&WB: What’s your favorite bakery product and why?
JD: Any crusty bread in a basket sitting on the dinner table at home or out. If I am at a restaurant that provides a nice basket of warm bread, well, then I’m wasting money on the entrée! Seriously, the bread they serve at Outback is a fav!
SF&WB: You’ve got six kids. What’s the hardest part of being a parent? What’s the most rewarding?
JD: Yes, I have six children. Three live in Florida, and three with me in Illinois. The hardest part: balance and fairness. The most rewarding: witnessing their talents being displayed.
SF&WB: How often do you golf? What’s your handicap? Any holes in ones? What’s the best and worst part of your game?
JD: Golf has become the “hobby” that replaced auto racing. I currently have a handicap index of 13. I have never had a hole in one and am not sure I ever will. I work at my game to become “good,” and I think a hole in one requires a lot of “luck,” at least at my level. I especially enjoy competitive golf and have competed in the World Handicap Championship in South Carolina the last couple years. The worst part of my game is probably getting close from 75 yards out.
SF&WB: As a former auto racer, did you win any big races? Did you have any memorable wrecks?
JD: Remember, golf replaced this “hobby.” I drove racecars for 24 years in many different types of auto racing. In all that time, I had some great experiences and a few wins. The most important thing is that I never had a bad accident. Some might think I wasn’t aggressive enough, but the truth is I was building, repairing and paying for my own equipment. In that type of arrangement, you tend to be a little more aware of your surroundings.
SF&WB: How is driving a racecar different from working in a bakery?
JD: In a bakery job, your focus is very diverse. You are looking a lot of different ways at the same time and wearing a lot of different hats at the same time. To be successful in your bakery job, you have to be willing and able to react quickly and make intelligent decisions that affect many people, products and customers.
In the racecar, once you pull the chin strap tight on your crash helmet, your focus is very direct. You are by yourself, and the decisions you make will mainly affect you. There is such a deep focus on the task at hand, and only that task that the rest of the world is on hold for the time being.
SF&WB: You’ve been a baseball coach. What ages are the kids on your team? Did being a coach teach you any management skills that can be applied to the bakery?
JD: My baseball coaching days came to a close in 2006. I managed 11-12 year olds this past season and had a great time. As for management skills, I actually tried to bring a different kind of mentality to the team this past season, where we focused on enjoying the “game” more than anything else. Over the years, I have taken in a variety of management and leadership tips through book reading and seminar attendance, and I really tried to bring some of that to the boys, not only to get through the year, but to help them as they move on to tougher challenges. The real benefit would be to bring some of these tactics to the workplace, but what works in life or with the kids doesn’t always work in the bakery environment.
SF&WB: What’s your favorite Caribbean cruise that you’ve taken, and why?
JD: The family really enjoyed the cruise we took that stopped in Barbados. What a neat place! Cruising is a nice way to vacation for us because the activities are diverse enough to keep us interested, and we never have time to get bored. I recommend cruising to anyone who really wants to get away from the bakery for awhile.
SF&WB: What other diversions do you have from your job in the baking industry?
JD: More recently, one of the activities I really enjoy is playing the guitar. Music is a real nice release. The balance of my spare time is spent at church working on committees and helping to provide our community with a welcoming place to hang out.
SF&WB: Are there any other messages you’d like to share with the industry?
JD: Yeah, a big one. Support your troops. As bad as your day might get in the bakery, when the shifts seem to run into days, and the lunch breaks are missed because the oven broke down, these problems are in no way comparable to what our deployed troops go through every waking moment. Next time you walk through an airport and you see a service person in uniform who could be coming home or heading out, shake their hand and say thanks. I have a brother who is responsible for 7,300 of these deployed troops in Iraq right now, so this message comes from my heart.