My Career, Not My Company’s

Dan Malovany, editor

Everyone remembers that first job. For George Poulos, it was as a first-shift shipping supervisor for National Baking in Chicago. He didn’t realize that a week in the baking industry meant working 14 hours a day, six days a week and getting paid $225 for his efforts.
“The first night after nine hours without a break, I passed out,” Poulos recalls. “For some reason, I didn’t quit and came back the next day, hoping I wouldn’t be fired.”
 No, they didn’t fire him. In fact, National Baking eventually gave Poulos a job inside the plant and sent him to the American Institute of Baking to learn the trade.
Today, unfortunately, things are much the same in the baking industry. At many companies, the entry-level pay still stinks, the long hours on the graveyard shift still suck, and turnover is an issue that many managers must deal with on a daily basis.
At the same time, ironically, things are much different than in the past. Many bakeries aren’t investing in the future. They don’t send their young supervisors to the AIB to learn the trade. As a result, many of them are leaving their jobs in search of other careers, and the industry now is facing a growing crisis where aging veterans are retiring and not being replaced by a new generation of skilled personnel.
That’s why Poulos, the incoming chairman of the American Society of Baking — and vice president of operations for Chicago’s Alpha Baking — has made “It’s my career! Educate me! Mentor me! Watch me grow!” the theme for 2007.
“Finding people to fill the much-needed, entry-level supervisory position is next to impossible,” he explains. “How can that be? Are we not high-tech enough? Is an understanding of physics, biology, electronics, logistics, process and cost controls, as well as business accounting, labor law and environmental law, not ‘techie’ enough for today’s youth?
“I don’t think so,” he says. “We’re not doing our job. We are not getting the word out. We’re not telling our youth that the baking industry is worthwhile.”
Poulos notes that it’s up to industry leaders to prove that education has value. He found this out 30 years ago when he first attended the society’s convention and its president expounded about the value of ongoing education and career development. The next year, Poulos gave the society a 15-minute presentation on hearth bread production. His paper was so well received that bakers clubs on both coasts wanted him to present it at their production meetings. There was one hitch: He had to do it on his own dime and his own time.
“While discussing the situation with my wife, she made a statement that has stuck with me ever since,” he recalls. “She made it very clear. It was not National Baking’s career that would be enhanced by this opportunity. It was mine. I would get the recognition. I would meet the people. I would gain the experience. ‘Take vacation,’ she said. ‘We’ll figure out the money later.’ I did.”
By becoming the society’s chairman, Poulos has fulfilled a career goal that he set three decades ago. Today, he’s laying down the gauntlet.
“I am challenging all of you to join the executive board and me to attract the next generation of professionals in our industry,” he says. “We must all work hard to convince the individual baking professional of the benefits of continuing education through membership. Perhaps they can convince their superiors that by allowing them to continue their education, grow, network and mentor the next generation, their contribution to their company’s success can only be enhanced. If not, we should try to convince them that a personal contribution to their own careers would be an investment in their future, both financially and professionally.”
I urge everyone to get involved, not only for the industry, but for the sustainability of their companies. In the end, businesses have to give their employees ownership in more ways than one. If they don’t, too many of their most talented workers will say, “It’s my career. Take this job and shove it!”