Strength of family ties leads to Baker of the Year

by Morton Sosland
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Seeking to identify aspects of grain-based foods that make this industry unique prompts the conclusion that hardly anything defines this business better than the role of families in how the industry evolved and has prospered. Yes, companies that once were the pride of family owners have become publicly-owned enterprises where founding families are remembered only when histories are written. But there are also large companies ranking at or near the top of baking, flour milling and grain that are family-owned and also family-directed businesses. Grain-based foods may well have more family companies than any major industry.

Most telling are people singled out for inclusion in the American Society of Baking’s Hall of Fame. Of the first inductees in 2006, half were from enterprises identified as family businesses. That ratio has been well maintained through succeeding years, highlighted by three of the four inductees in 2011 being from families that have had multiple generations in baking. In the case of flour milling, five of the top ten companies are considered family enterprises. Declaring the prominence of family ownership in the grain business needs no explanation.

Just how very important family can be to success in this industry is underscored by the amazing story of the Turano Baking Co., selected as the 2011 Baker of the Year by this magazine and its sister publication, Baking & Snack. Three brothers, Renato (Ron), Giancarlo and Umberto (Tony), are the current family leaders, following their late father, Mariano, who had immigrated into the United States from Italy in the early 1950s. Now, the three brothers’ offspring are in the company and will soon take the lead.

Family unity, which in the case of the Turanos means respect and love for one another, ranks first in the priorities that guide the business. This is no small commitment. It is an attitude that has not prevailed in every family business, including many with stormy records. Taking care of customers holds the second priority, while third place is assigned to a passion for baking, which in this case means quality of product and efficient operations.

Yet, family ties have an overriding role, as evidenced by this statement made by one of the brothers in an interview: “The three of us have been working together for the last 49 years. Our children grew up in this environment. For many years, we lived near one another and our children grew up as brothers and sisters. They have those values. They still see one another that way.”

As impressive as this family dedication may be, the Turanos were chosen Baker of the Year because of the way they have managed their business. This record has incredible parts, such as recovering from the withdrawal of a major customer for whom a totally new baking plant had been built, creating a new business in frozen par-baked Italian style bread and rolls, entering and making a success of the sliced white bread business in a highly competitive region and embracing the latest baking technology. From a strategic point of view, the ability of the Turanos to rebound from events that might be severely damaging stands out. This is best illustrated by not just the recovery, but the lesson learned from that early debacle of losing the large customer. The Turanos now manage so that no single customer accounts for more than 10 per cent of the business. Thus, it has been decided, “When you add one large customer, you need to add several others.”

This may sound simple but that is not so when all its implications are faced. It is this approach that has led the family to build on family pride and product quality. While surely tough competitors, the Turanos also symbolize what makes baking the great business it has been and will be for future generations of their family and for all baking.

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