A Piece of Cake? Hardly, but Autumn Bayles Helped Herself, and Others, Rise to the Top

In 2005, about two years after Autumn Bayles became the first chief information officer at Tasty Baking Company, a supply chain executive quit the company.


“As a part of my technology work, I was very involved with that side of the operation,” said Bayles, who was hired to be part of president and CEO Charles Pizzi’s turnaround team. “I raised my hand and said, ‘Why don’t you let me do this?’” After some deliberation, Tasty Baking executives divided up the former executive’s responsibilities, giving Bayles a share. “I was grateful for what I got. I dug in and did it to the best of my ability. Then they gave me another piece, and finally they gave me the whole thing. So raise your hand, ladies and gentlemen, because that’s the way you’re going to get the opportunities you want,” said Bayles, who is now Tasty Baking’s senior vice president, strategic operations. “It’s not always going to be handed to you.”


Bayles was keynote speaker at the recent Wharton Women’s Conference whose theme was “Make Your Mark” — a slogan that Bayles addressed directly at one point during her presentation. “When I think about ‘making your mark,’ I want to be CEO of a big corporation. That doesn’t mean I want to work 20 hours a day…. Anecdotally, I want my picture in the Wall Street Journal, one of those little pencil drawings. And I don’t want to be there for the wrong reason…. I want to run a company in such a way that people say, ‘Gee, she really does a great job.’”


That said, coming to Philadelphia, Pa.-based Tasty Baking Company was “certainly not what I had in mind when I graduated from Wharton,” said Bayles, who earned an undergraduate degree from Lehigh University and an MBA from Wharton. Prior to joining Tasty Baking Company, she was managing principal consultant for IBM Business Consulting Services, and before that, held the same position for PwC Consulting (acquired by IBM Consulting Services in 2002). She held a variety of other consulting jobs between 1992 and 2001.


She took the Tasty Baking CIO job because of her fondness for the city of Philadelphia — and for Tastykakes. “They are an icon in Philadelphia. I love to eat, and I love Tastykakes.” It was “also about making my mark.” In 2003, despite a loyal brand following, Tasty Baking Company was in trouble, “almost bankrupt,” said Bayles. “I could toil away doing what I was doing [at IBM], or I could work with a team of people and turn a small company around and really bring that company back to life.” Resuscitation was definitely needed. The company — a leading baker of snack cakes, pies, cookies, and donuts with close to 900 employees and sales of approximately $170 million — had seen its operating margin drop to -4.9% in 2002, down from 7.9% in 2000. CEO Pizzi was quoted as saying that “Tasty Baking’s system and processes resembled that of a 1975-ish company.”


In addition to the need for a turnaround, Tasty Baking Company presented Bayles with a huge challenge of a different kind. In November 2004, the company went “live” on a new, mySAP-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that tied together all its core processes: finance, logistics, production, sales and distribution, plant maintenance, inventory and warehouse management. It was a radical change in both IT infrastructure and business processes for the (then) 90-year-old company.


Under this new system, veteran employees — including many who hadn’t had much, if any, experience, with computers — were required to use them on an hourly basis. Bayles headed up the transition. She and her team had aggressively vetted the technology, developing manuals for every functional role and training “SAP power users” in each functional area. But it wasn’t enough to fully address the problems generated by a technology-centric, company-wide process change.


“It was a month of rough times,” Bayles said, recalling the early reports coming in about things not working, employees not understanding what they were supposed to do and Tastykakes not getting out to the field. “I tried to maintain my calm,” she said. “These people were in a panic, too. If I’m flipping out, all hell was going to break loose.” Bayles quickly gathered her team to identify problems and possible solutions, and called in extra help to support the workforce as it made the transition to the new system.


After briefing the Tasty Baking’s executive staff, Bayles and her team worked to calm and focus the company. “We laid out the plan [explaining] how we were going to address the problems,” Bayles said, adding that she emphasized, “This is not a one-day fix. People were like, ‘OK, maybe the world is not coming to an end.’ Cakes started coming off the line … and one by one, [employees] started to get it. They weren’t afraid of the mouse. They weren’t afraid of the computer. It felt better. Then they got good at it. Now they are fantastic at it. Meanwhile, I wanted to kill myself,” she joked.


Getting the Buy-in


The IT transition re-affirmed Bayles’ belief in the value of being “honest and upfront” in business. When faced with problems, you “figure out what they are, fix them and fix them fast,” she said. In addition:  



  • Follow Your Passion:”Do what you love. Money is not the most important thing in the world. If you follow your passion, do what you love, the money always, always follows.” Passion helps buoy a person through difficult or mundane times, she said, “because you believe in the long-term goal at the end of the road.” 


  • Always Be the Best:”No matter what you’re doing — whether it’s making copies or checking page numbers — always do your best work. Always exceed expectations…. If you’re fantastic, it’s hard for people to not notice you. It also minimizes obstacles.” She raised the question of whether women have to be better than men in order to progress. “My answer is, ‘It depends,’” she said, adding that she has experienced cultures, companies and people for whom gender does not matter. But “I would be naïve to say that I have never noticed a situation where that was the case…. If you’re the best, it takes that away and makes it irrelevant.”


  • Always Be Nice:One should treat people how they want to be treated, Bayles said. “For you to understand that, you have to understand the person’s motivation [and] agenda…. Be appreciative,” she added. “I always make sure I thank everybody for what they do, because without those people, I could be a failure.”


  • Seek Help:”Seek help from mentors, help from networking organizations, peers, colleagues,” said Bayles. “A lot of great men and a lot of great women helped me achieve what I have achieved. I don’t forget that….Seek help, and when you get to the point [that you can] give it back,” do so.


  • Continuously Learn, Improve and Grow:”It’s easy to fall into your niche, find something you’re really good at and keep doing it over and over and over,” Bayles said. “If you ever want to move beyond that point, you have to stretch yourself. Do something that’s a little bit scary, and after a year it won’t be scary any more.”


  • Take Care of Your People:”It’s not just about what you need from them,” said Bayles. “It’s about actually caring about what’s going on in their lives, what’s going on in their careers. Sometimes that’s in direct conflict with what you need. You, as a leader, need to step back and think about what’s better for the person in question.”


  • Be a Salesperson:”No matter what job you are doing, everybody is in sales and marketing.” In her current role working with all the different departments within Tasty Baking Company, “I sell my ideas. I sell things that may not be popular in the company. I sell insight. I sell strategies. I’m selling me: ‘I’m credible. You can trust me. I know what I’m doing.’” Being right isn’t enough, she added. “If you have the best solution, the best idea, it does not matter if people do not buy into your idea.”

Beyond the bottom line, the next major challenge facing Bayles and the Tasty Baking workforce is the relocation of the company’s Philadelphia operations — currently housed in a six-story manufacturing facility built in 1922 — to a new state-of-the-art bakery and “green” corporate headquarters in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, a commercial and industrial development center in south Philadelphia. Construction is slated to begin in late 2008. Tasty Baking Company expects the facility to be fully operational in 2010. Transitioning to the new facility will eliminate approximately 215 positions.


Bayles said that when she talks to Tasty Baking employees about the relocation, she tells them: “‘It’s going to be rough, but we’ve done this before. I need your help.’ And they are like, ‘Yeah, we can do it!’ That experience [the IT transition] prepared us for this new project.” Ultimately, she noted, “There’s no magic” to business success. “I think it’s very simple: Treat people with respect. Be good at what you want to do. Volunteer…. I’m very grateful for where I have been able to get in my career. It wasn’t easy.”

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