December 2013 S. Benjamins & Co Newsletter: Connecting Through Celebration
There isn’t a better time to introduce you to our client and friend Esther Newman and the delightfully unique firm she works for. Esther leads the HR and People Development function for SusieCakes, a growing, premier, All-American homestyle bakery with locations in Northern and Southern California. Their company lives a "connecting through celebration" philosophy.
We met SusieCakes two years ago, when Susan Sarich, founder and CEO saw the right time to invest even further in their team by asking us to help them find Esther! We decided to catch up with her this month, knowing it had been two years. We wanted to know more about this “celebration” culture
As soon as you walk into a SusieCakes bakery, you see bakers, celebration specialists (people who help you customize and delight your loved ones), and smiling team members that artfully describe the ingredients of these beautiful baked goods. There are delicious smells of fresh bakery. It was immediate nostalgia for me, as I recalled a neighborhood bakery like this when I was growing up in Cleveland, Ohio; yes I am a mid-western gal. I wanted to ask Esther how this culture was formed and what she has learned so far.
Sherry Benjamins: Can you tell us about the unique culture of SusieCakes?
Esther Newman: We are an organization that is deeply rooted and committed to our culture. Before Susan opened the doors of our first bakery in Brentwood, California she created a set of values that would become the foundation of her company. Seven and a half years later, those values remain our guiding principles. What makes our culture unique is Susan’s involvement as an owner/operator. She models the values by being open, honest, involved and approachable.
SB: How does “celebration” play out for you and the employees?
EN: We celebrate everything! Internally, we have designed reward and recognition programs to promote a culture of celebration. For example:
Each bakery celebrates a team member of the quarter. This peer nominated award is given to the team member who best demonstrates living our values.
We reward our team members “in the moment” when they exceed our expectations of delivering superior products and service. A gift card is our way of saying thank you.
Susan personally calls our managers to congratulate them for great work, and we send them hand-written cards for birthdays and anniversaries. We have semi-annual training for future leaders and workshops focus on personal and professional skill development. We recently hired a Professor of Celebration (Sr. Manager of Training) to focus solely on education and development.
Best of all was our manager retreat recognizing leaders with a day at Disneyland. Talk about the value of Having Fun!
SB: What originally led Susan to the bakery business?
EN: Baking rituals were part of her growing up in Chicago and enjoying time with her grandmothers’ over a glass of milk and a fresh baked treat. Following 15 years of hospitality experience, Susan wanted to create an organization that empowered women and made it possible for them to build careers in hospitality.
SB: As the first HR leader, what are you most proud of accomplishing these past two years?
EN: Personally, it would be the connections that I have made with our team members. I have the opportunity to mentor and serve as a resource to some of the brightest talent in our industry. I get to help these young men and women design their careers.
Professionally, it has been the opportunity to build the HR capability for this growing company so we can stay true to who we are. We are designing our talent acquisition and retention strategy as we seek to find the best and brightest hospitality and culinary professionals. This year, we launched a formal campus recruiting program and have been fortunate to partner with universities including Michigan State, Cal Poly Pomona, Johnson & Wales and the Culinary Institutes, at Hyde Park and Greystone. Graduates from culinary and hospitality schools are ideal in our company.
SB: What have you learned about yourself in this new role?
EN: I have learned that being true to myself and my career has given me the greatest satisfaction. I could have stayed in the corporate world but now I have the opportunity to assert my entrepreneurial side in a growing company doing what I love.
SB: Okay, this is the most important question of all – what is your favorite cake?
EN: It’s a toss up between Marble & Celebration and I am fanatic about our Whoopie Pie.
SB:This was enough to tempt me, so the next day I visited the Newport Beach SusieCakes and here I am ready for the taste test! Too tough to chose! We at SBCo wish you all wonderful December celebrations and thank you Esther for inspiring us to celebrate every day in 2014.