By Brad Baxter ’00, MBA ’11
I have come to acknowledge and accept that change is inevitable. Change often produces challenges, which can make life difficult. The foresight to see change coming, and the ability to understand why it is happening, is a mark of strong leadership. My education at Drury University helped me frame and adjust to these challenges in my life and career. I have experienced, and continue to experience, many changes in my career, and with each challenge comes opportunity. As I think about monumental moments of my career, I now understand why it is very important to acknowledge and practice what my first employer told me: “Know where you are going if you want to actually get there.”
I began my career working for the second largest commercial baking company in the United States: Colonial Baking Company. It seemed like a stable environment, but I desired more opportunities. I realized early that change is certain, but work environment stability is not, so I decided to further my education. While working as a sales director for Colonial, I earned an associate degree in accounting and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Drury.
The commercial baking business takes no prisoners when it comes to long hours and demanding tasks. Those long hours and overnight travel meant developing creative time management techniques in order to complete homework and reading assignments and still make time for my family. In addition to the ongoing night classes, I worked through corporate acquisitions and mergers when Anheuser Busch purchased Colonial Baking Company, and when Colonial Baking Company was spun into the independently traded company Earthgrains Fresh Bakery Group. I then experienced the Earthgrains Bakery Group acquisition by Sara Lee Fresh Bakery Group, which resulted in the closing of the fresh bakery plant where I worked. This was very sobering and made me realize the impact business decisions have on communities, suppliers, vendors, customers, employees and their families.
I questioned my sanity many times as I entered the Drury MBA program during this tumultuous time in my career, but there were invigorating moments of connecting theories I learned in class with my work experiences. I saw the fall of grocery retail chains and the rise of new supermarket retail chains. I remember bidding on the Great Value Bakery business for the first Walmart Supercenter in Springfield, Mo., and now there are over 4,000 stores in the U.S. alone. The consumer product goods retail landscape has never been the same since the introduction of Walmart and other mass merchants in the United States. During my career, I have seen the rise of human resources and the importance of diversity in the workplace. Business community involvement and having charitable partnerships has been increasingly vital for success. Our consumers have demanded increased value and awareness of environmentally sustainable products such as recycled paper packaging and organic and natural ingredients. Businesses must always continue new product innovation from successful product lines and be able to evaluate and measure a product’s impact on margin revenue. I juggled all these changes while exploring the deep and broad understanding of how and why these things were important in my studies at night.
I began the MBA program to help strengthen my long-term career goals and make the connections to the global business environment that I was experiencing at Sara Lee Bakery Group. One year into the MBA program, I suffered the tremendous loss of my daughter Brittany in an automobile accident. I had to re-evaluate everything and reset my priorities. I left the Drury MBA program and later found myself working for Pepperidge Farm, Inc., a subsidiary of Campbell’s Soup Corporation.
After a time, I came back to Drury to finish my MBA. At work, I had been speaking with Pepperidge Farm associates in Europe and Australia, and I soon found myself wanting to learn more about, and be involved in, the international segment of the company. The significance of the global business environment came to the forefront during the global business trip to China that was required for the MBA program at Drury, when we visited many of Walmart’s key partners. Not long after graduation, I moved to Bentonville, Arkansas for a new position at Pepperidge Farm, and I currently work as a customer business manager calling on Walmart Stores, Inc. I continue to see connections daily between my China trip experience and my current role.
I work in partnership with Campbell’s Soup/Pepperidge Farm on community leadership, volunteering, and partnering programs in Northwest Arkansas such as Susan G. Komen, NW Arkansas Food Bank, CASA, Children’s Miracle Network, and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. A very important part of a successful business career is understanding that everyone plays a role in the challenges, both inside and outside the business environment. While I have experienced life and career changes of monumental proportions, I still keep an eye on my desired career/life goals to be able to move closer to those benchmarks. I always keep in mind that my personal work-life balance must be a focus and priority. I now recognize the ongoing lessons of continued change in life’s directions, and view each change as a step in reaching my desired destination.