My lean consulting business has been keeping me working and thinking hard with a smile on my face for 10 years. My goal was to help small companies navigate a lean business strategy using the approach I used in my own company.
The biggest reason for the smile is without a doubt the many people that I would never have had a chance to meet and work with who have made me a better person!
One example is one of my first customers, Michael Smulders, who passed away last September. I don't really think he went anywhere, because he is alive in anyone who knew and loved him.
Soon after I started my business, my son Bill went to work for Michael at Bakery on Main in East Hartford. Soon after he started work there, he mentioned that his boss was talking about the need to do lean manufacturing. Of course, my loyal son mentioned to Michael that his old man works with small companies to build a lean business strategy. A few days later, I went to see them, and it was love at first sight, and we were together every week for four years or so. During the first meeting, I met Michael and his loyal, dedicated group of incredibly hard-working people (Melissa Carducci-Brooks, Deirdre Stolte, Jenn Zalewski and Jennifer Salisbury to name a few). It was obvious that the goal and the why of Bakery On Main was not money. These people had a mission to make the world a better place! (if you do that well, money just happens).
One of my most popular blog posts ever, in fact, talked about Bakery and Main and their "why": "Founded in 1992, our story began as a bakery inside a small natural foods market on Main Street in Glastonbury, Connecticut. It was there that we discovered our passion for creating delicious gluten-free and celiac-friendly breakfast and snack foods that could be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of dietary wants and needs. We abundantly believe that everyone should have the option to experience a satiating meal that doesn’t sacrifice taste for healthiness. To indulge in a snack that’s filling and nutritious. Bakery On Main promises simple, effortless eating and snacking, and that’s how we make life easy on Main Street."
When I met BOM, they were housed in a small maybe 20,000 square foot building. A few years later, they moved into a state-of-the-art 108,000 square foot world class food manufacturing facility. People like Whole Foods, Stop & Shop and Trader Joe's bought into their why!
I would always touch base with Michael just to check in and see how he was. One of the biggest challenges when you are growing FAST is finding ways to keep the why/mission front and center in everything we do. It becomes much easier when the leader LIVES the mission. In fact, Michael was honored at the White House in 2015 as an SBA Small Business of the Year recipient. His Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Granola was awarded last year as "best of the best" by NEXTY, an organization that rewards the most innovative, inspirational and integrity driven natural products. He established the Growing Roots Community Garden in 2020, because Michael believed "all communities deserve convenient and affordable access to fresh food and building community gardens can bring people together to help make this a reality. The Growing Roots Community Garden enables us to provide fresh fruits and
vegetables for East Hartford Community Groups including the Senior Center and the local Food Bank for many years to come.” Michael also helped fund students enrolled in entry-level production technician certificate programs for manufacturing at a local college.
Of course, Michael had an incredible and decisive business sense and had so MUCH respect for his employees that he did not want them to have to do non-value-added work. He was a great listener and a lifelong learner. I know he is missed by many, but alive in many of us.