It’s hard enough for industry veterans to steer baking companies through this unprecedented year, marked by pandemic, recession and national protests. The leadership challenges are even greater for younger executives without decades of experience.
One of those younger leaders is Jesse Amoroso, the 33-year-old Executive Vice President of Amoroso’s Baking Company, based in Philadelphia. He has successfully navigated through this period by staying nimble, constantly growing in his role, and strategically tapping into the wisdom and expertise of his company’s people.
“I’m trying to be as much of a sponge as possible,” he said during the American Bakers Association podcast, Bake to the Future. “I’m trying to lean on and lean into as much experience that I can get access to. We’re really trying to have as many open conversations with folks in our organization to improve what we’re doing. It’s often true that the folks doing the actual work — day in day out — are the ones who truly know the changes that need to be made.”
Amoroso was interviewed on the podcast by Kelly Knowles, ABA’s Vice President of Political and State Affairs.
Preparing Extensively for Leadership Role
Amoroso’s father Len is President and CEO of the family-owned baking company, which has operated for more than 100 years. Amoroso’s Baking produces fresh and frozen products, and is known for its classic line of Italian hearth-baked bread and rolls, which became identified with Philly sandwiches including cheese steaks and hoagies.
Even though Amoroso is part of the ownership family, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he would join the company. He took a unique approach to his education and early career — majoring in urban real estate and development in college, and then working in the investment banking field in New York City.
It wasn’t until a few years later, in 2010, that he decided to join the family business, bringing valuable skills in finance and other areas. Before taking on leadership responsibilities, his father insisted that he experience a wide variety of roles at the company, even including delivery driver. Amoroso is grateful for this immersive experience.
Benefiting from ABA’s Next-Gen Focus
An important part of Amoroso’s development has been opportunities gained through ABA. He is an active participant (and former co-chair) in the association’s NextGenBaker group, which supports professional development for emerging leaders. The group was formerly known as the Executive Leadership Development Committee.
“It’s quite amazing for young leaders, folks like myself, to benefit from this opportunity,” he said. “I’ve been able to learn from some of the long-time leaders in this industry.”
Amoroso has been actively involved in ABA’s Capitol Hill lobbying efforts, which he said is a unique opportunity for a young professional.
“You get to see that we really do have a voice, and to understand why it’s so important to support ABA and understand the ways that ABA in turn supports us.”
Learning to Navigate During Pandemic
Even with extensive preparation for leadership, Amoroso found the last few months incredibly challenging and impossible to prepare for.
The company faced many of the same challenges as other bakers, including a drop in foodservice business, higher demand on the retail side, and intense hurdles in operations and logistics. Keeping employees safe and engaged was the top priority.
“I would have to say that what keeps me up at night is not knowing even what to expect in the next 12 to 24 hours,” he said. “We truly have not been able to predict what’s going to happen each day, for the past several months.”
Advocating Empathy in Face of National Protests
It would not have been possible for Amoroso or anyone else to predict that the nation’s focus would suddenly turn to the Black Lives Matter movement and protests over the death of George Floyd. Amoroso may be a young leader, but his perspectives on this topic show maturity and insight.
“We’ve seen a lot of long overdue and much needed awareness,” he said. “It’s true that we all come from different backgrounds and we’ve all got different experiences, paths and perspectives. What’s important is embracing those differences and healing through unity and equality for all.”
He urged leaders to rise to the occasion in the face of this national unrest.
“I know that personally, myself and my family and our organization, we are all asking how we can help,” he said. “I think that as leaders in the industry, we can hold ourselves and our organizations to the same expectations and standards that we’re holding our public officials.”
Prioritizing Employees and Teamwork
The past few months have underscored to Amoroso the central importance of his organization’s roughly 600 employees. These employees represent the company’s future. Amoroso’s Baking has emphasized communications, teamwork, and supporting its people in countless ways.
“We have empowered our team, and they have taken more ownership and are really pitching in to get us through this,” he said. “And, that is what helps keep us nimble, grounded and centered.”
More Bake to the Future
During the Coronavirus pandemic, Bake to the Future has been featuring in-depth conversations about the impact on the baking sector from industry leaders and the most up-to-date information from our experts at ABA.
- Listen to and read about Episode #11 with Bob McGuire about safely delivering products during this crisis.
- Listen to and read about Episode #12 with Gary Hawkins about what the future of retail means for bakery.
- Listen to and read about Episode #13 with Brad Alexander about flexibility and communication in times of crisis and about his goals as the new ABA Chair.
- Listen to and read about Episode #14 with Jane Dummer about how companies can keep up with nutrition trends.