Billy Corbett ’22
Connect with Billy on LinkedIn
Lindsay Jarrett ’22
Connect with Lindsay on LinkedIn
As we start our third month of SI-MBA, it is clear that what distinguishes the program is the community it brings together – from current students and alumni to innovators, entrepreneurs and business leaders around the world. In order to learn from those who use business to positively impact our world, SI-MBA’s Innovators in Residence series brings in leaders to discuss key business challenges for a changing world. In these talks, students hear first hand what sustainable business looks like outside the classroom. Last week, the Class of 2022 was fortunate to hear from a variety of leaders at King Arthur Baking Company for our first session.
King Arthur is based just down I-89 in Norwich, VT, only an hour and a half from the UVM campus. Started in 1790, King Arthur became a 100% employee-owned business in 2004. Steeped in a rich 230-year history, its true strength is its forward looking posture and inclusive vision for the future. We were joined by Suzanne McDowell (VP of CSR and Sustainability), John Henry Siedlecki (VP of Innovation), Katie Jones (Associate Brand Manager of Innovation), and Molly Lawrence (Corporate Social Responsibility Manager). For the entire afternoon, SI-MBA students learned from and asked questions of these leaders.
The cohort asked a range of questions about their employee benefits, their recent rebrand, their supply chain relationships, and more. At the end of the session, the King Arthur team posed a question back to us: “What should we be doing to enhance our sustainability efforts?” Some of the ideas that the class floated included a study on compensation equity, encouraging consumers to bake more sustainably, and more.
We were lucky enough to ask our four guests a few questions before their presentation. Below are a few of the highlights (Note: questions and answers from our conversation are paraphrased):
Lindsay & Billy (L&B): King Arthur has a complex set of stakeholders. How do you balance stakeholder needs?
King Arthur Baking Company (KABC): We see working with our stakeholders as a privilege. Our consumers, bakers and employees are at the center of what we do. We strive to leave a seat at the table for our consumers. The environment is also key; without a seed and fertile soil, we don’t have a business. “We don’t want to just sustain, we also want to regenerate.” Ultimately, we are committed to our values of quality, community, passion and stewardship, and strive to demonstrate this through our relationships with stakeholders. We are committed to the education of our stakeholders, whether that be customers, employees or the community at large.
“We don’t want to just sustain, we also want to regenerate.”
L&B: What does governance look like for King Arthur under an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) structure?
KABC: King Arthur holds regular “town meetings” where employees are informed about the company’s strategy and finances. During these meetings, employees are encouraged to engage with leadership. This encourages transparency and employee buy-in. Our posture toward our employees makes King Arthur a place where people are proud of where they work.
L&B: Recently, King Arthur changed its name. Why? How did that process unfold?
KABC: The re-brand had been in the works for a while. We wanted a name and imagery that reflected where the company is today. We changed “King Arthur Flour” to “King Arthur Baking Company” and changed the image of the knight to an image of a wheat crown. Our product line goes beyond wheat products now, and one of our most popular products is the Gluten-Free Flour. King Arthur Baking Company gives us the freedom to continue to innovate and explore. The rollout was as good as could be expected. With flour flying off the shelves during Covid, the product with the old brand was replaced quickly. Stakeholders were generally very supportive.
While we only had a short time with our new friends from King Arthur, we learned so much from them about using business to reflect our values. We are grateful to have these four innovators as a part of the SI-MBA community.