June 2008 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Autumn Bayles: Taking the Cake

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Autumn Bayles has a big job, but it's also a sweet one.

Most people who grew up in the mid-Atlantic region know the Tastykake brand as a popular lunchbox staple. Bayles' employer, the Tasty Baking Company, has been turning out snack-sized cakes and pies under that name in Philadelphia since 1914.

During three tough years as chief information officer, Bayles led Tasty Baking through 12 successful projects to rebuild the company's technology platform.

That goal accomplished, she started scoping out the future. "I was looking for the next challenge to tackle," she says.

Then, Tasty Baking's senior vice president for supply chain left the company. Bayles was no stranger to supply chain management: she held a degree in industrial engineering and had years of experience in management consulting.

She was working on the company's new plant strategy project. And, of course, much of the technology she worked with involved the supply chain. "So I raised my hand and volunteered," she recalls.

The company promoted her lieutenant to CIO and named Bayles senior vice president of strategic operations and technology. Gradually, she took on more responsibility for supply chain operations.

Finally, Tasty Baking dropped pure IT from her responsibilities, appointing her to her current position, senior vice president, strategic operations.

Reporting to the CEO, Bayles is responsible for manufacturing, distribution, transportation, and supply chain analytics, which focus on demand-driven manufacturing.

She's also in charge of constructing the new manufacturing and distribution facility where Tasty Baking plans to move in 2010.

One of the many improvements Tasty Baking will gain at the new site is streamlined process flow. Today, the company ships finished goods from its plant - a six-story structure built in 1922 - to a separate DC.

"It's only one mile away, but it might as well be 15," Bayles says. "We still have to pack the products, load them on trucks, move them, and unpack."

The new site will integrate manufacturing and distribution in a single complex. "Goods will flow off the back of the production line right into the distribution center," Bayles notes.

Streamlining is crucial for a company that ships fresh-baked goods. "Not only do we bake for every customer every day, but we ship almost every day to every customer," Bayles says. "It's a high-cost environment."

The enterprise resource planning system that Bayles implemented as CIO helps Tasty Baking control costs by instituting just-in-time principles. The company bakes only as much product as it needs each day to fill existing orders.

To stick to those principles, Tasty Baking must maintain just the right inbound flow of ingredients. That's not easy in a high-velocity business, a fact that hit home hard in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina wiped out the refinery that supplied Tasty Baking's sugar.

"Following our just-in-time theory, we don't store much inventory and ingredients," Bayles says.

Besides, the bakery uses so much sugar that storing a large buffer supply isn't practical. So as company officials watched the news, sympathizing with victims in the Gulf states, they suddenly realized they were running out of sugar for their Krimpets and cupcakes.

They paid higher prices to bring in an alternative supply from Canada. "And the sugar didn't come by rail; it came in bags," Bayles says. "We had to use extra labor to open them."

That costly experience forced Tasty to rethink its sourcing strategy. "We looked at different sugar markets, including beet sugar from the Midwest," Bayles says. "We learned a lot about commodities from that experience."

Now, come hurricane or high water, Tasty Baking always has enough sweet stuff to satisfy customers.

The Big Questions

What do you do when you're not at work?

I work out every day. I try to make it home for dinner every night so my significant other doesn't forget what I look like. I play racquetball, and try to throw a little arts and culture in there as well.

Ideal dinner companion?

Harriet Tubman, Oprah Winfrey, or Mother Teresa. I often look to women who have undergone adversity, and would be curious to discover how they found the strength to carry on.

What's in your laptop bag?

My computer and my files. I don't carry a purse, so my wallet is also in there.

Business motto?

My favorite motto comes from Ben Franklin: 'We will find a way, or we will make one.'

Favorite Tastykake?

The buttercream-iced chocolate cream-filled cupcake.

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