Barbara Ellington, Public Affairs Editor
Fresh from attending the recent packaging show in Chicago, Illinois, National Baking Company's chairman, Gary 'Butch' Hendrickson, sat with The Gleaner last Monday to reflect on the past and plans for the future of his 60-year-old bakery.
But National is celebrating more than just six decades of existence, it's more about the tradition of providing fresh bread for Jamaica - a tradition that has been embedded in Hendrickson's DNA. After all, when the company was being set up by his parents at its present Half-Way Tree Road location, he was still in the womb.
And from all appearances, the future of the National legacy is safe. It began with his grandfather in Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth, continued in Mandeville and, hopefully, two of his three children will take it further into the 21st century, when they are through with university. They have big shoes to fill as Hendrickson has gained experience at all levels of the business.
"I literally grew up in this building and there is no more room left to build anything else," Hendrickson said when asked about the size of the Half-Way Tree Road headquarters. The squeaky-clean bakery and office space now occupies 22,000 square feet, including an impressive, air-conditioned wood-panelled boardroom and spacious corporate suite of offices.
But in his down-to-earth style, Hendrickson would much rather remain on the ground floor close to his beloved 760 members of staff. To hear him boast about them is tantamount to listening to proud papa extol the virtues of all his favourite children. "I could not have got to here without my staff," he said, fingers pounding the mahogany table for emphasis.
He takes a similar attitude to service delivery, "If my children can't eat it, I will not make it for the public," Hendrickson noted of the range of baked goods he produces. He emphasises that he has to keep raising the bar and keep on looking after his staff. He notes that the decades free of industrial action or internal strife were not achieved by accident.
Hendrickson, who never tires of the smell or taste of freshly baked bread, says he hopes to honour and maintain the tradition through, "continued responsibility to serve my country as best as I can. I never forget why I got to where I am today, so I will continue to respect and treasure that."
It's been a steady climb from the days when mule-drawn buggies were used to take bread to customers all over the corporate area. Today, National has a fleet of 240 vehicles and its own garage to maintain them in tip-top shape. "We also have our own janitorial team, in-house engineering department, and all our parking lots are solar powered," Hendrickson disclosed.
Ever mindful of maintaining a good return on investment, he says they always try to sell at a sensible and reasonable price. And National also gives back to Jamaica through its Crayons Count collaboration, Talk Up Youth and The Bold Ones initiatives. Other charities that benefit include: Food for The Poor, St Patrick's Foundation, Mustard Seed Communities, Relay For Life and Missionaries of the Poor.
Ever mindful of the prevailing economic climate in which he operates, Hendrickson, in his usual no-nonsense style, asserts that Jamaica's problems are "fixable in 36 months if those in positions of authority simply start by telling the the country the truth." He believes that Jamaicans will, if they have to, make the sacrifices for the long-term good of the country.
"Regardless of governments or the International Monetary Fund, Jamaica will still be here, and we have to get borrowing out of the way and get production going. I have no choice but to produce; how else will we feed ourselves? We talk too much, we need to produce.' he said.
In 20 years, Hendrickson would love to still be laughing and enjoying himself on a golf course. "I would love to see the company continue to evolve, keep raising the bar, and keep on looking after the staff.