Bimbo Bakeries USA exec: Bringing diverse cultures together for quality assurance - SmartBrief

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Bimbo Bakeries USA exec: Bringing diverse cultures together for quality assurance

6 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Alejandro Cebado

This post is sponsored by TraceGains.

Everyone in an organization has a role in providing our customers superior quality products, says Alejandro Cebado, senior director of quality systems at Bimbo Bakeries USA.

Bimbo Bakeries USA has become the nation’s largest baking company through a series of acquisitions, and now operates more than 60 bakeries across the country. Cebado says working in that kind of environment has enabled him to learn and grow from the influence of the various corporate cultures that have been melded together.

“I have the privilege to lead the BBU Quality and Food Safety team in building, implementing and operating a comprehensive and effective quality system that will support BBU operations in delighting our consumers every day with safe and superior quality baking products,” said Cebado.

SmartBrief recently spoke with Cebado about his role at the company and his advice for young quality professionals.

What are the aspects of your position that you are most passionate about, and why?

As you probably know, BBU is the result of several consecutive acquisitions. Due to that, different sectors of the company have very specific cultural differences and different approaches to solve similar problems or to operate similar processes.

It is a fascinating challenge to discover this multitude of alternatives, understand and learn from each of them and, at the end, build a scenario that best covers our company’s requirements. That is only one quarter of the job! Once the agreement on the new approach has been built, implementing it through an effective change management process is another quarter of the challenge. The remaining half is operating the system and driving improvement in both the operation and the quality system.

What advice would you offer for up-and-coming quality assurance professionals?

Think of quality as one of the most effective business strategies available to drive a sustainable company. Every company exists with the purpose to provide goods or services that a user or consumer wants, and by doing that, create value. If a company doesn’t have that, that company doesn’t have a business, no matter how efficient, how well distributed the product, what strong brands are behind the product or how competitive the price. If the product doesn’t satisfy consumers, there is no business. The product is first — all other aspects are characteristics and things that are necessary to add to a good product.

Improving quality is about reducing variation in the process. That alone is a powerful productivity strategy to reduce waste, this also enables the possibility to implement solid continuous improvement processes in a more predictable environment.

Promoting quality also helps to create a healthy culture in the company, a higher objective, our responsibility to consumers, our communities and our families. Active participation of people at all levels is focused in the common goal of improving their operation and their processes. People have the opportunity to grow as professionals at all levels of the company through applying creativity and hard work.

What are the most important qualities for young quality assurance professionals starting out in the business?

It is a necessity to have an open mind to learn the business they are working for. The theory behind Quality does not change. The trick is HOW you apply that theory, where you start and how the system needs to evolve. Quality needs to be learned and developed in a company. That learning is never random. It needs to be driven with specific actions. This is possible with a deep understanding of the business (operation, market and culture).

A solid education, of course is also required to manage the process.

Customer skills to facilitate the translation of consumers insights into actionable specifications in the product.

Communication skills. Driving the evolution of a quality culture requires communication at all levels, in order to engage, train, follow up and motivate others to join the journey.

Systemic approach and change-management skills.

What are some of the key ways that human decision-making and technology intersect in your role with the company?

Technology provides better information for decision makers, giving them the necessary information to make accurate decisions.

Let’s just be aware that excess of data gives the illusion of information sophistication and creates functional nonsense. Information should be simple and crafted specifically for the decisions or behaviors it intends to drive.

What are some of the ways that inter-departmental collaboration is important in quality assurance?

Quality is a shared responsibility. There are very clear relationships, like the procurement department and its role in sourcing good quality raw materials for the production. Other areas are not so clear: HR, for example, needs to attract the talent to manage and operate the processes and make decisions. Finance should have the correct costing process to determine prices in the market correctly. Every single person in the company has a role in delivering quality to consumers.

How have your relationships with suppliers evolved over the years?

In a general way, it has always been collaborative. However, from the quality assurance perspective, there have been trends that appear to be present in several countries:

  • During the ’80s and early ’90s, there was an emphasis on intensive testing. There was a laboratory in every location.
  • During the late ’90s suppliers were considered reliable enough to stop supervision. Manufacturers relied on certificates of analysis with very limited or no supervision.
  • After 15 years of that process, the lack of supervision caused materials to have greater variations.
  • Since 2010 limited or focalized supervision has become common again. Technology enables manufacturers to use more efficiently all the information generated in this process, something that was not feasible some years ago. Taking advantage of this opens significant improvement possibilities for both our suppliers and our business.

What do you see as the keys to maintaining good supplier relationships?

The first is transparency. Leave nothing to imagination. Translating that into a procurement and quality assurance system for materials, requires a supplier approval process, contract, documented quality, food safety and logistics expectations, agreed consequences for both parties in case of deviations, a supervision system visible to all involved instances, risk assessment, periodic review of results at different levels, corrective actions to eliminate deviations or improve performance and technology development.

Second, create a healthy competitive environment. Distribute the risk among several suppliers. Learn about the market conditions, competitors, technical background, the role of those materials in your process, associated trends for that industry, etc.

Third, close follow-up. Review results and look for opportunities no matter how high is the compliance level: there’s always room for improvement.


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