POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 15, 2010:
When the Moon Hits Your Eye
Third Gen-er Paula Marshall takes family business into orbit. Propelled by imagination, opportunity, and pop product, she still serves up inspiration as Bama Piemaster
KENNETH M. RUGGIANO
Almost everyone has received an award of some sort. And loved it.
From that trophy for participating in little league football all the way up to winning the Best Actor Academy Award, it's a human thing.
Each had to climb her or his share of obstacles to earn that award. Sometimes, one must be nominated for it or campaign for it; other times, it might be as simple as good hard work and recognition from your peers.
More often than not, this process takes a few months or as long as a year to work toward that beautiful plaque, trophy or certificate you've been eyeing for some time.
What if it took more than one year? Would you have the dedication and the foresight to notice the light at the end of the tunnel?
For Paula Marshall and her company, Bama Pie, it took four working attempts before the company was recognized for its efforts and quality that had been put forth.
After eight years of evaluation and work, the company led by Marshall was awarded the Malcolm Baldridge Award, which nationally recognizes companies of different industries for its quality initiatives.
But it wasn't looking for awards that got the company this one, or anything, for that matter. It was an idea, hard work and the imagination to take the concept to newer, broader, higher levels.
Satisfaction is not guaranteed in running your own business. It is where you take it.
Marshall followed a path that was set by her grandmother and father in years previous, but it was her initiative that took it to another level as CEO of her family's pride.
Baked Till Golden
Paula Marshall didn't start Bama Pie, but she sits as the head of the company as a nearly 90-year tradition in her family.
Her grandmother started the company out of her kitchen making pecan pies. The company and the family grew from that time on.
In 1935, Paula's father, Paul, and his wife moved to Tulsa from Texas and the company followed soon thereafter as it was incorporated here in 1936.
Paula was born as the only daughter and the last child to Paul and Lilah Marshall.
Paula grew up in Tulsa knowing the company inside and out.
"Like many family businesses, the son and daughter work in whatever," Marshall said.
While attending school at Holland Hall and participating in extracurricular activities, Marshall had a full workload as she worked at Bama Pie, too.
"I'd come down to the plant, and I'd pack pies," she said. "I loaded and unloaded trucks. We worked all of the time ... I did my homework in my father's office, too."
In fact, working at Bama Pie was a serious family affair as her oldest brother, John, worked there throughout his adult life as a salesman and worked closely with her father. Her other brother, Roger, currently works at a bank in Tulsa.
The apple didn't fall too far from the trunk, though.
She went to work within the company doing a number of jobs, while attending college. In 1982, she graduated from Oklahoma City University with her bachelor of science, and nearly 10 years later, she graduated with her PhD from the same school.
In serving in a capacity of everything from working in the office to working in the plant to obtaining supervisory roles, Marshall earned her stripes as a hard-worker for the Bama Pie Company.
Two years after graduating from OCU, though, she stepped into the biggest supervisory role of the company -- CEO. It never really shocked the employees of the company that Paula Marshall would be the natural choice for the position; it was more surprising who was leaving.
"No one ever really thought that he would retire," she said. "People thought my dad would stick around."
With a changing industry and country, though, Marshall's father decided it was time to step down and away from the company.
"He wasn't used to a lot of new ways," Marshall said. "He needed to get away. He came and said, 'Your mom and I are moving to Florida, and you can have it.'"
From that point on, Marshall held the reins and future of her family's life-long venture.
Quality Above Quantity
When companies and corporations form, the one goal that they all have in common is to be successful and to turn out a quality product that is sellable. No matter whether it's a T-shirt or a piece of food, everyone strives for their product to meet the mark. Some go above it.
In 2004, Paula Marshall and Bama Pie, besides being enormously successful in the marketplace, hit the bullseye blindfolded. That year, the company received the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award, which is the only award in the country where the President of the U.S. recognizes quality and organizational performance excellence.
Her company along with three others -- Texas Nameplate Co. Inc., Kenneth W. Monfort College of Business and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital -- in the manufacturing category was recognized for upholding quality American principles; however, it wasn't her original intent to apply for the award.
"Clients were pushing for suppliers to become involved in the award process, and it turned out to be a great thing," Marshall said.
The application process isn't as simple as filling out an application and turning it in either. In fact, the application/review/award process takes more than half a year to experience. In fact, it took eight years and four tries for Bama Pie to successfully be recognized and complete the process.
After a number of applications have been submitted by companies, the Board of Examiners takes them to do an independent review and evaluates "the strengths and opportunities" of each company. From there, a consensus review is then conducted, which consists of a team of examiners -- including a senior examiner -- to come to an agreement on scores and reviews of the initial evaluation.
If applications survive this stage, there remains two other stages that involve site visits by examiners as well as a final recommendation of who should receive the awards. What's most important through these evaluation processes is that all applicants receive a feedback report, a detailed tale of the countless hours that the examiners spent in determining that particular company's strengths and opportunities.
"I thought the detail of the process was a little extreme, but the strategic elements are wonderful," Marshall said. " ... As CEO, I would recommend the self assessment to anyone!
"It's a very, very purposeful measure," Marshall said. "You can get lost in the details ... It's really there to make something better."
The recognition hits a resonant chord throughout the corporation.
"She changed the culture at Bama ... because it made a difference to the bottom line," said Susan Harris, the senior vice president of education and workforce as well as the vice president of government affairs for the Tulsa Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
Part of Marshall's commitment and focus to bettering the company's standards of quality started during her early years of being Bama Pie CEO.
Throughout the 1980s, Marshall said that the company was suffering from several quality crises, and as CEO, she wanted to discover a way for that to be resolved. Enter Dr. W. Edward Deming.
In 1989, Paula Marshall became a student of and found a mentor in Deming, a "quality control guru" recognized worldwide for his contributions with helping companies at crossroads such as Bama faced.
"Once I heard the power of Dr. Deming's message, I became an immediate convert," she said.
While Deming was not a huge proponent of following through on the strenuous Baldridge Award process, he remained a great influence on Marshall and how quality control was handled within the company. She continues to use his lessons in her day-to-day corporate world as well as her employees.
"The two main (lessons) were, one, the system of quality is always the responsibility of management, and two, when errors do occur, and they will, look toward process breakdowns, not people breakdowns! Then engage every single person in the process in the solution," she said.
All Hands on Deck
No matter how busy Marshall stays, which is extremely busy, she continues to make time to have a hands-on role within her company.
The mission of Bama day in and day out is, she says "People Helping People Be Successful," so when new employees start at the company, she personally teaches classes in relation to Deming's principles and tools. This way they're fully prepared for their job at Bama Pie.
"She is truly a Deming disciple; and she lives it," said Shirley Bailey, Senior Executive Assistant to Marshall and a 37-year employee of Bama Pie.
"She'll have several classes going on at the same time till (their) graduation. She does a lot of hands-on with that -- practical application -- they are able to see it and get all of the tools she can give them to help them be successful (with the company)."
In addition, the chief executive officer has been instrumental in planning and carrying out those plans.
"It's really a dedication to making a plan and making sure everyone knows what it is," Marshall said. "(Other companies) put things down on paper and never follow through. We're diligent about doing what we say we're going to do."
Besides Marshall's extensive travel schedule and expanding company -- in recent years, the company has opened two factories in China -- she must also balance three other important positions -- mother, author and community activist.
Marshall is mother to four children, three girls and one boy, with her 17-year-old son the last remaining at home. All three of her daughters are out of college and working in places other than Bama.
As a community activist, Marshall works countless hours with fellow philanthropists, such as local billionaire George Kaiser, and community groups and organizations, such as the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce.
"I'm a huge fan of Paula," Harris said.
When Harris came to work for the Chamber in 1990, she had the opportunity to meet Marshall during a luncheon.
"I just thought, 'Oh, my goodness. She's a little bundle of energy ... and talk about an in-charge woman,'" she said. "She's very much in charge, and candid, and to the point."
Since that time, Harris has had the opportunity of working with Marshall on a number of occasions, including when Marshall served as the chair of the Chamber of Commerce in 2000. During that time, Harris was able to observe her chair a bond campaign for Tulsa Public Schools and be proactive for education in her company by pushing for an adult education site for Bama.
"She is very into high-quality standards, and she's into developing her people," Harris said. "She's very proactive and deliberate in finding solutions for employees."
In leading efforts for her employees, Marshall has also been successful in coordinating childcare for the nighttime employees.
Another effort that's remained close to her heart is supporting women and underprivileged people.
Marshall said that fellow philanthropist Kaiser has a special way of giving her credit for productivity on the community service circuit. "'Paula likes to work on things that aren't rubber chicken dinners.'" she said Kaiser says.
Together, Kaiser and Marshall have worked on many projects together regarding domestic violence and helping to raise funds in the several millions for causes they support.
Paula has also been busy penning books about the success of her company and giving out a few tools of her own from the Deming method.
"Deming wrote great books, but (he) didn't practice day to day," she said.
Therefore, the purpose of her first book was to put on record her thoughts of being a CEO, Sometimes Being a CEO Looks Pretty Tough. Her second tome, though, Finding the Soul of Big Business put her thoughts and experiences of leading Bama into a written format.
"(Deming) wasn't a manufacturer," she said. "I've tried to write Bama's journey and make commentary on today's model."
There's a third book she has in mind, drawing upon her understanding of the human need, at all levels, for meditation and being silent.
As busy as she appears to stay, being healthy and fit has become a large part of her life.
"Eating is a pleasure," Marshall said. "With eating comes a price to pay. You have to exercise your body."
Spending an average 50-55 hours at work in a week, she's avid about fitting in outdoor activities, including running, tennis and bicycling.
So while her company does make one of the most popular dessert items at McDonald's, she makes sure to keep her body active.
"I'm not a huge dessert eater," she said. "My downfalls are more salty snacks."
That's not to say she doesn't enjoy an apple pie every once in a while.
Indeed, shifting the dietary paradigm is not one of her big, pet projects. There are no plans for a health food line. "You know, we talk about that all the time. Yes, I do have concerns, and we are implementing 'better for you' change where our customers are agreeing to it, but the facts point to the fact that consumers most often reject any food which even "smells like" it might be "healthy".
"So, until our customers see big shifts in the eating patterns of Americans, we will continue to chip away at small improvements which do not impact flavor. Recently we have reduced salt, and become trans fat free in all of our products. Those are two moves which we are very proud of because our products retained their delicious taste and flavor. We have a wonderful, and dedicated staff of research scientists, quality assurance, operations, supply chain team members. Along with our wonderful suppliers we will stay closely attuned to the desires of the American consumers."
Ahead of the Curve
Since Marshall's takeover of the CEO chair, Bama Pie has received countless recognitions -- including, entry into the Tulsa Hall of Fame, SCM Innovator of the Year and William B. Darden Supplier recognition. Although the company has seen a great deal of success and achievements, her father didn't always think of Paula for first in line for the job.
"He was very 1900 philosophy. It happened after he got sick, (and) he realized I was his only shot," she says, admitting to a previous question, that yes, she was probably named after her father, "I guess you would have to ask my Mom...each of my brothers is also named after him..." Her mother is still alive, living at the home where the family grew up in Tulsa.
Before his death in 2000, Marshall said she and her father had an opportunity for great talks, during which time she learned he was proud and positive about the outlook of the company and the job his daughter was doing with the company.
"I was happy that I was allowed to know how he really felt," Marshall said.
Marshall's 21st century methods, having become the benchmark for Bama's success, do not necessarily negate the old-fashioned approached espoused by her father and grandmother. As a result, Bama, a company with approximately 850 employees and that generated $83.3 million in sales in the 2008 fiscal year, has flourished.
"My dad actually began the relationship with McDonalds. Pizza Hut and their parent company Yum Brands are wonderful customers. Our relationship with Wal-Mart has been great for us as well."
Those three businesses -- McDonald's, Yum! Brands and Walmart -- comprise 92 percent of Bama's total sales. Bama has supplied pies to McDonald's for 43 years, and also supplies biscuits to the fast food giant. Additionally, Bama has provided dough to Pizza Hut for 17 years. Those little individual pecan pies at Walmart? Bama supplies those, as well.
"Starting up a business in China has been a great leap forward and has been lots of fun as well. Meeting Stephen Covey and W. Edward Deming has been earth shaking to my views on managing a business!
"I'm really proud of our team," she said. "I have changed our philosophy ... we've stayed the course."
And there are no signs of slowing down or deviating from that course just yet.
Doing business locally? "We love Tulsa. I hope Tulsa can think bigger than it is now, in the future. We need a stable government partner to build better schools, and infrastructure, so business can expand. All the little battles we have going on now are counter-productive for business. We desperately need qualified team members who can do basic math, and science.
Marshall is even more concerned about the climate nationally. "The United States has been, and is becoming more complex, and anti-business every day. If we continue to be highly litigious, and regulated, it will be harder and harder for business to operate here. We must decide what we want to be as a nation, because we won't have as much manufacturing here. Maybe we just want small, green, cottage industries here, and that's just fine. It's just different from how America has been.
With two plants established in China, Marshall hints that there could be continued expansion throughout the world as more of the company's customers are going overseas.
Are there any big or upcoming projects that Bama is working on? "I can't tell you! No, really, we are looking at growth in India, and Europe. I feel like things are going to only get better," she said.
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