03 Oct IBIE 2022: Dennis Gunnell Reflects On More Than Two Decades With BEMA
International Baking Industry Exposition 2022
With the spectacular of 2022 IBIE still fresh in my memory, I’ve had a few days to reflect on the leadership that Dennis Gunnell provided over the challenging past three years as IBIE Chairman. That led me to think about his numerous years on the IBIE committee and his time on the BEMA board of directors. His service to IBIE has been astounding so we are taking a few minutes to let you in on the story.
Dennis Gunnell got involved with BEMA by accident.
An illness kept Formost Fuji founder Al Formo from attending the BEMA Convention at Amelia Island, Florida, so he called a young Gunnell into his office and sent him instead – with just 36 hours’ notice.
Gunnell had no idea that one event would introduce him to an organization he would serve for more than two decades and would eventually influence him to become a mentor to younger industry members.
In fact, he says one of the highlights of his time with BEMA was that first Amelia Island Convention as it formed the basis for how he would approach his career and encouraged him to focus on helping others.
After traveling in from the West Coast and getting in late the night before, Gunnell’s phone rang at 6:45 a.m. eastern time.
“It was Ed Meise from AMF,” Gunnell says. “I knew Ed but not well. He said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘Well, get out of bed. You’re having breakfast.’ So, I went and sat down with Ed, and he spent the next hour and a half just telling me about BEMA and the baking industry, and how to be successful. He was a competitor of ours. I thought, ‘Wow, that is pretty impressive,’ and I’ve tried to do that same thing throughout my career.”
Gunnell tries to take on a mentee every year or every other year to help them learn the industry.
“It helps them, and in turn, helps our industry,” Gunnell says. “Ed started that and still to this day it surprises me that he would do that. It was kind of a really special way to join BEMA and become part of it.”
Gunnell has his own advice for those looking to enter the baking industry.
“If you want a solid, very good career, you’re going to need to put the time in,” he says. “The baking industry can give you relationships and longtime history. Just jump in and look to stick with it. And have fun.”
While investing in the younger generation is something that Gunnell views as an important piece of his time with BEMA, he is also proud of some changes that took place in the past 25 years. He says being involved with turning BEMA into a self-governing organization and creating BEMATech, an industry expo during the off years of IBIE, rank as two highlights.
Both of those events strengthened BEMA and led to its current prominent place in the baking industry and the current success of IBIE. And that success has impacted every part of Gunnell’s professional life.
“BEMA has made me a much more valuable resource for our customers,” Gunnell says. “From a professional standpoint, our equipment is mid-line. We have other companies on either end that we have to work with. Now, when I see a need when visiting a customer, I can reach out to other BEMA members. Those relationships have been invaluable.”
While that is true now, Gunnell says those connections were even more important early in his career when he didn’t know as many people as he does now.
“Whether it’s a BEMA person or a baker, those introductions are invaluable when someone else brings you into the conversation and says, ‘Come here, let me introduce you.’”
Gunnell points to BEMA Connect, BEMA’s speed dating activity, as another innovation that has made an impact on the industry.
“It was just the perfect thing at the perfect time,” he says. “To be able to put together a 10- to 15-minute meeting, you can find out pretty quickly if you can work together. You’re right there. If it doesn’t work, you didn’t just waste time and money to get to where they are to find out in the first 10 minutes that it’s not going to work. BEMA’s so good at bringing people together.”
Another highlight for Gunnell again revolves around people and relationships – opening Convention up to bakers.
“That was another very transformational point,” Gunnell says. “That’s probably the number one most transformational thing that BEMA ever did was to make this a business meeting with a lot of fun. We didn’t lose the family atmosphere, but we added a business environment that’s second to none.”
Gunnell’s long service to BEMA has given him a prime seat to watch the industry change and overcome challenges, including evolving the relationships on the IBIE Committee.
“Changing that from a contentious relationship to one that’s super positive and collaborative,” he says. “That board has become so cohesive. It’s just amazing. There’s no we’re the customer, you’re the vendor.”
The other big challenge facing the industry is one that is a work in progress that will continue after Gunnell leaves his current post as IBIE chairman – increasing diversity.
“We’ve made some improvement but not as much as we want,” he says. “We’d all like to see that advanced further. There are actions that we’re doing to advance that; it’s just been more of a challenge than we ever thought.”
Relationships are the future
As for the future? Gunnell believes it is plenty bright.
“The thing I’m most excited about is that as much as business industry changes, baking is so entrenched in history, it’s just so solid,” he says. “You’ve got this centuries-old industry that just continues to build on that. It doesn’t break its foundation, it just builds on it. I’m excited about the baking industry because, at the end of the day, it’s a people industry.”