After more than 46 years, Fred Springer left the Burford Corp. to take well-deserved retirement.
He is an extraordinary man and has been a supporting pillar for the baking industry in the US and internationally. He talked about his experiences and plans with Hildegard M. Keil, Editor of baking+biscuit international.
Keil: Fred, you started working in the baking industry in 1973, when you entered the Burford Corp. after finishing your education at the University of Oklahoma where you studied business administration. More than 45 years in the same company and the same industry, always carrying out your job with passion. This nowadays is quite unusual. Can you tell me why you stayed with the same company, your story and what has motivated you for all of these years?
Springer: I have always loved challenges and no more so than when the outcomes are successful. When I started at Burford, there were many challenges. We didn’t have automation and so everything was carried out by hand or through an outside service. We were actually the first company in our area to get an in-house computer for accounting, inventory and engineering design. There were so many opportunities to learn and to grow in all areas. People were all so eager to be educated and to work on new projects. I was fortunate to be in a position to grow within the company. We also had the culture within to support industry associations where additional customer contacts could be made.
Keil: The company originated in the 19th century with farming equipment. In 1961 Earl and Charles Burford invented the first “twist-tie” machine to close bags, which subsequently became very famous in the baking industry and made Burford a well-known supplier. Following this, Burford started building other types of equipment for the baking industry. How important is closing equipment for Burford today?
Springer: Closing equipment is still an integral part of the business and represents approximately 40%.
Keil: Which invention, not including the twist-tie, has been the most important for Burford from your point of view?
Springer: The topping applicator for applying sesame seeds and other toppings to rolls and buns.
Fred Springer graduated from the University of Oklahoma in Business Administration in 1973, which was the same year he started working at the Burford Corp. as an Assistant Controller. This was to lead to positions as Controller, VP Finance, Executive VP and from 2000 he served the Company as President & CEO, Corporate Secretary until November 2019. From 2011 to 2017 he was also Managing Director, Burford Bakery Solutions.
Fred Springer’s voice is well known in the industry and everybody in the industry listens, when he speaks. He has served the industry as Co-Chair of BEMA Tech 99, President of the Allied Trades of the Baking Industry (2001 – 2003) Chairman of the Board BEMA (Bakery Equipment Manufacturers & Allieds) from 2001 to 2002 and was Chairman of the Board of American Institute of Baking (2008 – 2010). For more than 7 years he was a Committee Member of IBIE, and he was and is member of Mid-West Allied Trades of the Baking Industry and Texas Allied Trades Associations and is Privy Council Member of the Wild Yeast Organization. The American Society of baking honored him in 2013 with the Robert Fischer Distinguished Service Award, and he was presented with the BEMA 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Keil: 1973 – 2019 – there have been many changes in the baking industry and it certainly isn’t the same as it was when you started. When you look back – what events, developments and/or inventions have changed the baking industry the most during this time?
Springer: Automation in conveying speeds, servomotors, and electronics have certainly been major developments ensuring that equipment has evolved in all areas of the industry.
Keil: We have seen a lot of consolidation in the baking industry. Do you think in the mature markets such as the US and Europe that there are still opportunities for newcomers and new ideas?
Springer: I think there will always be room for newcomers. You only have to look at companies such as The Bakery Cos (Cordia Harrington), Sister Schubert’s Rolls, Dave’s Killer Bread and Canyon Bakehouse producing gluten free baking. All of these companies were created within a very mature industry, but each had their own niche product.
Keil: Today, Burford delivers baking equipment all around the world – how big is the export market and how do you organize services outside of the US? Do customers from elsewhere have different requirements?
Springer: Burford’s international business will vary from 25% – 40% of total sales. We have a subsidiary in the UK that has a warehouse for spare parts and an office for our Service Technicians and Sales Manager that handles the majority of Europe and some of the Middle East. The Middleby worldwide offices also support Burford.
Keil: Are there any special occasions in your business life that you particularly remember, anything that has happened to you that was unexpected, any stories you would like to tell our readers?
Springer: The most fulfilling occasions were developing new equipment and getting to see the first installation, as well as the success and subsequent sales of something that had been designed and built from scratch. These are certainly occasions that have been very rewarding and ones that you will never forget! Also, receiving the BEMA Lifetime Achievement Award 2018 and then having it named after me was an all-time special occasion that my family and me will certainly never forget. Additionally, being surprised by receiving the Robert Fischer Distinguished Service Award from the American Society of Baking in 2013.
Keil: You have worked hard over the years, not only for Burford, but also for BEMA, AIB, ASB, ABA and ATBI for example. You have been honored with several awards for your tireless work. Not everybody in the industry is willing to sacrifice so much time. What has been your driving force and are you satisfied with the results?
Springer: Yes, I have been very satisfied with the results. The amount of time and extra work was so gratifying due to the relationships built with customers and their families as well as other allied suppliers and their families. Also the accomplishments that were made in serving in the associations, for example, seeing the Bakery Equipment Manufacturers Association grow and becoming a dominate partner to the industry. I’ve always felt that it was important to give back to the industry and to try to make it better than before.
Keil: Fred, you are leaving the company and going into well-deserved retirement – the industry will certainly miss you, will you miss the industry? Will we see you sometimes, somewhere?
Springer: I will absolutely miss the industry and the relationships I have made over the last 46 and a half years. I plan to stay active in some of the associations and who knows what the future holds.
Keil: Thank you very much, Fred, and I wish you and your family all the best for the new phase in your life. God bless you.
Springer: I consider you a very good friend and have always enjoyed meeting up with you and I will always remember your trip to Oklahoma. God bless you.