Experiences gained from her first college internship to her current position as VP of operational excellence of Aramark taught PA Conference for Women advisory council member Autumn Bayles the value of a strong work ethic, self-confidence and a passion for what you do. She explains in our Q&A.Q: How did your professional career begin and how did you end up where you are today?
A: As an engineering student at Lehigh University, I started my career working as an intern in a cement plant doing quality testing. This was certainly a good introduction to real manufacturing. That was followed by internships in civil engineering for a small engineering firm, technology consulting for a local manufacturer, and manufacturing engineering for Kraft Foods.
Since I liked the consulting stint the best, upon graduation I started my official career as a management consultant for PriceWaterhouse. This was an amazing experience as I traveled all over the world working for various industries on large scale M&A, process re-engineering, and technology deployment projects. Some of my clients were Shell Oil, JP Morgan, Comcast, and FirstEnergy during my ten-year tenure.
While getting my MBA at the Wharton School, I was inspired to join the internet boom rush and worked in venture capital and process design for technology startups. Craving cupcakes and a challenge, I then joined Tasty Baking company – maker of Tastykakes – as their CIO and later on, heading up operations for several years. After the sale of the company to Flowers Foods and spending some time doing integration work for Flowers, I joined Aramark a few years ago – first as VP of strategic development, and was recently promoted a few months ago to VP of operational excellence focused on large-scale productivity initiatives across the enterprise. It’s been a fun journey so far and more to come!
Q: Can you name a leader for whom you have great respect and tell us why?
A: I’m a Hillary Clinton fan for a number of reasons. One, I think she’s had several tough public situations to deal with, and has done it gracefully. Two, I admire her intellect and ability to speak spontaneously on any topic. Three, I think she set a tone for work ethic as our past Secretary of State that was widely admired, even by those who weren’t necessarily fans of hers. I think that gave credibility to not only her but also to women leaders in general – we can do the tough stuff too, of course!
Q: As a leader in your company, what is the best piece of advice you would offer to a new employee to help them succeed?
A: I always tell new employees to follow their passion and do what they love, and work very hard at it. That will get you noticed, and if you love what you are doing, you will be happy going above and beyond.
Q: What would you say has been the driving force in your staying power in a male-dominated industry?
A: I love my work, which tends to be more male-dominated in general, but I’m very used to this from way back in my engineering classes when there were just a few women among hundreds of men. I work to have mutual respect with all my colleagues, so this isn’t something that has required more than just understanding different agendas and applying some emotional intelligence to situations. It also helps to have self-confidence and be able to play at the table when things might get challenging.
Q: As a seasoned professional, how do you share your experience with your team on a daily basis?
A: You have to balance sharing expertise with what may be perceived as constantly lecturing on your past accomplishments. I usually take care to listen to different perspectives, and then when appropriate, share a story or situation from past experience, which has relevance to what we are trying to solve.
Q: What is the one thing you make time for in your daily life that helps keeps you refreshed and positive?
A: I make sure to work out every day – stress relief and good for sanity and health. I also try to sleep enough, but that one can be more challenging!