For the first time in its 111-year history, the International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM) has appointed a woman to serve as its executive vice-president.
Melinda Farris was named to the position on Oct. 4 after serving as interim executive vice-president since June, following the departure of Gary Anderson.
"I am confident in Melinda’s ability to guide our association and meet any challenges head on," said IAOM President Keith Horton, vice-president of operations for Grain Millers, Inc. Farris joined IAOM in November 2004 as the director of communications and in that position played a key role in several projects undertaken at the IAOM office, including the formation of the Eurasia District and upgrades to IAOM communications.
Prior to joining IAOM, she was communications manager for the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, a business association uniting more than 700 member companies. A Kansas native, Farris holds a a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Baker University and a master’s degree in Russian and Eastern European Studies from the University of Kansas. She is fluent in Russian.
World Grain recently spoke with Farris about her new role with IAOM and the her plans for helping the global flour milling association meet the ambitious goals it has set.
WG: You have just returned from the second annual IAOM Eurasia District meeting in Kazakhstan. What were some of the highlights from that event?
Farris: First of all, I’d like to say that Eurasia District Director Evgeny Gan and his staff at the Kazakhstan Union of Grain
Processors and Bakers did a great job organizing the meeting. We had more than 125 attendees representing some 25 countries throughout the region at the conference. What impressed me the most, though, was that the essence of the conference was 100 percent IAOM — with participants demonstrating a spirit of fellowship and cooperation, and a thirst for information that would enhance the efficiency of their mills. This conference could have taken place in any one of the other IAOM districts: the emphasis was on education and networking.
The conference was timed to coincide with the concluding conference of the Asian Development Bank’s flour fortification project in Central Asia and Mongolia, as well as with the Second Annual Flour Fortification Initiative’s Eurasia Leaders Group meeting. The synergies that resulted from the confluence of these meetings should not be underestimated.
WG: With the new IAOM Eurasia District showing signs of growth and the organization already well established in North America, Latin America and the Middle East/Africa, what other regions of the world do you see potential for IAOM expansion?
Farris: IAOM is currently exploring the possibility of holding a meeting with millers in the Asian-Pacific region to discuss their interest in forming an IAOM district. It is imperative that a core group of millers in any region is present and demonstrates an interest in being active members of IAOM. We have started to discuss the spring of 2009 as a target date for an initial meeting in the region.
WG: You speak fluent Russian and spent several years living in Russia working for the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia (AmCham). How has that experience helped you in your position with IAOM?
Farris: The world continues to grow smaller each day, and I believe that any
kind of international experience is extremely valuable in helping people with different backgrounds to understand one another and work together. This is even more important in an organization such as IAOM, where the membership extends to people in more than 70 countries. Because of my experience living and working abroad, I feel that I am better equipped to operate in the international community of IAOM. When I joined IAOM in 2004, much of the groundwork for the Eurasia District had already been laid. However, my Russian language skills were a definite help in moving IAOM from the planning to implementation stages. Being able to communicate with people in their native language helps to bridge gaps and builds relationships. These relationships are important to the success of IAOM in any region of the world.
AmCham was my first exposure to the management side of an association, and I feel that experience in particular has served me well. Although the content and scale of operations in the two organizations is different, the tool kit I use in my daily work is quite similar, and the overriding characteristic of the association — devoted members pouring considerable time and energy into projects that benefit the whole of the community — is absolutely the same.
WG: As IAOM’s new executive vicepresident, what do you see as the top priorities of the organization over the next several years?
Farris: I have to admit that I am still
working to acclimate myself to this new role with IAOM. My list of priorities at this point tends to focus on the short-term: selecting venues and dates for our upcoming international conferences, re-establishing the regular publication of our quarterly magazine, International Miller, and maintaining the high quality of educational offerings in the form of our short courses and conference sessions.
In looking ahead a couple of years, we would like to have the revised IAOM correspondence course available to members, as well as an "operative miller" certification program. We would also like to see our membership expand — there is still much room for growth in our Latin America, Mideast & Africa and Eurasia districts. In order to meet the needs of our members outside North America, we will need to translate our materials into local languages and adapt the correspondence course to different regions as well. As our membership grows in different districts and our leadership structures become more formalized, I see the districts playing a larger role in much of this work.
WG: How is IAOM progressing on its goal of updating the milling correspondence course?
Farris: The correspondence course revisions are still under way. We are looking at having the first three units completed in the very near future. Several professors at Kansas State University are diligently working on revisions to the remaining five units. Although this process has taken a little longer than originally anticipated, members of the Education Committee and others who have been reviewing the new units are all in agreement that the revisions will greatly enhance the course and the overall result will be well worth the time that has been invested in the project.
WG: How much money has been raised through the International Milling Education Foundation? What is the fundraising goal of IMEF and how will the money be used to benefit the milling community?
Farris: I am proud to say that through the generous donations of IAOM members and companies in the industry, today the International Milling Education Foundation has over $132,000 in its endowment. The IMEF trustees have set an ambitious goal of $3 million for the endowment, and I am confident that with the continued support of our members, and increased industry support, the goal is attainable.
The Foundation’s top priority is to fund research and educational programs that will benefit both the individual miller and the profession. Contributions allow the milling community to support its own future — with the funding used to support the development of IAOM programming ideas and educational tools for the industry.
As an example, IMEF trustees plan to use some of the funds to make a donation to the Kansas State Grain Science and Industry Department in the name of those professors who are working on correspondence course revisions.
WG: The IAOM annual conference has always been held in either the U.S. or Canada. Has there been any discussion of holding the conference in Latin America or other regions of the world on occasion? What would be the pros and cons of taking the annual conference outside of the U.S./Canadian borders?
Farris: IAOM’s board of directors has been discussing the possibility of holding the IAOM annual conference outside the United States or Canada, and our new director of meetings and exhibits, Sherri Ford, has been in communication with various convention and visitors bureaus in Latin America to discuss the opportunities available. These options will be presented to the board of directors for consideration as future conference sites are reviewed.
A conference held outside the traditional venue of the United States or Canada might enable IAOM to expand its network into different regions of the world. People who have been unable to attend the IAOM conference in the United States or Canada might be able to attend a conference in a non-U.S. or non-Canadian location. This would be a boon to exhibitors, as they would be able to reach out to potentially new customers and expand their market within the familiar setting of an IAOM event.
I also believe that members would benefit from new acquaintances and the exchange of ideas and experience with their colleagues in a different part of the world. We also anticipate having new exhibitors who would typically not participate in the United States or Canada – this could offset the number of traditional exhibitors who might opt out of an IAOM Expo in another region of the world.
Some of the obvious challenges relate to the logistics issues our exhibitors will face in sending their equipment and materials to a different country. Attendees would also need to acquire passports if they don’t already have them, and the airfare could be higher than for a U.S. or Canadian destination.
WG: The IAOM is unveiling a new program format at its 2008 conference in Orlando, Florida. Can you explain some of the changes and how they will benefit those planning to attend the annual conference?
Farris: Members of the IAOM board of directors and program committee have closely reviewed conference evaluation forms and feedback from previous years. The format being unveiled in Orlando is in response to those comments. One of the most significant changes is that the educational programming has been divided into four different tracks: quality control, employee management, facility management and technical operations. By increasing the variety and choice of presentations available, more topic-specific information will be presented. We feel that this will encourage increased attendance, as several employees from a single company would benefit from the greater variety of presentations that are specifically targeted at different jobs carried out in milling facilities.
Another major change is that the conference has been shortened and moved off the weekend. The conference will open on Tuesday and conclude Thursday evening, with the optional golf tournament on Friday. The midweek format is more accommodating for those who would like to spend the weekend before or after the conference in the host city.
The "What’s New" session is being replaced by a 75-minute "Product Showcase" on Wednesday. The selection committee will focus on recruiting presenters who have a new product or service, or who are adapting a product/ service from another industry to use in the milling industry. In addition, we are introducing a featured speaker hour on the second day of the conference. Larry Johnson, a renowned author, corporate culture expert and professional speaker, will be the first featured speaker in this new format.
Although there will be a lot of newness to the Orlando conference, we’ll still have some of our favorite events from previous years: a Sosland reception on the Expo floor on Wednesday; great raffle prizes; the Buhler Reception on Tuesday night to open the conference; a Kice breakfast; the Latin America District reception on Wednes-day night; and Satake’s pre-banquet reception that will close out the conference on Thursday night.
WG: In recent years, IAOM has forged a partnership with the Flour Fortification Initiative. Do you see that relationship continuing? How does the partnership benefit IAOM?
Farris: In May 2003, the IAOM board of directors adopted a resolution endorsing the precepts of FFI and its goal of fortifying flour with iron and folic acid worldwide, and pledging to advance the cause of FFI by using the communications tools of the association and those allowed by IAOM members’ companies. The board is regularly updated on the activities of IAOM and FFI, and it continues to support FFI as outlined in the 2003 resolution. The board has indicated that we should continue in our partnership with FFI. IAOM benefits from the synergies generated from the relationships with those organizations that participate in the work of FFI.
As a network, IAOM is always interested in expanding its reach. A worldwide network of millers strengthens IAOM, the international milling industry and the capabilities of the individual millers who belong to IAOM.
WG: What is your long-term vision for IAOM? How would you like to see the organization evolve over the next 10 years?
Farris: The primary, long-term vision for IAOM must include increased membership worldwide and as well as securing IAOM’s role as the leading provider of continuing education for the milling industry. IAOM must evolve on an international basis. The consolidation of mills and milling capacity in
North America over the past three to four decades has limited IAOM’s ability to increase membership in this region. There appears to be a need for IAOM’s goods and services in various regions of the world, and we must continue to search for opportunities to fulfill those needs. In 10 years, IAOM should have well-established districts in Eurasia and the Asian-Pacific region, just as we currently have in the Mideast & Africa District.
In addition, it is our hope that within the next decade IMEF will have reached 50 percent of its $3 million goal, and will be able to utilize a significant amount of the endowment funds for scholarships, translations of educational materials, and the development of other educational tools.