LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS, US — As a little girl growing up in Texas, Cordia Harrington loved going to the local donut shop to pick up a dozen donut holes — always hoping that when she opened the box there would be a baker’s dozen (13 donut holes) inside.
“I’d count them before I’d eat one and was elated when there would be 13 instead of 12,” she recalled. “I just felt special getting that extra one.”
Going the extra mile and giving customers and associates “more than they expect” are part of a business and life philosophy that that has made Harrington, the chief executive officer and founder of Crown Bakeries, one of the leading entrepreneurs in the United States.
Under Harrington’s leadership, Crown Bakeries has received numerous awards and has been recognized as one of the 50 fastest-growing, female-owned businesses in the country. The company produces more than 10 million baked foods daily and employs more than 800 people, serving elite customers such as McDonald’s in the United States, South America and the Caribbean.
As the keynote speaker at this year’s IMEF Breakfast that kicked off the 125th International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM) Conference and Expo in Little Rock, Arkansas, US, on Aug. 31, she recalled how Rick Siemer, president of Teutopolis, Illinois, US-based Siemer Milling Co., “went the extra mile” to introduce her to the baking industry.
Years ago, Harrington owned a McDonald’s franchise in nearby Effingham, Illinois, US, but her dream was to start a bakery that made products for McDonald’s. It took four years and 32 interviews before she finally convinced McDonald’s to give her that opportunity.
“I was getting ready to go to Chicago for an interview, but before that I went over to meet with Rick in Teutopolis,” Harrington said. “I had seminars with Red (Tegeler) and Connie Barr about wheat characteristics and learned how important protein was in flour for bakers. At the end of the day, they took a picture of me wearing a Siemer uniform in front of the flour mill holding an autographed baseball from St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst. I ended up taking it to the interview with McDonald’s, telling them: ‘I want to be your Hall of Fame baker.’”
The rest is history. Harrington was listed at No. 93 on Forbes magazine’s list of 100 wealthiest self-made women in 2020. She was named the Nashville Post’s 2020 CEO of the Year and was inducted into the American Society of Baking Hall of Fame in February 2018. She received the Most Admired CEO Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nashville Business Journal in 2017 and has been recognized by numerous other organizations for her commitment to excellence and entrepreneurial spirit.
She is the past chair of the Chief Executives Organization board of directors, a member of the American Bakers Association board of directors, and is currently president-elect of that board.
Another highlight came in 2007, when then-US President George W. Bush visited Nashville, Tennessee, US, where he planned to unveil his tax benefit program targeting small businesses. He chose to stop at Harrington’s Nashville Bun Company (which later became Crown Bakeries) because it exemplified American entrepreneurial success at the highest level.
After his visit to the bakery, Bush spoke at a town hall meeting at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, where, according to the White House archives, he told the audience: “I have just come from a small business here, the Nashville Bun Co. And I know that some of the employees from the Nashville Bun Co. are here. Thank you for being here today. It’s quite an operation.
“I love going to small businesses because the small business sector of our economy is really what drives new job growth. If the small businesses are doing well in America, America is doing well. I want to thank the Harringtons — good, solid Tennessee citizens who are entrepreneurs, risk takers, dreamers.”
The company’s growth continues even today, in the midst of one of the worst global pandemics in more than 100 years. Since 2020, Crown Bakeries has added production lines at its plants in Nashville and Atlanta, Georgia, US, and acquired four facilities, including two this year in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
No matter how successful her business becomes, Harrington said she will never forget how the journey started so many years ago in Central Illinois. With Rick Siemer sitting in the audience during her keynote address at the IMEF breakfast, she thanked him for helping her fulfill her dream, which is the epitome of the American Dream.
“Rick was definitely a baker’s dozen for me,” she said. “His encouragement was powerful. I believe sharing that picture and showing the enthusiasm I had for the industry made the difference in being selected to become a McDonald’s baker.”