Member Spotlight

Lee Sanders

ABA Senior Vice President, Government Relations and Public Affairs

American Bakers Association

What at made you want to begin a career working in the bakery industry?

I came to baking through the policy path. I had worked on Capitol Hill, at the White House and in a federal agency and understood the political and policy worlds. I had always had in interest in food policy so The American Bakers Association and its work were of instant interest to me when I applied for the position of Assistant to the President for Legislative and Regulatory Affairs 24 years ago.

What challenges did you face starting out in your career?

While I had a few years of policy experience under my belt, I was new to the world of baking. It was a big hurdle with so many seasoned established professionals in the industry. As I started out and now as I have continued for all these years, I continue to learn more about the industry. I am lucky that the people I have encountered throughout my career have been open and willing to share their experience and mentor along the way.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the bakery industry and how did you overcome them?

There are certainly more women visible in the industry than when I started over two decades ago. Some would be intimidated be being one of a few women in industry meetings, but I was not. I always felt professional and confident in representing my organization. It helps that I was raised to believe I was capable and could accomplish anything I set my mind to – and I have. I’d say to young women entering the industry to be confident and well-prepared and if they are anxious, reflect on those feelings and seek ways to improve for the future.

How long have you worked in the bakery industry?

I started in the industry in October of 1993.

What is your career highlight?

I have been blessed to have the opportunity to advance within my organization over the past 23 years, working my way up the ladder gaining experience and new responsibilities along the way. I was the first person to ever be named as a senior vice president of my organization so that was a major achievement. I have been proactive in seeking opportunities to stretch and grow with both leadership opportunities in my organization and outside with other industry organizations to expand my visibility and network. I am currently President of the Society of Bakery Women (and a founding member) and the Chair of the Wheat Quality Council. I have served in the past as Chair of the American Association of Cereal Chemists International (AACCI) Milling and Baking Division and on the Advisory Board for the American Society of Baking, I have been honoured in the past with several awards including:

  • 2014 Personality of the Year – Top 10 Finalist,
  • 2009 Recipient of the AACCI Myron D. “Mike” Baustian Memorial Award for outstanding services enthusiastically rendered with personal dedication
  • 2009 Influential 20 List, Baking Management Magazine, November 2009
  • 2009 Leadership Award, Baking & Snack Magazine, June 2009
  • 2004 & 2006 Outstanding and Meritorious Service Awards, AACCI

Beyond my professional opportunities, I have always tried to also give back to the local community through volunteer opportunities as well.

If you could make one change to the bakery industry, what would that be and why?

I’m not sure there is much I would change except urge our seasoned executives to mentor and encourage younger staff to stretch and grow. It is important to engage and energize the younger generation to keep them in the industry. Embrace diversity and know change is necessary for the industry to move forward and stay relevant.

What does your job entail?

I lead the ABA government relations team representing the baking industry before Congress, federal agencies, state legislatures and international policy making bodies. In a nutshell, I am a baking industry ambassador in the policy arena. I advise association members and the industry on critical legislative and regulatory issues while serving as a spokesperson on behalf of the industry. I also serve as co-chair for the Food and Beverage Issue Alliance – a group of 36 FDA-regulated food industry trade associations that work together to develop unified positions on nutrition and food safety issues and meets quarterly with FDA officials.

What advice would you give to young people looking to get into the bakery industry?

Always put your best foot forward. Be prepared and assertive. Never say no to a good opportunity that will push you to grow and expand your knowledge base and your network. A “can-do” attitude will take you far.

What are your hobbies and interests?

Politics, Ole Miss Football, cooking, travel, Zumba and spending time with family and friends.

Who is your role model and why?

A strong woman that influenced my career in the baking industry is the first SBW President and former ABA FTRAC Chair and Senior Vice President for The Long Company Rella Dwyer. She is strong, fair and determined. She worked in the industry for her entire career and had the industry’s utmost respect. When she spoke, people listened.

If you could invite anyone to a dinner party, who would it be and why?

Sir Richard Branson –  he is such an innovative thinker and entrepreneur.

If you could switch places with one other people, who would it be and why?

I am pretty happy being myself – don’t think I would want to trade my life with anyone else’s!

What is your favourite bakery event and why?

I enjoy the wonderful innovation and networking at IBIE, but since it only occurs every three years, I would also say that I enjoy our annual ABA convention that is a great gathering of all the industry in wonderful venues with a wonderful, enlightening business program.

If you could choose to only eat one bakery product for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Excellent, warm sourdough bread.

If you could tell your younger self one thing you have learnt from your career, what would it be?

Set goals, constant learning and improvement and a positive outlook to stay ahead of the curve. When in doubt, go for it!

How would you define success?

Success is doing your best, reaching the goal line and making a positive difference.

What would say that your proudest moment has been in your career?

Receiving the 2009 Young Leadership Award from Baking & Snack Magazine was a real highlight for me. I would also say becoming President of the Society of Bakery Women was another great moment and building the organization to where it is now has been challenging but very rewarding.

What was your big break, and how did you reach it?

I think of my big break as that first job with ABA that brought me into this great industry which has enabled me to have a wonderful career and make some lifelong friends.