This group of industry women were the founding members of the FPSA Women’s Council.
CHICAGO – Women in the processing industry gathered for a breakfast Sept. 21 during PROCESS EXPO to celebrate the launch of the FPSA Women’s Council, a new initiative of the Food Processing Suppliers Association to empower women in the food and beverage industry to achieve both professional and personal growth. The Women’s Leadership Breakfast, which was open to all female professionals attending the trade show in Chicago, was the inaugural event of this new organization.

“All of you have different roles in the food industry but the idea of this group is to bring everyone together to connect and engage and create a women’s mission within this industry,” said Diane Wolf, key account executive with Competitive Capabilities International, founding member and moderator of the breakfast. “But regardless of your title and your position and your years in the industry the FPSA women’s council is for you.”

The mission of the new organization includes creating strategies to help women succeed in their jobs and to empower members to take their careers to the next level. The group will facilitate

webinars, meetups and other activities around the country and at industry events.

Sponsors of the breakfast included Alfa Laval, Provisur Technologies, Poly-Clip System, Weber Inc., Vanmark and Grote Company.

The breakfast included a keynote address by Jane Grote Abell, Chairwoman of the Board of Donatos Pizza. Abell is a founding family member of the second-generation pizza company. She shared her insights from more than four decades of working in the family business that started 1963 with a $1,300 investment by her father, founder Jim Grote. His philosophy back then was "To make the best pizza and to treat others the way I would like to be treated." That philosophy is still leading the company today.

The Grote family not only owns and operates Donatos Pizza, but the Grote Company, which specializes in food slicing and assembly equipment, and Jane’s Dough Foods.

In 1999, Donatos was purchased by McDonald’s. Though the stores and product remained the same during the four years it was owned by McDonald’s (Abell and her father bought back the company in 2003), Abell said, “Our entire company and culture changed.”

Jane Grote Abell was the keynote speaker at the inaugural Women’s Leadership Breakfast during PROCESS EXPO.
It was during that time that she learned a lot about herself and what she says it takes to be successful: character, courage, conviction and compassion. 

“Character is so important,” she said. “It’s not only important that you have character but that you surround yourself with people that have character and that will hold you accountable.”

Her courage and conviction led her to spearhead the buyback of the family business from McDonald’s in 2003 and her compassion for the business led her to bring her company back to profitability. At the time of the buyback from McDonald’s, profits were down, but under Abell’s leadership, the company went through a $10.5 million turnaround. 

“If you don’t love what you’re doing – if you don’t wake up in the middle of the night excited about serving people then you’re in the wrong business,” she explained. “Because we’re in the people business.”

In 2010, she took over as Chairwoman of the Board. Since then she has had time to focus on work outside of Donatos including co-founding the Reeb Avenue Center, a social-services center housing 14 non-profits that focus on education and workforce development.

“Our company’s mission is to promote goodwill – through our people, through our product, through our services and through our principles,” Abell said. “I hope when people leave our company that they thank us for the time that they were with us – and hopefully they have learned something while they were with us.”

Abell’s messages of career compassion and leadership entertained the Women’s Leadership Breakfast audience. In closing, she commended the organization for creating the Women’s Council and encourage attendees to take part. “I encourage you to participate – to get involved,” she said. “It’s so important to get people around a table to talk about the industry but also to talk about what we share in everyday life.”