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A look Back: Holidays at Whip Mix

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Many companies hold a group lunch or dinner during the holiday season and Whip Mix is no exception. Reflecting back over 50 years (since I started working during my high school holidays and summers), I now realize that the office and manufacturing plant has shifted its focus over this long period of time and I wanted to share with you the changes and how they reflect the cultural changes within the Company.

Back in the 1960’s when the machine shop was on Woodland Avenue, my mom and Edith Bruning would whip up lots of good food for a Christmas Eve lunch with all the production employees. Having 13 children between them, they were experts at feeding the most while spending the least! Somehow I was volunteered to assist and ended up making appetizers by baking little balls of biscuit dough surrounding bits of ground pork sausage. 15 minutes cookin’ in the oven was all it took and my coworkers downed them like popcorn. Edith called them Garballs… though I still don’t know why. I’ll have to ask her over the holidays as she is still going strong for someone turning 95 later this month.

While this was going on, the crowd at the bar was having way too much fun splashing Early Times bourbon over ice and adding a bit of Coca-Cola. I was being exposed to an entirely different side of my coworkers. Somehow, they seemed brighter and certainly louder, even with the Country Music radio station WTMT going full blast. Must have been the Christmas cheer in the air… I now realize how lucky we were to all get home safely.

The Christmas Eve party had gotten more sedate by the time I left GE to start at Whip Mix in an engineering and sales job in 1974. We still knocked off at noon for department parties and each department had a slightly different approach to the food and presents. Most departments held a pitch-in lunch followed by picking a gift from a big box that all had put something in. There may have been some alcohol, but it had gotten considerably more discreet. Except for the office, that is. My father insisted that everyone sip a “little smile” of something and he made sure to set a good example. He even invited some key suppliers, especially if they were local reps who worked out of their homes and had no other office party options. The highlight each year was the dessert that Evie Reilly brought. Jack Reilly ran our purchasing and finance and you could see from his waist line that he loved to eat. He always claimed that his sense of taste was so highly developed that he really couldn’t resist eating good food. And what did Evie bring but a homemade dessert of Charlotte Russe in tall glasses. Nobody turned that down!! Google the name if you don’t know the ingredients…

By the late 1980’s, I had taken over as president and realized that most departments had given up on the party approach to Christmas Eve. Sure, they had one with their family, but that was later in the evening. Most team members left by noon and our morning’s production efforts were pretty paltry. And, we had started a Company-wide luncheon in mid-December which seemed to be popular as it included sing-along Christmas songs and a karaoke contest . My rendition (accompanied by brother, David, on piano) of Santa Baby was always a hit!

So our Management team added Christmas Eve to our official list of paid holidays while making the point that we expected to have a full day of production the day before and after the Christmas holiday. This really helped us focus on getting our orders completed and shipped out to our customers.

It also helped us rethink the company-wide holiday lunch. For example, we now partner with a neighborhood elementary school for developmentally disabled kids whose families need some help getting presents under the tree. Our Team Members select a “star” on the bulletin board and shop in December for age and gender appropriate clothing and toys. We also solicit prizes from our suppliers and sell chances to fellow team members. And we also invite all team members to donate items for a silent auction held before and during our holiday lunch. All the money raised is donated to local charities (like The Lord’s Kitchen and Home of the Innocents) that help those with the greatest need.

My takeaway from these changes is that people can do extraordinary things when given the opportunity. I also believe that challenging ourselves to focus on others makes us better persons and we certainly become more aware that our own limitations are not serious as compared to those facing others.

I hope that you get a chance to talk with a Whip Mix team member in 2018… ask them about our holiday lunches and their participation. ALL of us at Whip Mix wish you the best in the coming year!!

Allen Steinbock

Allen Steinbock is the CEO and Chairman of the Board at Whip Mix. Allen’s focus is on strategic planning, shareholder relations and Board development. In addition, he continues to call on key customers in dental education, practices, laboratories, distribution, and manufacturing around the world.