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Supporters Of WAFC, USC FIM Program Hailed


Food industry professionals gathered Feb. 15 for a luncheon that honored donors who support the Western Association of Food Chains and the University of Southern California Food Industry Management Program.

According to its website, the programs at USC Marshall School of Business are “designed exclusively for high-potential individuals of proven ability.”

“[They] have the choice of participating in either the once-a-year, one-semester spring Food Industry Management program or in a four-day Food Executive Program offered each year in the spring and fall,” it reads. 

The food industry executive program is designed exclusively for preparing the food industry’s future leaders in partnership with the Western Association of Food Chains, according to the university’s website. WAFC’s mission is to help the industry attract, retain and advance high potential food industry associates through educational programs and leadership opportunities.

Carole Christianson, CEO of WAFC, noted that nearly all of the association’s board members who attended the luncheon are graduates of the FIM program. 

WAFC reports 4,174 retail management certificate program graduates; 2,007 USC food industry executive program graduates; and 40 USC master’s of science, food industry leadership graduates. 

“We are now at 9,000 employees in this food industry…[who] have benefited from the dollars that you have donated,” said Christianson, adding that more than $36.2 million has been spent in grants for the programs. “So, thank you, thank you, thank you.

“The WAFC leadership, our board of directors, are extremely intentional and passionate and purpose driven to provide their workforce advanced levels of education, experiences and learning to enrich their lives personally and groom them for greater responsibilities and career advancement. I don’t know of any graduate that in the past at least five years or more that has not had numerous promotions after completing this program at USC.”

Christianson mentioned there was a time when someone could work their way up from bagging groceries to chairman of the board of a grocer without a college education. She doesn’t believe that’s going to happen today. 

“Most of you that are from the supplier side of the industry probably wouldn’t even be hired by your company today without the benefit of a college degree,” she said. 

Twenty-two years ago, the WAFC Board of Directors created the Community College Retail Management Certificate Program. 

“We have over 4,150 graduates of the retail management student program. I am one of those,” Christianson said. “You’re never too old to learn. And I’m proud to say that 25 percent of this year’s FIM class are retail management certificate program graduates…we continue to seek initiatives to make the RMCP more broadly available.” 

WAFC is piloting projects to remove additional obstacles for the RMCP, which she said “really came to the forefront during these past two years.”

The focuses specifically include digital equity, English proficiency and college readiness programs that will help underserved workers prepare for college courses.

Christianson was introduced by Greg McNiff, president of Stater Bros. Markets and president and chairman of WAFC. He spoke to the students of the FIM program. 

“You’ve made a great choice, you made a great decision… the fact you’re all able to step back and evaluate your life and evaluate your career, we couldn’t be more proud of you. We think you’re making a great decision,” he said. 

McNiff then recognized the scholarship donors.  

“I want to recognize our luncheon honorees, the many donors that support the Food Industry Management Program here at USC, as well as our College Retail Management Certificate Program. By donating you demonstrate your commitment to our industry. Some of the donors have been with us for over 60 years.”

Tim Blakesly, assistant dean at USC Marshall School of Business Executive Education, highlighted the five P’s that make the FIM program a success: passion, people, pursuit, place and partnership.

“I particularly enjoy my meat and fish shopping,” he said. “And the reason why is there’s one individual who works the meat counter, who personalizes my shopping experience every single time I walk in. He remembers me, he remembers things that we talked about weeks in the past.

“He personalizes that experience. I’ve seen him do this with all of his regular customers. I’ve also seen him do it with new customers that he doesn’t know by simply being curious and engaged.”

Blakesly announced that Poets & Quants ranked the Marshall School of Business online MBA program as No. 1 in the country. The Marshall undergraduate business program placed third in the nation. 

“In this world of executive education, I am hard pressed to think of any other industry that puts such a premium on the pursuit of lifelong learning,” Blakesly said. “I’m hard pressed to think of any other industry that would invest in a semester-long residential program for their leaders.”

Another featured speaker was Trent Campbell, a graduate of the FIM program who is the director of field execution at Reyes Coca-Cola Bottling. Campbell is working to earn his master’s degree through the FIM program and is expected to graduate in December 2023.

Campbell centered his brief speech over a question that will always come in one’s professional and personal life: “Are you ready?”

“It’s important for us as an industry to make sure we are ready to advance education in the food industry for years to come,” Campbell said. “So class of 2022, I have a question for you all. Are you ready? Are you ready to advance the food industry and education? And are you ready to take the next step in your career after you’re done with the program? It’s a question that you all will be asked. And you have to be ready and prepare for.”

For more information, visit wafc.com.

To view the photo gallery of the event from The Shelby Report, click here.

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