The Women’s Foodservice Forum's (WFF) 2014 Annual Leadership and Development Conference is underway, running March 23-26 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. This year's conference, which marks the organization's 25-year anniversary, combines educational and networking opportunities with tributes to former WFF president and CEO Fritzi Pikes Woods, who passed away unexpectedly in 2013.

The WFF, which now has more than 22,000 active participants, is recognized as a premier leadership development organization, sponsoring educational events and professional development and networking opportunities for women in all sectors of the foodservice industry, including operations, manufacturing, distribution, communications, publishing, and consulting.

This morning, Susan Gamberdella, vice-president of Wendy's Global Account Team, Coca-Cola Refreshments, officially took over the reigns from Laurie Burns as the WFF chair for 2014-2015.

Additionally, Catherine Kayser, market president of Sysco’s Northeast broadline operations in the United States, received the 2014 Leadership Award. Bill DeLaney, president and CEO of Sysco, was on hand to honor her.

Burns kicked off the WFF conference on Sunday, acknowledging the organization’s silver anniversary and the 14 women who founded the group (Monica Boyles, Elizabeth Brennan, Jenene Gare, Joyce Goldstein, Denise Gorsline, Marcia Harris, Patricia Harris, Laura Hayden, Florence Jaramillo, Edna Morris, Karen Settlemyer, Julia Stewart, Kathleen Talbert, Jo Linda Thompson, and Jackie B. Trujillo), as well as those who have carried the torch to continue to accelerate and steward the mission of the organization. Burns is Darden Restaurants chief development officer.

Woods, an inpsirational figure in the foodservice industry, received two special honors. The annual Trailblazer Award was officially renamed the Fritzi Pikes Woods Trailblazer Award. Then, the WFF presented the 2014 award posthumously to Woods.

The Trailblazer Award, sponsored by General Mills, is given to an individual who is dedicated to improving the foodservice industry through support of gender diversity, the creation of new pathways for women in their company and the industry at large, and the implementation of opportunities for women at all levels of their organization.

Woods had been working with President Obama’s administration to advocate on behalf of women in executive roles. She also served as board member for Jamba Juice, Ignite Restaurant Group, National Restaurant Association, BUCA, and Lone Star New Market.

Also launched at this year’s conference, The Fritzi Woods Aspire Higher Institute is a leadership development program that offers in-market programs as well as customized in-house corporate programs. The WFF announced that Fritzi Woods Aspire Higher Fund, established in Woods honor, has raised $400,000 toward its goal of $1 million. The fund will help launch the new Fritzi Woods Aspire Higher Institute and also provide scholarships for women to attend its programs.

New to this conference was Sunday’s "Elevate Your Career" session, replacing the program formerly geared to first-time attendees. This newest session was designed for all attendees looking for more information on how to best leverage the WFF— at conference and beyond.

The session began with networking by functional area. Marilyn Sherman spoke to the five strategies to make the most of the conference—and life. On the topic of seeking a mentor, Sherman urged session attendees to do their job "so well that people can't help but advocate for you."

Dr. Maya Angelou delivered the opening keynote Sunday night, asking attendees to have courage, and stating, “without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” The energized crowd responded wholeheartedly to her closing sentiment, “Be more than you think you are.”

WFF also celebrated the contributions of all its volunteers Sunday night at the annual Volunteer Reception. Volunteers are responsible for everything from IT to events, while ambassadors are the champions of WFF within their companies.


By Joann Whitcher

Industry News, Philanthropy