I have written about Greyston Bakery before. They make delicious brownies as well as other products but in reality that is not what they do. The baking business is just an avenue for Greyston to accomplish what they really do which is to save lives, one at a time. Hence the tag line, "we don't hire people to bake brownies. we bake brownies to hire people."
This week, I had the pleasure of taking a tour if the facility. It was a long day which began at 10am and continued until 3pm. I got there late because I entered avenue instead of street on the GPS system, alas. I also had to leave a bit early because the off-site part of the trip started late and I knew I'd never make it back to the city for an afternoon meeting.
Greyston began some 26 years ago as a social enterprise. The concept which is now taught at the best business schools in the country is slowly being replicated across the globe. The bakery is a for-profit business. The profits generated from this business fund the non-profit foundation which completes the social mission that begins in the bakery. The foundation funds a HIV center for the community in the Younkers neighborhood, there is affordable housing for Greyston workers, a health care facility, a child care center including a green park. The concept is that there is a complete social program for the workers and the community to support people on their individual paths of life be it in the work place or the home.
Five years ago, Greyston built a new bakery. A huge facility where they took on serious debt. I get the feeling that the facility although well intentioned was built by people who had never built a baking plant before and because of this it really is not that efficient although only up to 45% capacity. The good news is that partnership companies like Ben and Jerrys are willing to pay a higher cost for their product because they believe in the mission. Unfortunately the profits generated at this point are going towards paying back the debt instead of the to the foundation. It appears that they have brought in a few managers that have been in the food industry for 30+ years and are helping grow their business more efficiently. I have some ideas on how they could evaluate their debt but I won't use this platform for it.
Let's get down to the important part. I got to walk through the facility and see the brownies get made. I also worked in the R & D lab and made my own brownie concoction. But hands down the most moving part of the day was listening to four of the workers speak to us about their individual experiences at Greyston. Honestly made me cry.
The plant workers are comprised of people who have been in jail, into drugs, and just down on their luck. The plant has a day where people come and put their name on a list and hopefully at one point there will be an opening for them. No interviews, no resume, just a name.
The first guy got up who had been way into drugs and now has been at the plant for 12 years and plans on retiring there. The second guy, who had been there 11 years to the day, got up and told his story. He had been working for the city for two years just taking shortcuts. He was dealing on the corner while working for the city. He said that two things will happen to you when you deal drugs, you either end up dead or in jail. He ended up in jail for 7.5 years. When he got out it took him 9 months to finally land at Greyston. He is now married with a kid. Greyston saved his life and now he can show his son how to be man. He is now a good role model for his family and community. The next guy got up. He was probably around his late 20's early 30's. He had never had a job his whole life. He had been in jail for four years and had now been at Greyston for 20 months. He started to tell his tale on how Greyston made him want to work, it changed his life and then he started to cry. He couldn't stop. He was so incredibly grateful. It was unbelievably moving. The last person was a woman who had been there when she was 19. She found herself going off the deep end and left. Eventually returning to Greyston four years ago realizing that the support there was the foundation she needed to live her life.
The last story which was was told by the head of HR. There was a woman who was promoted to manager. This woman came to the head of HR and told her that she had dyslexia and didn't know what to do because she couldn't create schedules and what was expected of her. She was embarrassed. Greyston got her help. It ended up she needed a $2000 evaluation that they paid for and continued to help her with special classes until she was able to take on her promotion comfortably. They spent the money and time to help her understand, work and read with dyslexia. That is a truly incredible story. How many companies would do that?
The pictures are of the plant but the real picture is the people. Hearing the stories and watching the community work together is inspiring. Greyston gives people who possibly have no where else to turn opportunities to transform their lives. Greyston provides a nurturing supportive environment. What is even more amazing that Bernard Glassman had the vision to start this in 1988. Today it seems like more people and organizations are getting on this band wagon. Bravo!