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Posted: August 01, 2010

Executive edge: Jane Miller

Charter Baking Co. CEO keeps dough rising for Rudi's Organic breads

Lynn Bronikowski

ExecEdge_JaneMiller_Aug10.jpg

Jane Miller walks outside her office as the smell of baking bread wafts through the air at the Charter Baking Co. in Boulder. She shows off the funky, brightly painted van fresh off the showroom floor and revved up for marketing gigs.

"I made the curtains," she says. "You could say I'm a multitasking CEO."

Miller last year was named president and CEO of Charter, the baker of Rudi's Organic breads. Sewing curtains was just something fun she did as she oversees a company that employs 300 with $80 million in annual sales.

"I usually come in at 6:30 in the morning and do everything from strategy meetings to calling on customers," said Miller, 51, who recently oversaw the national launch of Rudi's Gluten-Free breads. "Baking is such an art, but creating a loaf of bread that doesn't have wheat is a science."

She worked with retired food scientists from General Foods, who were 83 and 77 years old, to develop the line that includes original, multigrain and cinnamon raisin sandwich breads.
"The gluten-free market is a vibrant market to go after," said the native of Peoria, Ill., who majored in Russian studies at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., earned an MBA from Southern Methodist and since 1984 has been in the food industry. "I've always been lucky, or maybe it's a case of seeing an opportunity and taking it."

One of those opportunities was being the first in her family to go to college after earning a scholarship.

"We were dirt poor," she says. "My dad was a bowling alley manager, but after my folks got a divorce, he abandoned us. My mom had no skills, was a school bus driver and did other jobs - anything she could do to make money for the family, she did. A lot of my ambition came from that because I did not want to be someone who worked three jobs my whole life - education is just so critical to me, along with hard work."

She began her career at Pepsico Inc. in Dallas and by 2005 was working for the H.J. Heinz Co., overseeing $1.5 billion in revenue in the U.K. and Ireland. She came to Charter from her own Boulder-based consulting company, which in 2007 helped Interstate Brands - the makers of Hostess cakes and Wonder Bread - emerge from bankruptcy.

"Helping Interstate was a great experience because we had a great team," she says. "Plus, 26,000 jobs were at stake, and we were able to reinvent this whole company."

Coming off of that victory in 2008, she went from Twinkies and Wonder Bread to developing a business plan for the Rudi's line of organic breads with the intent of becoming CEO of the company founded in 1976.

Now she's planning to install a storefront showcase of Rudi's products to jazz up the company's lobby, is looking into adding more bakery products to the Rudi's line, and on the side is writing a book dispelling the myths of women in business.

"Colorado is my adopted home," said Miller, who moved to Boulder in 2003 when her late husband, Michael, became ill and wanted to return to Colorado. "I want to become more involved in the community, create more jobs, and the people who work here are depending on me to make sure this business is strong so they keep their jobs."
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Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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