Q&A with Executive-in-Residence Sandy Whann ‘86
“There’s not a greater joy than seeing people enjoy your product – that’s what gets me in there every day.”
Sandy Whann ’86, president of Leidenheimer Baking Company in New Orleans, is the Williams School Executive-in-Residence. In addition to speaking on “Contemplating Relevance: Thoughts on Life and Business from a New Orleans Baker,” he will spend several days on campus meeting with students, visiting classes and providing one-on-one career mentoring in the Career Development Office.
What brought you to W&L in the 1980s?
Some very close friends of my parents and some of their children had gone to W&L, so I learned about it from them when I started the college-search process. There were also a couple of guys I respected from my high school who went there as well, and when they came home from W&L they were always saying such wonderful things about their experience there.
How did your time at W&L prepare you for your career?
I had some very devoted professors who pointed me in the right direction in order to prepare me to enter my family company. They helped arrange an internship between my junior and senior years with another W&L family in my industry. For years after college, they continued to follow up and check on me. I remember my accounting professor, Lyn Wheeler, would send me every article related to bakeries that he ever found for 20 years after I graduated and even came to see me in New Orleans when he was in town for a conference. It was just that kind of follow up and care and concern that really made W&L so special.
What have W&L connections meant to you and your career?
There’s actually quite a unique group of baking families who have gone to W&L that are in a variety of different types of baking businesses in the U.S. It’s always fun to see them and compare notes. I would say a rich history of bakers at W&L that perhaps no one but me knows about.
How were you impacted by a liberal arts education?
I think that you learn the intricacies and details of most businesses through hands-on, day to day exposure and involvement. I think what separates, or can distinguish, a really good manager is the ability to articulate his or vision and his or her plan, and that takes communication and clear thinking. The liberal arts education certainly helped prepare me across the board for many of the challenges that I have faced. As I’m hiring both managers and line employees, I’m looking for many of those same standards that W&L holds so near and dear: civility, ethical behavior, generosity of spirit, attitude – all of those things that I’d like to think pervade W&L. That’s a pretty strong list of characteristics for new hires.
What are you looking forward to about being back on campus?
Interacting with the students. I’ve had the good fortune to meet a number of them, and I find them curious and intelligent, they ask good questions, they’re funny, and I’m looking forward to hopefully bringing some of my stories of real-life experience to their classrooms. And maybe help illustrate how some of the things they’ve touched on with their professors have actually affected me.
What do you hope students will take away from your talk?
What I hope the takeaway for students will be is an understanding of how everything that is so unique to W&L – the foundation of the school – has continued to be bedrock for me. It’s influenced everything about my life, from my family to my business. There’s not a part of my life that has not been influenced, and when you ask me about relevance it brings to mind a sort of eternal timelessness, which is the way I view W&L and the foundation of life there. And I don’t think it’s innocent or naïve to think that because I know I’m not the only one who’s had that same experience.
Is there anything else you’d like students to know?
I think that the manufacturing industry is one that most W&L students don’t think about entering. It’s not what they would consider to be a cutting-edge or innovative sector of the economy, but it’s a very rewarding one. There’s great satisfaction in playing a role in seeing a product made and go out the door, to see something that you’ve influenced, where you can help control and affect the quality. Maybe hearing some of the things I have to say will broaden some of their searches either for internships or after graduation, to consider something in the manufacturing industry or even the food manufacturing industry – it’s a wonderful business. There’s not a greater joy than seeing people enjoy your product – that’s what gets me in there every day.