How and when did you become involved in the baking industry?
A I started in the baking industry in 1977, as a trainee manager at Skeltons in Hull.
Prior to that, though, I had a background in retail. I’ve never been a baker as such.
My forte is retail, and I am currently working as the retail operations manager for 50-shop chain Birds The Confectioners. I have worked for them for over 17 years.
How did you become involved with the NA?
A I went along to the local Nottingham and District Master Bakers’ Association in about 1994 and eventually became president of that organisation.
I then got involved in the East Midlands regional association. We used to get together and tell each other, "This is how much we’re charging for mince pies, this is how much we’re charging for hot cross buns and so on." Then, as soon as we all got back to our businesses, we charged what we wanted anyway.
Becoming involved in the NA was a natural progression from there. I was involved in the parliamentary committee, which I chaired for a few years. I was a director for another few years and was then given the honour of becoming president.
How did you feel when you were approached to be president?
A I was absolutely delighted. I’m over half way through my term and it has been superb. There’s a lot of work to do, which does eat into my time. I’ve been very fortunate that Birds has allowed me to serve the NA for the year.
What is interesting is that you get the opportunity to visit other companies and meet lots of like-minded people. Having been in the industry for a long time, I felt it was my opportunity to give something back. Let’s face it, the industry looks after me, my family and all our employees.
How much spare time do you give up to be president?
A This is the only downside of this role. It has peaks and troughs really; there are a lot of meetings and I spend a lot of time talking with head office, but I get some great trips. At the end of the day, I was under no pretence that it wouldn’t take up a lot of my time. I wouldn’t have taken on the role if I couldn’t have given 100%.
How do you think that the NA helps bakeries?
A The association helps bakers in many ways, particularly in terms of helping them understand legislation.
The business days that we run are also a very important part of what we do. The ones we’ve held in Derby have attracted people from as far afield as Somerset, Scotland, Lancashire, London, wherever. We’re very proud of that.
The NA has also developed an online Basic Hygiene certificate and training facility. We use it at Birds. It’s great because it means that we don’t need to send staff out on training days; they can simply work from a computer. It is also available in Polish and, soon, Portuguese.
How do you feel about the membership figures going down each year?
A It’s extremely unfortunate, but we have to be realistic and, every year, re-assess the running costs of the NA, making efficiencies and savings where we can, so as not to keep hiking up membership costs. We want our existing members to feel like they are getting value for money. It’s an important association, providing an important role to members.
It’s sad to say, but there really are more and more bakeries going out of business each year, although I do passionately believe that there is a place for craft bakers on the high street. You have to look at your business realistically, not through rose-tinted glasses, and consider all the positive and negative elements.
Why have you stayed in the industry since 1977?
A What I like about the baking industry is that if anyone has a problem, there’s always someone who can help with advice or guidance. That’s a real credit to the industry. We have a good relationship with all our members. Only the other morning [Canvey Island bakery] BB Grouts rang me about a shop fitting and [Welsh bakery] David Jenkins rang me about tills.
How will you feel when you’re no longer president?
I’ll be happy to hand over the baton and hope that future presidents will enjoy the role as much as I have. n
=== At a glance ===
l Mike Holling was made president of the National Association of Master Bakers (NA) on 5 May, 2007. The NA represents the interests of the craft baking industry in England and Wales
l He has been in the industry since 1977
l Holling works as a retail operations manager at Birds the Confectioners in Derby, which has 50 outlets
l He has been president of the regional Nottingham and District Master Bakers’ association, was involved in the NA’s parliamentary committee, and then became an NA director for a few years
l Having been in the industry for a long time, Holling felt this was his opportunity to give something back