Finding Hope in Brownies

At Greyston Bakery, they believe a job can change everything. That’s why, if you want a job, they give you a job – no questions asked.

When Dion Drew walked into Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, nine years ago looking for a job, he had no resume and no references. He didn’t even have a suit and tie. What he did have was a desire to work and turn his life around, to get out of the life he’d known in southwest Yonkers and support a family.

He walked out with a job.

That’s how we do things at Greyston Bakery. If you want a job, we give you a job – no questions asked. There are no applications, no interviews, no background checks. You have a rap sheet but no resume – no problem. You’d like to work but need childcare – we can help with that.  Where traditional HR departments focus more narrowly on job requirements and performance indicators, we focus on the person.

Greyston bakes nearly 40,000 pounds of brownies a day (more than 7 million a year) with some of the most unlikely employees in charge. That includes people like Dion who now supervises people who face a range of employment challenges, including single parenthood, histories of incarceration, language barriers and more. As we like to say, we don’t hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people.

Mike Brady’s passion for social entrepreneurism is fundamental to his work at Greyston Bakery.

A job can change everything

Greyston is a private company started 36 years ago by Bernard Glassman, an aerospace engineer turned Zen Buddhist monk. Looking for a business that would allow him to follow Buddhism’s non-judgmental tenets, Bernie and his wife, Sandra Jishu Holmes, decided on a bakery.

As it turns out, Bernie was practicing corporate social responsibility before most people knew there was such a thing. He believed that everyone would benefit when people have the opportunity to participate in our economy and contribute to a business and its values.

He filled the bakery’s first few positions with people he met on the street. If someone wanted a job, he gave them a job. Bernie always said that a job could change everything.

Greyston continues to practice that belief, hiring not only without regard to color, faith, sexual orientation and ethnicity, but also regardless of prison records, relevant experience and myriad other obstacles that could stand in the way.

We call that practice Open Hiring.

In 1982, Greyston began baking specialty cakes and other custom orders for locals. We’re now a $25 million company with customers like Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever, Delta Air Lines and Whole Foods.

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Growth and success haven’t deterred our no-questions-asked hiring policy.

Partnerships include the one we have with UPS, which helps us deliver fresh brownies to our customers. We’re proud of the fact that our growth has made Greyston one of the lynchpins in Yonkers’ downtown rejuvenation.

Profits from the bakery support the non-profit Greyston Foundation. The Bakery, which is owned by the 501(c)(3) Foundation, provides housing for formerly homeless individuals with HIV/AIDS, healthcare, community gardens and a Workforce Development program for low-income residents of Yonkers.

Through the company’s Workforce Development Program, Greyston is helping train community members for jobs in construction, home healthcare, food and banquet preparation and security. Since its start a few years ago, more than 500 graduates of the program have been placed in 300 local companies.

Open Hiring at work

Growth and success haven’t deterred our no-questions-asked hiring policy. Every member of our production team, 78 employees in all, joined Greyston through our Open Hiring program. During its 35-year history, the program has provided more than 3,500 jobs to individuals in Southwest Yonkers.

Here’s how it works: People who want a job come to the bakery on Alexander Street in Yonkers and add their names to the waiting list. In six to 12 months, they get a call that there’s a job on the production floor baking brownies (everybody starts by baking brownies). During a six- to 10-month apprenticeship period, and before full-time employment, they must have perfect attendance and prove they can handle the job.

We don’t mind saying that we have a clear accountability practice with Open Hiring so dismissing people from Greyston is not uncommon. Not everyone is up to the tasks the jobs require. Some don’t end up sharing our standards or values.

But a 12 percent turnover rate – far below the national average of 30 to 70 percent in similar industries – is evidence that Open Hiring does work for us.

There’s also the financial argument. Traditional hiring practices, which include identifying candidates, background checks and interviewing, end up costing U.S. businesses more than $4,000 per hire, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. We can invest that money back into the business and into our people.

Dion Drew is proof that if you’re willing to change your life, Greyston Bakery can help make it happen.

A transformative business model

We believe our business model can work for other companies too. That’s why earlier this year we established The Center for Open Hiring and formalized a curriculum for our model. It’s a place where companies can send representatives to see Open Hiring at work.

Anyone who is skeptical should talk to Dion.

“Before coming to Greyston, I didn’t like who I was. I wanted to change, but I had no idea where to go or how to start,” he said. “Without Greyston, I’d still be on the streets – likely dead or in jail. I’m proof that if you’re willing to change your life, Greyston can help make it happen.”

I say the proof is in the pudding … and in the brownies.

All photos courtesy of Greyston Bakery.

Mike Brady is the CEO and President of Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York. Since joining Greyston Bakery in 2012, he continues to build on the company’s long heritage of creating opportunities for anyone who wants a job.

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