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The sweet life

| Rebecca Dienger

Baker's son shares his recipe for success

Barry Moullet has found the sweet spot in life. He's old enough to have attained long-term success and still young enough to enjoy it. But Moullet never forgets the people who helped him along the way and looks for opportunities to do the same for others.

"I never thought I would get this far in life," he said. "Now it's about making a difference."

The 1983 UW-Eau Claire chemistry-business graduate recalls a time when he had nothing left to give himself, let alone others.

Moullet was three years into a pre-medicine program at UW-Eau Claire when he got "burned out." His father told him if he didn't know what to do next he should return home to work in the family business.

His parents, Ray and Valeria Moullet, were community fixtures in Bloomer, a small farming community 30 miles north of Eau Claire. They owned the Bloomer Bakery, a bustling shop on the main street of town. It was a haven of sorts for Moullet. He fondly recalls time spent in the bakery with his four siblings when they were children. Sometimes they would stay late with their father, who would make them little beds by the flour sacks where they could sleep while he worked into the night. Moullet would later return to those familiar surroundings before finding his way in the world.

He took his father's advice. During what became a yearlong hiatus from school, Moullet met his future wife, Christine. He asked her to marry him, but she said she wouldn't until he earned his degree.

"Looking back, it's what spurred me to go back and finish up the last year," Moullet said. "She and my mother were probably scheming against me. I knew that it really frustrated my mom that I took that year off. She wanted that opportunity to attend college in the worst way, and because of the Depression she could never get it."

Valeria Moullet had been the salutatorian of her high school class. She was no doubt pleased that her son would complete his education. His father must have been relieved, too. He quietly left a custard-filled long john on the table every morning before his son's commute to Eau Claire, a small token of encouragement Moullet fondly recalls. This is the same good-hearted father who co-signed a loan for a 1974 Pontiac GTO when Moullet was 16 years old.

"A pretty nice ride for a kid," Moullet said. "But I worked all summer to make the payments. My dad knew that if I wanted that car I would have to keep working."

Moullet went on to graduate but soon encountered another obstacle. With his new chemistry-business degree in hand he thought he'd go into sales. However, the economy wasn't good and job opportunities were scarce.

His brother Randy, who now runs the bakery, was reading a trade magazine and found a job advertisement that fit Moullet perfectly. The Pillsbury Co. in Minneapolis was looking for someone with a chemistry degree and a bakery background to do research and development.

"Of all places, I never thought I'd end up back in the bakery business!"

His first boss was the aptly named Charles Wise, who, like Moullet's mother, wanted something for him that he never had himself. The company paid for him to obtain a master of business administration degree with a concentration in finance at St. Thomas College. When final exams came around, Wise would instruct Moullet to go back to his desk and study during the last hour of the workday.

Whether it's work or life, it's all the same. Love what you do and love who you are doing it with. That combination gets real powerful. —Barry Moullet

"He was so good to me," Moullet said. "It was very important to him that I get that degree. He felt that not having one held him back in his career, and he was one of the sharpest individuals I've met."

Moullet said his experience at Pillsbury set the tone for the rest of his professional life. He has remained in the food industry his entire career, enjoying success with Pillsbury, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Restaurant Services, a purchasing cooperative for Burger King Corp. He currently is senior vice president of supply chain and development for Darden Restaurants Inc., based in Orlando, Fla. Darden is the world's largest company-owned-and-operated restaurant company with such establishments as Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse.

Moullet's position puts him in touch with international suppliers and exposes him to many world cultures. His team is responsible for upward of $2.5 billion in annual capital and food expenditures.

And yes, he got the girl. He and Christine married soon after he graduated. They now reside in Windermere, Fla., just outside of Orlando, and spend time in Bloomer and at their lake home in Chetek each summer. Their daughter, Samantha, will graduate from Cornell University this spring.

The value of higher education has had a lasting hold on Moullet. Today he sits on the UW-Eau Claire Foundation board of directors. He was a UW-Eau Claire Alumni Association President's Award recipient in 2008. He's also been guest lecturer at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, N.Y., since 2000, speaking several times a year on such topics as purchasing, distribution, sustainability and the state of the restaurant business in general.

If he’s learned anything he can pass along to others it’s that an education can translate into extraordinary opportunities. He and Christine are endowing the Ray and Valeria Moullet Scholarship through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. The fund provides an annual award of $6,000 to a Bloomer High School graduate. If the student performs well academically, the scholarship may be renewed for another $6,000 the following year.

According to Christine Moullet, they decided that they could do more with this one gift than if they spread their money around.

“Sometimes you have to put all of your eggs in one basket because it can be more powerful,” she said.

The scholarship is one of the Foundation’s largest endowed funds, awarded for the first time in 2009.

“To do that in honor of my parents was really fulfilling, knowing my mother always wanted that and we were able to make it happen at her school,” Barry Moullet said.

It appears that the extraordinary kindness Moullet’s early mentors showed him made a big impression on him, too. He has helped elevate the careers of individuals in whom he sees promise. He invited several people from KFC and Burger King to join him in Orlando, and they have either moved into executive positions with Darden or have moved on to leadership positions in other companies.

“He’s an encourager,” Christine Moullet said. “He finds the best of what people can do and makes the most of that.”

Moullet said he thinks of himself as a coach, building a great team and allowing people to grow and even fail, while holding them accountable to deliver.

“Most importantly, I look for ways to stretch them and their abilities,” he said. “People don’t grow unless they are stretched.”

Is there a baker’s secret Moullet can freely share?

“Whether it’s work or life, it’s all the same,” Moullet said. “Love what you do and love who you are doing it with. That combination gets real powerful.”

Photos by Bill Hoepner