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In coming days, Senior Process Associate Chris Gambino will be one of Haskell’s representatives at the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), visiting with attendees about cutting-edge solutions in food manufacturing facilities. It wasn’t too long ago, however, that Gambino was on the other end of those conversations dealing with Haskell as a client.
With that rare dual perspective, he is a unique and informative resource on virtually all facets of designing, building, equipping and operating an industrial bakery.
He tells a compelling story of how he met, worked alongside and ultimately joined Haskell, Engineering News-Record’s (ENR) No. 1-ranked Food & Beverage Manufacturing Contractor.
After 10 years as an engineer with Kellogg’s, Gambino took a position with frozen pancake maker De Wafelbakkers as the technical lead on a brownfield plant project in McDonough, Georgia, where, upon completion, he would serve as the plant engineer. De Wafelbakkers chose Haskell to design and build the project, and he became a key liaison between the parties.
“The project had an aggressive schedule,” he said. “I think from the time we started until the time we finished was nine months, and that was taking a building and completely renovating it and getting all the equipment put in place and up and running.
“The thing that stood out to me most during that project was that when we ran into issues, I never worried about them because they were always solved. The way the team handled things on site gave me tremendous confidence that if we hit a hurdle, it would be taken care of. I saw a level of engagement with the folks from Haskell that I had never seen with any other engineering company I’d worked with.”
The structure that would become the McDonough plant was originally built in 1996, and the update took place in 2010, so much had changed in terms of zoning and codes. Haskell provided architectural work, engineering across the disciplines, including process design, and construction.
“The easiest way to explain this as an accountability issue,” he said. “I’ve worked with other engineering companies whose focus was, ’How do I cover myself so that I don't get into to any issues if something goes wrong?’ There would be tremendous effort to point the finger in someone else's direction. Because Haskell was fully integrated, that was never the case when we were on site. While that project was running, we knew when we walked into that construction trailer that the problem was going to be accepted as a problem, that it was going to be fixed and we were going to move on. The accountability was there.”
Gambino and the De Wafelbakkers team did much of the process integration work, yet he said Haskell’s team remained an invaluable resource outside their contractual responsibility.
“They were constantly coming to us and saying, ‘You need to watch for these things,’ even if it was outside the purview of what they were doing,” he said. “They could explain to us what was going on because none of us had a lot of experience with construction projects.
“As we ran the plant, I could see the output of those decisions that were made when we were going through the design phase. They had brought in people that were food safety experts. In the 10 years that I was there, that plant had a Safe Quality Food (SQF) score average of 98 (out of 100). It was a really easy place to maintain. And again, it was largely because we picked really good stuff when we built it, and we listened to Haskell’s people as they told us how to build a facility.”
When construction and commissioning were complete, Gambino spent three years as plant engineer and the following seven as plant manager. In that time, he remained in contact with Keith Perkey, Haskell’s Vice President of Manufacturing Solutions, and Haskell’s Atlanta-based team. Often, when Perkey had a prospective client wishing to see an example of its work, Gambino would proudly open the doors at De Wafelbakkers’ McDonough plant.
When he decided he was ready to return to the technical side of the industry after 10 years of plant administration, Haskell was high on his list of calls. With a decade of varied experience with Kellogg’s – ranging from Pop Tarts to cookies and cereal to fruit snacks to agglomerated foods, such as Rice Krispie Treats and granola bars – and another administrating an entire facility, he was a natural fit for Haskell, VP of Process Manufacturing Shawn Hubbard said.
“He was a great addition to our team and just gives us more experience we can bring to the table,” Hubbard said. “Really what I saw was his ability to understand and know the people, the food sciences and the processes involved with making it all work.”
Gambino joined Haskell in December 2019, and his two years with the company have only deepened his appreciation for its capabilities and approach.
In terms of process design and integration, the team’s subject matter expertise runs the gamut:
And while technical expertise is crucial, the fact that many Haskell team members buttress their knowledge with operational experience.
“Because I know baking, I know the practical applications. For example, in the baking world, how fast dough moves from one place to another is a really important part of the process. It has nothing to do with the equipment we're installing, and it has nothing to do with the project itself. But that time, especially with yeast products, is super-important because if you don't hold it at those stages for the correct times, it doesn't turn out right.
“That's where practical experience is helpful, and everyone here is like that. We have people in all the disciplines who have operations experience. The importance of this experience is knowing what questions to ask. When you're building a plan and you're looking at what these tradeoffs you can make, we’re able to talk about it. It’s understanding and relating, ‘Yes, you could put that there, but this is what you to need to think about when you do sanitation or when you do maintenance.’”
Reflecting in the days leading up to IBIE, Gambino summarized the key points he would want prospective project owners to take away regarding Haskell.
Remembering his own experience as a client and the pace of the project that took De Wafelbakkers from preconstruction to production in just nine months, Gambino said the one surprise he encountered in joining Haskell was that an up-tempo project cadence was the rule rather than the exception.
“I will tell you that I still marvel at the speed of what can get done,” he said. “When we were doing our project at De Wafelbakkers, we had fast-tracked it, so I knew that they could work fast. But that rate of speed that seemed really impressive to me at the time, it seems like a fairly everyday level of work in Haskell.”
Ultimately, though, after two years, Gambino said that what he saw as a Haskell client is what he’s gotten as a Haskell team member.
“What I saw as a client is largely what I see as somebody inside Haskell,” he said. “There's a level of transparency with Haskell that I don't think exists with other companies. I’ve never noticed, since I’ve been here, that a curtain has been pulled back and revealed all these magical things happening in the background. It's just that there is a group of really, really engaged people who are out to do a really good job. And when you have teams like that, there isn't anything to hide. That transparency on projects, ultimately, is what keeps vendors and clients coming back.
Visit our interactive IBIE website, and if you’re attending the Expo, come visit us at Booth No. 7449 in the North Hall!
Haskell delivers more than $1.5 billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,000 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.
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