All posts by Sandra Cox Birchfield

EPIC Spotlight: Daymara Baker

It’s bread with benefits.

That’s the catch phrase Daymara Baker uses when describing her business, Rockin’ Baker, a bakery tucked inside a small Fayetteville plaza among a bicycle shop and microbrewery. Loaves sport catchy names like The Grateful Bread Sourdough and Butterfield Trail Mix Sourdough (Baker’s culinary training took place in San Francisco, the unofficial sour dough capital of the world and, thus, there’s a wide selection). Lunch offerings include salads and a variety of sandwiches from vegetarian to beefsteak.

But behind it all is Baker’s drive to help people become self-sufficient through the Rockin’ Baker Academy. They could include victims of domestic violence, those who have been in jail or have special needs – anyone who face challenges integrating into mainstream society, she says.

The idea of combining a bakery with the academy came to her while on a plane, reading a book, as she traveled to see her parents during the spring of 2015.

“The concept was vivid,” she recalls. “It was like a movie.”

She worked out the details, thousands of feet in the air.

“When I landed, it was a little scary – the feeling,” she says.

But she wasn’t afraid to take risks. She already knew the realities of financial loss from her home country of Venezuela, when an economic collapse during the 1990s caused her to lose 64 percent of her savings. She survived and knew if this didn’t work, she would survive again.

Baker consulted an executive coach to brainstorm on potential professional routes to take after working in the corporate world for decades. After sharing her vision for Rockin’ Baker and being asked, “What’s holding you back?,” Baker decided to take the risk and started setting up her business, which included enrolling in the San Francisco Baking Institute in California. When she completed the program, she went to Cincinnati, Ohio, to apprentice at an artisan bakeshop. One of the institute’s founders, Michel Suas, helped her with her shop’s layout and Baker researched equipment. Bill Fox, director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center, assisted with the marketing research and business pro forma to secure a small business loan.

When it all fell into place, she rented space in the Creekside Plaza on Mall Avenue in Fayetteville, hired employees – she currently oversees four – and on Veteran’s Day, 2016, she opened Rockin’ Baker, a play on words that gives her name new meaning.

Baker’s winding journey to Northwest Arkansas from her native La Guaira, Venezuela, began in southern Arkansas when she attended college at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. She completed her bachelor’s degree in only two years and then enrolled at the Walton College, where she worked as a graduate assistant for Rita Littrell, director of the Bessie B. Moore Center for Economic Education.

After earning her MBA in 1999, Baker served as an account executive with Thompson Murray, which eventually was sold to Saatchi & Saatchi, a global communications and advertising agency with an office in Springdale.

She made a discovery at the job. “That’s when I realized I was more of a people person,” she says.

A successful career with various companies and positions enabled her to interact with others as she worked on promotional strategies for The Integer Group’s Northwest Arkansas office before joining Chiquita Brands International, a stint that lasted almost a decade and led her to be named Chiquita’s Sales Director of the Year.

Throughout Baker’s busy schedule, she has made time for community service, including co-founding the Community Creative Center, a nonprofit art studio and visual arts organization located in the Walton Arts Center’s Nadine Baum Studios in Fayetteville.

And her schedule continues to be a busy one. A typical day at the shop begins at 4 a.m. and ends often when the sun sets. She bakes and makes goods that are similar to the kinds originally found in Venezuelan bakeries. She incorporates sandwiches, salads, beverages and sweets among her offerings. “People are very appreciative of the lunch that we serve because everything is made from scratch,” she says.

Her routine could soon include cadet bakers – participants in the Rockin’ Baker Academy who learn life skills while gaining on-the-job experience by producing a variety of sourdough breads and other delicacies. The Academy has partnered with Brightwater, A Center for the Study of Food, at NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville. She also serves and sells products from Arkansas businesses such as Onyx Coffee Lab, Kyya Chocolate, Savoy Tea Company, Patagonia Bee Products and extra virgin olive oils and vinegars from the Raimondo Family Winery.

Through these associations and skills taught, Baker hopes the cadets will be empowered to find a job in the culinary industry or even explore entrepreneurship.

“This is a bakery with a mission,” she says.

EPIC Spotlight: Bjorn Simmons

If you think marketing and entrepreneurship pertains only to business, guess again. Bjorn Simmons will tell you that entrepreneurial spirit and a know-how attitude can effect change in many aspects of life, whether it’s helping free a man wrongfully imprisoned or creating a tool that can benefit businesses globally. Continue reading EPIC Spotlight: Bjorn Simmons

EPIC Spotlight: Ross Lawrence

Many fresh college graduates look for exciting careers in big cities like Chicago or New York.

Ross Lawrence was one of them. With a bachelor’s degree in finance, he applied to more than 70 jobs in the Windy City and Big Apple. Then he decided he’d give Nevada, Missouri, a try.

It changed everything.

Less than five years after earning his degree, he became CEO and owner of Hoffman Financial Resources LLC, a dually registered affiliate with LPL Financial, the largest organization of independent financial advisers in the United States. He manages four full-time employees and about $120 million in investment assets from clients in 34 states.

He has a huge responsibility to his clients. “They literally entrust me with their life savings,” he says.

When Lawrence began applying for finance jobs with big banks, he became keenly interested in owning a firm. Walton College’s Career Center posted an ad for an associate wealth adviser with a firm in a Missouri town of about 8,000 people. Lawrence applied for the job with a mission in mind: he wanted to buy it.

He wasn’t shy about it, either. At age 22, during the interview process, he announced his intentions to the firm’s founder and owner, Greg Hoffman, who was entertaining the idea of retiring within the next ten to fifteen years. He took Lawrence seriously. The two worked out a purchase plan and, as of January 2016, Lawrence assumed ownership.

Now he tells students and new graduates to not be shy. Many firms are owned by baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – who are retiring and need someone skilled to take over and make sure their clients are taken care of. They’re often in cities and towns where there’s little competition for financial planning, which makes for good opportunities, Lawrence says.

A Fayetteville native, Lawrence initially majored in biology with the idea he would be an oral surgeon. He soon switched gears, however, when he received a tip for a promising stock. Though he ended up not making the investment, it got the wheels spinning. He Googled “finance,” grabbed his best suit and began asking for internships at area firms. He found one at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in Rogers, where he worked for two years while finishing his degree.

The decision to change majors also delayed his graduation. To catch up, he went to summer school while working two business-related internships and at the Olive Garden restaurant.

During this time, the Great Recession took hold. Lawrence saw bad financial advising at this time, as well as good. The bad, in fact, was so awful he vowed to be an adviser who always puts his clients’ needs first.

With motivation in place, Lawrence took advantage of his Walton education. Mark Zweig’s entrepreneurship class proved to be very important and was where he learned the differences between the types of business ownership and the tax advantages of each. He says he still uses the Excel spreadsheets from his financial modeling class. And, of course, without the Career Center, he might have never known about Hoffman Financial Resources.

Since taking over, Lawrence is expanding his firm to Fayetteville and spends at least a couple of days a week there. His goal is simple: to keep growing the firm by providing the best client experience possible.

“When it comes to financial planning and investing most people just hope that they are doing things the right way, we make sure that it’s not just ‘hope’ that’s guiding them” he says.