- Earlier last month, we had Darren Telepanich, Director of R&D at Sofina Foods, speak with us in the second virtual iteration of our Career Exploration Series. During this presentation, Darren shared his experience in the food manufacturing sector.
Darren studied Chemical Engineering Technology at Mohawk College and has 20 years of R&D experience in the food manufacturing sector. Darren currently works in the meat industry where he and his R&D team develop products with Canadians’ values, preferences, and dietary needs in mind. What makes the meat industry special is how the products are truly Canadian and is a rewarding industry to be in.
How did Darren get here?
Darren started his career when he took a co-op placement at Maple Leaf Foods. He learned as much as he could, and throughout his early career, he found that performance is a function environment, capability, and attitude:
- An ideal environment would be a place where the company or the people you work for invest in your growth.
- Capability is what we learn from school.
- The most important attribute he finds is attitude, the “will I or won’t I”.
You may not have the capability today, but if you choose to, you will build that capability tomorrow. When we get our start somewhere, it is up to us to take ourselves to where we want to go in life. He advised to seek out responsibility and challenges to grow in our careers.
When he moved from Maple Leaf Foods to Canada Bread, this transition was challenging because Darren knew nothing about bread science and it felt like going back to Step 1. Darren overcame the technical specifics through engaging with the business by quickly learning about the bakery. Acknowledging his leadership skills and business acumen helped him address the consumer/business needs to succeed in a new environment. This pivot in his career was an empowering experience.
What is R&D about in the food industry?
Research and Development involves design and implementation of products within the constraints of health, safety, and budget requirements. From his experience, R&D solves for consumers wants and needs, and juggles conflicting requirements such as:
- Taste without jeopardizing health
- Unique but cost efficient
- Natural but safe to eat
Why does Darren love what he does?
- His role enables him to be inventive to solve problems, unleashing his creative side.
- His role incubates personal growth through the challenges he faces.
- He loves helping his teammates grow to their full potential and achieve success.
- He enjoys how interconnected R&D is across the company, as he often meets staff from different departments such as Sales, Marketing, and Finance on projects.
- The feeling of pride he gets when he sees customers purchase products his team is responsible for developing.
What does a day of an R&D director look like?
As a director, Darren is involved in all areas of the project life-cycle. There is a lot of variety, thus, no two days are the same. His day does typically involve:
- Research – what are the goals and constraints?
- Planning – product and project timelines
- Execution – the moment of truth
- Direction – where do you go next?
How did chemistry help him get here?
When Darren started his career, he worked with colleagues who had food science and culinary backgrounds. He felt like the odd duck at first, but he soon realized his own set of strengths were equally as important. Thanks to his academic background, he understood processes, such as cooking, chilling, and drying, and manufacturing as a whole. Understanding the limitations, capabilities of machines and human dynamics were also factors that contributed to his success as a leader.
The key to his career growth came back to his attitude. He mentioned, “We won’t know everything but as long as you continue learning, everything will turn out okay,” and that “everyone will have to learn something new”, no matter what their background is.
Other key advice from Darren
In the Q&A, these were some of the key pieces of advice that Darren had also shared:
- People will have different starting points, whether it is having a university degree, college diploma, or other forms of education and specific training. There is always more education and qualifications you can have; however, at the end of the day, as you grow in your career, your success will be dependent on your track record and the effort you put into your work.
- Take advantage of projects that have been worked on previously and that have been “handed down” to you. Darren comments that these opportunities that he succeeded in are part of the reason for how he was able to climb the ranks over the years. He also advises that what you should be looking for are opportunities for growth because promotions are the result of the right actions you take.
- When thinking about where you want to be in the future, do not pin it down to titles. Darren advises to think more about what makes you happy and what that looks like; aim for the feeling you desire at your career destination. Ideas to ponder about include if you want to take the lead and handle the responsibilities or if you want to be a support for a large team with your creativity.
This event was made possible thanks to the CIC Chemical Education Fund (CEF).