Life is sweet working with Episcopal Retirement Services President and CEO Laura Lamb, who this month celebrated her 30th anniversary with the not-for-profit company.
Sweet, as in accompanied by cupcakes and other baked goods. She’s a focused executive – very analytical, a biology major who loves data and spreadsheets. But she also loves people, and cooking and baking.
One way ERS President and CEO Laura Lamb expresses person-centeredness is by sharing baked goods with team members and residents.
Laura regularly bakes things and gives them to those she works with, often on birthdays or anniversaries, but sometimes just because she wants to make them smile.
“I don't think there's another CEO that does that – anyplace,” says Laura’s good friend, Pat Donaldson, who lives in ERS’ Deupree House retirement community in Cincinnati’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Pat suspects there isn’t a chief executive officer anywhere in the United States who expresses love for colleagues and residents through self-baked desserts.
A very caring atmosphere
Team members across ERS and its various properties also often are delighted by the delectable treats Laura concocts in her kitchen. Employees who recently ate some of her cupcakes described them as delicious, “insane,” and some of the best they’ve ever tasted. Her frosting received praise for having just the right amount of sweetness. Would you believe she adds salt?
It started innocently enough around 2017, shortly after Laura was elevated to CEO, when she and a team of about nine ERS leaders were holding three-hour meetings each month. The meetings were important – not ones that anyone dreaded, but also not gatherings that participants were delighted to see on their calendars.
“There were a couple of people on the team who loved sweets,” Laura said.
Surprisingly, sweets are not Laura’s thing, even though she bakes something every week of the year, at least once – sometimes, two or three times. Rather than sweets, she prefers salty popcorn or other savory snacks. But her husband and two grown children crave the sweet stuff.
At one of these three-hour-long afternoon gatherings, Girl Scout cookies had just come out, and Laura was surprised by the way the thin mints vanished.
“So I got this crazy idea that I would provide a snack at every meeting,” she said. And Laura, who has a chart for almost everything she does, started looking around the room at the others, and began thinking about each of their birth dates.
“Very quickly, I thought for every meeting that we’d attend, either I could celebrate somebody's birthday, or I could celebrate a holiday,” she said.
“But I didn't say anything to anybody,” Laura added. “I just decided that that's what I was going to do.”
Some of Laura Lamb's delicious cupcakes.
Cupcakes not only are pretty, but they’re portion-controlled, unlike a cake, she notes. Plus, if you give people flavors that are special to them, that can add a small thrill to their day. Word spread, and others asked for baked goods. Laura can make two-dozen cupcakes in less than an hour.
She also conjures other treats, such as the creamed honey she gave out this past holiday season, which looks like it would sell in a pricy city boutique, and can be used in tea, on oatmeal, granola, or toast.
Relaxation for her, treats for others
“I love data,” Laura said. “But if I don't have a creative outlet, I get really antsy.”
That’s where baking and cooking help.
When she gets home after a tough day and her husband asks if he can take her out for dinner, she declines. Those are the days she makes her most complicated recipes. She’ll turn on her music, open a good bottle of wine, find her favorite paring knife, and create things.
Pat thinks the baking says a couple of things about Laura: “It says she's very caring, in capital letters. Very caring. But I also think it's good therapy. I think she enjoys it for her own feelings that she's giving again, in another way.”
Pat, who has lived at Deupree House since 2009, also believes Laura’s baking exemplifies the caring that ERS as a whole gives to others. After all, ERS’ Core Values include Relationships, Engagement, and Person-Centeredness. (The others are Integrity, Inclusion and Progressive Thinking).
Related blog: ERS's Ways of Working: Person-Centeredness
Cupcakes and cookies baked by ERS President and CEO Laura Lamb taste even better than they look.
Megan Bradford, ERS’ vice president of Middle Market and Ministry, recalls that during the depths of the COVID pandemic, Laura continued sharing treats through the mail with her and other members of the Servant Leadership Team.
“Despite a global pandemic, she held on to the culture, and the relationships we have as a Servant Leadership Team (SLT), and the value of inclusion,” Megan said. “She didn’t let COVID or distance change that for her.”
On a couple of special occasions when Megan couldn’t be present with the rest of the SLT, “I received a box that was exactly what my other team members had in front of them for our meeting. I think that’s a beautiful example of inclusion.”
“It shows you the caring atmosphere everybody has here for everybody else,” Pat said. “I can say that with almost no exception. People care, and they show it in different ways.”
That’s one of the reasons ERS has been named a Top Workplace in Cincinnati for 14 straight years.
“And the atmosphere, the ambience, around here is unlike any other place that I have had any contact with,” Pat said. When Pat speaks with friends who live at other retirement campuses, the friends will mention certain things. “And I'll say, ‘Oh, we do this at Deupree.’”
“And it’s obvious, the difference in the philosophy,” Pat said. “And it comes from our CEO.”