RICHMOND, VA — It can be said that the world is made up of two kinds of people: those who run away from a fire and those who run to it. Ken Newsome, CEO of Markel Food Group, falls into the latter category, though he’s more apt to call it simply being in the right place at the right time.

This March, he will find himself on the stage at BakingTECH in Chicago being inducted into the American Society of Baking Hall of Fame.

From the early days in his career, Newsome, a Virginia native, aspired to leadership in manufacturing. So, when the call came in recruiting him for the president position at AMF Bakery Systems, he was all in. But there was a hitch: Newsome also learned the company was for sale.

While some executives might see a red flag, Newsome saw the opportunity of a lifetime. With no baking industry experience — his background was in healthcare — he not only took the position but also bought the company with a group of local investors.

Since then, Newsome has spent nearly a quarter century helping to build AMF Bakery Systems and its parent company Markel Food Group into a key global supplier of equipment and systems for the bakery and snack industries.

“I was very fortunate that those circumstances dropped me here at a time when I think the industry was ready for transformation,” Newsome said. “We have been very fortunate to be part of that.”


When Markel Ventures looked at purchasing AMF, Tom Gayner, Markel Corporation CEO, knew Newsome to be the guy who was willing to invest everything he had, personally and professionally, for the right opportunity. Today, Markel Food Group, composed of AMF Bakery Systems, Reading Bakery Systems (RBS) and Solbern, is a successful component of the $3 billion Markel Ventures portfolio.

“That all started with a conversation I had with Tom Gayner many, many years ago,” Newsome recalled. “When opportunities happened, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to move toward them. I’m just lucky in that regard.”

That’s the thing about Newsome: He may be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, but he also has the vision to see what possibilities are hidden beneath the surface.

And that vision has been instrumental in the global success of the Markel Food Group brands.

“One of the top two fundamental trends is globalization,” Newsome said. “At the end of the day, there will be more human beings on the planet next year versus this year, and they’ll be making more money; that’s a fundamental economic reality that undergirds everything. When people have more disposable income, they typically spend more on food. We have been able to ride the wave of global population growth, especially in terms of consumer spending.”

After globalization’s impact on spending, Newsome noted the second biggest trend impacting the industry is the consolidation of commercial baking companies. It affects equipment suppliers on two fronts, he said, adding complexity to how business is done in baking.

The first way is that every supplier must sharpen their specialization and become best-in-class in their area of expertise, whether that’s manufacturing mixers or developing oven technology.

“We talk about winning that specialization battle because what we do has to be great,” he said. “It always has to start with best-in-class equipment.”

“When opportunities happened, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to move toward them. I’m just lucky in that regard.” —Ken Newsome | CEO | Markel Food Group


On the flip side, he noted, the uptick in bakery consolidation often means fewer companies wanting to invest in equipment from several different suppliers, especially if it means the bakery is left to figure out how to integrate it into one operation or with an ERP system across several facilities.

This is a driving force behind supplier consolidation such as Markel’s acquisition of RBS and Solbern, as well as integrating Tromp, BakeTech, Den Boer and, most recently, Workhorse into the AMF brand. It creates end-to-end solutions that bakers can choose from with the confidence of best-in-class specialization for each point in the process, all from practically one source.

“Customers want an integrated solution, whether that’s managing risk, managing connection or even managing internal systems,” Newsome said. “We call this the battle for ‘and,’ meaning, we have these great integrated solutions, but we also have to be the best in class for each step of the process: the best mixers, the best proofers, ovens, baggers and so on. We have to simultaneously be the best in class for each of these pieces, while delivering equipment from multiple sites with a seamless startup.”

Newsome’s eye on globalization has on some level provided the means to win that “battle for and” because he recognized that globalization went beyond consumers’ economic impact and was changing how baking companies were operating. In terms of the globalization and consolidation trends, the first has essentially led to the second.

“It’s about being where the customers are,” Newsome said. “For us to be the global leader we aspire to be, we must have all our expertise in every region of the world.”


He has discovered it not only streamlines sales, currency and customer service, but it also solves for capacity issues, lead times and even sustainability.

“It takes time to ship something across the ocean,” he said. “That involves the boats, fuel and other factors that can make it a slower, less sustainable process.”

These are challenges that nearly every manufacturing company around the world is facing right now. With the global supply chain still in disarray and consumers placing a high demand on sustainability practices, it’s critical for companies to place their operations strategically: something Markel Food Group has achieved. It has factories located around the world, including the largest American equipment manufacturing facility in China, facilities throughout Europe, the Americas and more.

This sharp vision helps Markel Food Group brands navigate more disruption than the baking industry has perhaps ever seen, and while it may have ultimately stemmed from Newsome’s decision to buy AMF rather than simply lead it, he attributes that success to something much deeper.

He believes it’s about being all in. The most successful baking companies — whether on the bakery or supplier side — are those with leaders who are willing to put everything in for the good of the company and industry.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past 25 years, it’s that if you’re all in for the industry, the industry will be all in for you.”

And in those more than two dozen years, he’s seen the benefits of going all in; all he has to do is look around Markel Food Group.

“All of this isn’t about me; it’s never about one person,” he said. “To me, it’s about 900 men and women around the world who care deeply about what they do and about each other. I’m fortunate to be part of this amazing time, but it’s truly about the people who are doing the work.”