faces of the frontline: manufacturing’s all stars

Digna Cedillo
Empire Bakery

Leading and inspiring her team with hope and humor

When Digna stepped onto the factory floor at Empire Bakery in Rocky Mount, Virginia, she brought with her an innate ability to face challenges with optimism and inspire others to do the same. As production lead and decorator, her 24 years at Empire have resulted in opportunities to harness new technological tools like Redzone to lead teams, build new skills, and find unique ways to solve problems.

Every day, she leads and inspires her team with hope and humor. She recalls one day when she was short on decorators and needed to reassign some of her non-decorators to fill the staffing gap.

The non-decorators pushed back, saying they didn’t have the skills, but Digna didn’t take no for an answer. She believed in them. She knew they could do it. She trained them step-by-step, starting small with borders and leaves and improving their skills from there. It wasn’t long before they were happy with the job — so happy that they asked her to take photos of their work and send them to other members of the team.

VP and General Manager Eric Johnson was beyond impressed. “We talk about these initiatives that she’s taking on — training people who had no real interest in decorating and doing something new and generating the excitement. How is she able to do that and do it so effectively and get such a strong response? It’s been just tremendous.”

Her ability to motivate extends to problem-solving as well. Digna is a known advocate of the ‘5 Whys,’ a method for uncovering the root cause of an issue. Her team came across a problem with the production of icing one day. They told her that the icing was bad, but couldn’t determine how it happened or what the solution was. Digna started asking questions.

Why did they think the icing was bad? Well, they observed that the icing was hard when it was supposed to be soft. Why was the icing hard? Maybe because it was too close to the cooler. They checked to see if this was true. They continued down this thought pathway, asking more “why” questions until they found the root of the problem. This exploration made the issue much easier to fix.

In addition to inspiring her team to brainstorm solutions, Digna uses Redzone to hold regular huddles to discuss solutions, review cases, and make sure everyone knows their goals. If they are short on cases, Digna immediately jumps in to figure out how to get their numbers back up.

The fuel for her fire starts from within. Digna is internally motivated to take on new projects and learn new skills. “One of the things I love is learning something different every day,” she says.

As a non-native English speaker, she actively pursues opportunities to improve her language skills. When Redzone was introduced, she jumped right in and learned how to use its translation feature to learn English, communicate with her team, and do her job better. And now, she is excited to be expanding her role beyond decorating to quality.

But this commitment to self-growth hasn’t come without some pretty significant bumps in the road. Last year, she unexpectedly started feeling under the weather. Her health declined until, one day, she had a seizure at work. Her team, including the production manager Beth, immediately came to her rescue, anxious to understand what was wrong and how they could help. “I just remember seeing Beth for the last time,” she says — this was just before she lost consciousness.

She was soon diagnosed with a brain tumor and admitted to hospital for an emergency operation. After some testing, it was determined that the tumor was benign, but her doctors still felt it was important for her to undergo radiation to reduce the tumor and ensure it wouldn’t spread.

Her radiation treatments lasted six weeks, and she was out of work for a total of three months. But she had made a significant impact on her team, and they made sure to check in on her regularly. Her contributions to the team were so important that she was chosen as a finalist for a compliance award. The team called her at home and shared the news with her over the phone.

“That day, my depression just went away,” says Digna. “It made me so happy.”

As she recovers, Digna’s journey exemplifies the strength and spirit that has made her an inspiration to her colleagues, who gained a better understanding of how precious every second of life is.

“We think we’re going to be alive for eternity. And then when we’re faced with death, we have to think about what we did. My life, what could I have done better?” Digna says poignantly. “My point is that every day that God gives me, I will be the best person I can.”

Digna’s ability to inspire has brought people together at Empire Bakery. By pushing others to try new things, taking the lead on regular communication through Redzone, and proving that she has the grit to withstand incredible personal and professional challenges, Digna, a 2023 QAD Redzone Frontline MVP Award winner, has become the heart of Empire Bakery.

Everything that she does out on the production floor from leading to when she’s decorating, her technical skills, people skills…it’s always done at the highest level and with a smile. We couldn’t be prouder of Digna and her contribution.” – Eric Johnson, VP and General Manager

Digna’s story showcases the transformative power of optimism, collaboration, and determination, and her legacy is a supportive work community dedicated to growth and problem-solving — exactly the workers you want on your factory floor.

Additional stories from Faces of the Frontline: Manufacturing’s All Stars.

Tales of Triumph from the Factory Floor, Vol.1

As part of our “Faces of the Frontline: Manufacturing’s All Stars” series, our eBook highlights some of the inspiring stories of frontline workers at BetterBody Foods, Gorilla Glue, Empire Bakery, Allied Wire & Cable, and ASR Group. Discover how they have not only transformed their company’s factories, but have also become true champions of innovation and all stars in manufacturing.