On Sunday the Women’s Foodservice Forum awarded its prestigious 2014 Trailblazer Award to the late Fritzi Pikes Woods, who died unexpectedly last September after serving for three years as president and chief executive of the group.
WFF, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, also renamed the honor in Woods’ memory, calling it henceforth the Fritzi Pikes Woods Trailblazer Award, said Laurie Woods, WFF chair and chief development officer at Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc., in opening the group’s Annual Leadership Development Conference, which runs through Wednesday in Dallas.
“To be a trailblazer, it requires authenticity, individuality and the power of nonconformity,” Burns said. “Trailblazers don’t follow the established way of doing things; they create significant new pathways. They spearhead new approaches and new solutions, and they inspire others to follow their lead.”
Woods, who died in September after a fall at her home, possessed those qualities, Burns noted. “Trailblazing takes courage, the relentless pursuit of a passion and the character to withstand adversity,” she said. “Fritzi Woods soared through her career the way she soared through life: aspiring higher.”
Since 1996, the WFF’s Trailblazer award has honored 18 leaders in the foodservice industry. The honor goes to individuals dedicated to improving the foodservice industry through the support of gender diversity.
Woods served in various roles in various industries by the age of 53, including certified public accountant, vice president of finance, a chief financial officer, president, chief executive, board member and entrepreneur, Burns added. She joined the WFF board in 2007 when she was president and chief executive of Prime Source and served on the board until 2010.
“She was next in line to become WFF chair,” Burns noted, “but instead, at a time when their was a leadership void, she accepted enthusiastically the role as president and CEO of the Women’s Foodservice Forum. That marked a new chapter of her trailblazing, this time for us.”
Woods provided strategic vision for the WFF and elevated the organization as a resource for the Obama administration’s efforts to attain gender balance in executive ranks, Burns added.
Burns quoted from a letter sent to Woods’ family by first lady Michelle Obama after the death in September: “Throughout her life, Fritzi was a leader, an innovator and role model for women across the country, and her impact will live on for years to come.”
Burns added that shortly before her death, Woods had finished her participation in a documentary called “One Billion Entrepreneurs,” a project in which she had become an unintended star.
“I wanted to tell the world that you have more control than you think you do,” Woods said in a clip of the documentary played at WFF. “You have more power than you think you do. You have more options than you think you do.”
Remembering their mother
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Three of Woods’ children — Crysta Pikes, Clyde Pikes III and Caleb Pikes — accepted the award in honor of their mother.
“Most people have a difficult time accepting these awards as it requires them to talk about themselves, which no one really wants to do,” said Crysta Pikes. “We, however, have the honor and privilege of accepting this award on our mother’s behalf.
“At last year’s awesome conference, I asked my mom what were her plans after she left as CEO at WFF,” she continued. “I told her she needed to do something amazing so she could achieve a Trailblazer award and stand in the elite circle of men and women who changed this industry.”
Clyde Pikes III recalled noting his mother’s passion early in his own education. “She had a very simple ‘Do your best, or die’ philosophy,” he said, to laughter from conference attendees. “Whatever she did, she did it with all her heart. That passion has left lasting memories with everyone she encountered. As she encouraged us, I encourage you: Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith and chart the course to follow your own passion. It was her leap into this organization that blazed trails for thousands of women leaders today. Find that thing you love and work it tirelessly.”
Caleb Pikes said he was proud of his mother’s determination. “From her humble beginnings, she was determined to excel at whatever she put her mind to and expected nothing less from those around her,” he said. “When we’d meet her employees, they’d ask, ‘Man, is your mom as tough at home as she is at work?’ To which we’d respond: ‘She’s much tougher, and there’s no HR department at home.’”
After Woods’ death, the WFF established the Fritzi Pikes Woods Aspire Higher Fund to provide resources for leadership development in the industry. Hattie Hill, president and chief executive of Hattie Hill Enterprises Inc., a management and human relations consulting and training firm, heads fundraising for the fund and said it had raised more than $400,000 toward a $1 million goal.
The group is also creating the Aspire Higher Institute to provide customized leadership programs and education scholarships. “With your help, we can assure that Fritzi’s impact will be felt by women today and into the future,” Hill said.
With the Trailblazer Award, Burns said WFF continues its tradition of fostering leadership in the foodservice industry.
“For the past 25 years, WFF has helped women turn glass ceilings into windows of opportunity,” she said. “Along the way, there have been extraordinary women and men who have mentored, challenged, led and blazed the trail for others.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 27, 2014: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Clyde Pikes III.