Business Integrity Leads to a Life of Passion and Purpose

Cordia Harrington believes that a handshake should be as binding as a contract — “for the big deals, the small deals, and all deals.”

In fact, when she got into the bakery business, fast-food giant McDonald’s gave her the opportunity to become a supplier on a handshake. Their willingness to do that, she says, “had everything to do with my past actions, my character, and my reputation that my word is my bond.”

That was several years ago, when she founded the Tennessee Bun Company (now The Bakery Cos.), where she is CEO. But, even today, Harrington says, when customers want contracts, “I listen carefully to what they want, I make a verbal commitment of what I’m going to do and I live by what I say … and sure, I am also happy to sign a contract.

“I respect a person who does what they say they will do and who is passionately committed. It is the way I run my company and part of our core values.”

Business integrity certainly paid off for her.

In November, she will become the first female International President of Chief Executives Organization (CEO), an exclusive member-led global community that continues YPO’s tradition of lifelong learning and idea exchange. Most members of CEO are current members of YPO as part of a cooperative agreement.

Harrington held several leadership positions on the chapter level in Illinois, USA, including learning officer and chapter chair. She has been a member of the CEO Board of Directors since 2011.

From serving as a travel director; to becoming a real estate broker; to owning, operating and building McDonald’s restaurants; to launching The Bakery Cos.; serving on myriad corporate boards and receiving an astounding number of prestigious awards and recognitions; Harrington would seem to have done it all.

But she believes she has much more left to do.

Cordia Harrington’s mission-driven life

Harrington’s personal purpose and business mission encompass three things: “Create Opportunities. Make a Difference. Impact Lives.” She continues to fulfill that mission in truly significant ways.

She has been particularly passionate about helping others, especially women, succeed.

For the past 14 years she’s used the honoraria she’s earned as a sought-after speaker to encourage and mentor other women. Each year she invites a new group of acquaintances to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands to stay at The Ritz-Carlton for four nights. These are women who have lost a spouse or parent, had an illness, are really giving themselves away to others — and simply need a break.

“We mentor, encourage, speak, laugh, play and give hope!”

The group size varies from 11 to 37, with more than 100 women ages 22 to 89 having been impacted overall and represents pastors, physicians, working moms, stay at home moms — women from all walks of life.  Many, Harrington says, have called the experience “healing” and “life changing.”

Business with purpose

Two years ago she opened Guatemala Baking Co., which has had a two-fold impact: offering jobs which have proven to be life-changing for the bakery’s employees (providing generous salaries and benefits); and formulating, baking, and providing nutritious cookies for malnourished children. Two cookies a day — distributed through schools, by the government, and in hospitals — provide 70% of a child’s nutritional needs. Not only have these efforts improved the health of children in Guatemala but, in some cases, may have saved lives allowing formerly malnourished children to undergo surgeries for which they were not previously candidates. Her partner in the bakery is YPO and CEO member Alvaro Cofino.

“I respect a person who does what they say they will do and who is passionately committed.  It is the way I run my company and part of our core values.” — Cordia Harrington, Founder, The Bakery Cos.

Harrington has provided college scholarships to Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, where the dining hall is named in her honor. She funded scholarships for study abroad at the University of Arkansas, her alma mater, and Chi Omega leadership scholarships.

She is most proud of the fact that she’s been able to assist 15 former associates and friends to become McDonald’s owners and operators. “They’ve gone from literally being in debt to being millionaires,” she says.

CEO: The next chapter

As Harrington begins her role as CEO International President, she’s excited to support its mission to create uncommon global connections.

“As a member-led organization, we can individually make an impact — the kind of impact where we can discover the God-given passions within one another and help ignite that passion to make our lives — and the lives of those around us — richer and fuller.”


YPO is the global leadership community of more than 29,000 chief executives in 130 countries who are driven by the belief that the world needs better leaders. Each of our members have achieved significant leadership success at a young age. Combined, they lead businesses and organizations contributing USD9 trillion in annual revenue. YPO members become better leaders and better people through peer learning and exceptional experiences in an inclusive community of open sharing and trust.