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Jeffrey Heiser ’76


Alumni Spotlight: Jeffrey Heiser

Science Lab Technology, Class of ‘76
Vice President of Manufacturing, Beech-Nut

Jeffrey Heiser has discovered a remarkably simple strategy for attaining business success: Do everything.

When Jeffrey Heiser graduated from SUNY Cobleskill in 1976, he had his life all planned out: He’d get a job at the water sewage treatment plant in his native Canajoharie, rise through the ranks, get married, buy a house, have kids…perfect.

Except there were no jobs to be had just then; the plant was full up. This left Jeffrey with his new associate degree in Science Lab Technology and, apparently, no good place to use it.

He was rescued (fittingly enough) by Lifesavers. Then a division of Beech-Nut, Lifesavers had an hourly job opening that consisted of catching grains of sugar in a fiberboard drum. “It wasn’t much,” Jeffrey recalls, “but it was something. It was what I needed – a start.”

After a few months of corralling sugar, he was asked whether, given his science background, he would like to transition to a position in Quality Control. “I said ‘sure,’ and soon I was on the factory floor auditing processes for the manufacture of Bubble Yum Bubble Gum,” he says, “which isn’t quite as sophisticated as it sounds. Making gum, it turns out, isn’t a real tidy process. But again, okay, I’ll do it…what’s next?”

Before long, Jeffrey was given a supervisory job in the manufacturing unit, working the third shift with 100 employees reporting to him, all of whom knew more about how things worked than he did. But that job soon opened a very important door.

"At Cobleskill I had to develop people skills. I've used those skills ever since."
“I began to have contact with the research-and-development people,” he explains, “which really broadened my horizons. Eventually I became part of the team that launched the sugarless version of Bubble Yum. Corporately speaking, it was a big deal.”

But it wasn’t to last. The Lifesavers division announced that it was moving out of state, and Jeffrey was asked to stay on through the company’s staged departure from its Canajoharie factory as a supervisor of sanitation operations, once again on the third shift. When, after a year, the factory doors closed for good, he was fortunate enough to find a position as housekeeping supervisor at Johnstown Hospital.

“I know it may sound like a cliché, but I was learning a lot from being in all these different jobs, in all these different work environments. I didn’t look at any of it as wasted time,” he says. “It was just a matter of one opportunity leading to the next.”

Before long, however, cruel fate intervened again: The hospital closed when the State of New York determined that the area’s in-patient bed-count was too high. Facing unemployment once more, Jeffrey inquired about a job at Beech-Nut on the advice of a friend who worked there. Soon he was working as a supervisor in their packaging department.

In his three decades with the company that have passed since then, Jeffrey’s corporate odyssey has taken him through such positions as head of operations for packaging and maintenance, manager of cereal operations and, eventually, plant manager of the entire Beech-Nut facility at Canajoharie. Today he is Vice President of Manufacturing for the Beech-Nut company as a whole.

Jeffrey is also a consistent donor to SUNY Cobleskill. And how does he look back on his school 40 years after graduating? “I got a broad and excellent education there,” he says. “I learned a great deal about science and nature. The science part has helped me in business. The nature part exposed me to things that I share now with my children.

“But maybe most important? I grew up on a farm and had never had much exposure to people from different places with different cultures. At Cobleskill I had to develop people skills, like listening and finding commonalities and having empathy. I’ve used those skills ever since, everywhere I’ve been. I really don’t think I could have progressed very far without them.”