Remembering Shelley Pedersen, CPCE

March 22, 2018

This morning we lost a NACE legend and icon. Shelley Pedersen was fiercely passionate about NACE.  She put NACE on the map as an organization that, with a vibrant community, could help professionals grow into their career. She saw potential in individuals who may not have quite seen it in themselves, and she took every opportunity to mentor the next generation. The NACE community will certainly miss her presence, her sass, her knowledge, and her friendship. We plan to celebrate Shelley’s life the way she would have wanted, with her friends during the NACE Experience conference in July.

In the meantime, Shelley was an incredible advocate for continuing education and achieved CPCE Emeritus status in 2015. She shared her professional and NACE journey with us through her emeritus essay. Nobody can quite put it into words Shelley’s life in the industry, so we’ll let her words speak for themselves:

“But wait….first, what’s the big deal with a certification anyway? Well, it IS a big deal, for my generation and beyond. Particularly, we entered the industry, perhaps having never intended to be caterers in the first place. In college, I had a Home Ec major/Journalism minor, hoping to write for a magazine like Martha Stewart Living (which did not exist back in the 1970s-ha!). Catering was such a marvelous extension of my education, but it was only tangential/ not central in the curriculum. Back then, college degrees in my field did not exist (I became a caterer in 1982), so how on earth was I going to achieve and display credibility after earning experience and knowledge out in the field? As an upstart in an emerging segment of the industry (by then, Martha had published her first book Entertaining) what could I possibly do to demonstrate my knowledge and expertise to clients and colleagues?  Little did I realize that NACE would have the solution.

I remember voraciously reading the recommended textbooks – there were no sample questions to review. I discovered that you needed to ‘study to the test’, not to your experience, which was a great piece of advice for an off-prem caterer taking the exam.  And, this was great stuff! After several rounds of alpha and beta-testing, a syllabus in place, and a list of text books to be used for studying, the first exam was administered. It now contained more questions pertinent to my discipline, a fact that I believed – and still do – encourages other off-prem caterers to seek this designation. 

And this holds true even today: my copy of Patti Shock’s book Hotel Catering, required reading for the exam, still bears countless yellow highlights, dog-eared pages, and margins full of notes. This has twofold significance here: 1) Up to this point, I had been pretty territorial: I was an off-prem caterer/never worked in a hotel or club…really, what could I learn from them that would apply to my discipline in the industry? Studying for the exam really opened my eyes to the fact that, while comparing hotel catering to off-prem catering is not even like comparing apples-and-oranges - in many ways, it’s like comparing apples and cement…similarities of the tenets and principles in these disciplines DO exist and are valuable and noteworthy. I learned a lot about the mechanics of the business in general, that I apply to this day! And 2) at my current company – a 38-year young privately-owned ‘off-premise only’ catering company with annual revenues in the $10 million range – I am the sole CPCE holder! at this time. Co-workers who first stared in wonder at the designation are the first ones to run in asking, “Shelley, what was that dimension again for main aisles vs side aisles in a ballroom?” – or “How much room do I need for a satellite bar again?” And when I tell them, they invariably ask “How do you know this stuff? Is that what you learned with that certification thing?”

Yes it is.  You should do it.

And there’s more. When I started my own catering company in 1992 (which I sadly shuttered in 2008 after major spine surgery), NACE on many levels was my leg-up. I truly believe I could not have started my company with as much success as I was grateful to achieve, without NACE at my side. Then in 1994, the CPCE designation gave me - a small business owner, female entrepreneur - a valuable credibility, unattainable anywhere else. I wasn’t a stereotypical Suzie Caterer (or Dagwood’s Blondie), cooking in my home kitchen and hauling canapés around town in the trunk of my car. I was a knowledgeable professional, with emerging skills and style. I could be trusted with life’s milestone occasions or recurring events and could be trusted to ‘deliver’ as promised. CPCE has served me well all these many years, and I use the acronym with pride, dedication and enthusiasm – and trust me, I re-certify promptly every five years. Through the years, I also believe my speaker and consultant’s avocation has been well-served by my CPCE, as well. To me, it’s simply my cherished badge of credibility, integrity, knowledge and expertise to my compatriots in my field, and to the external audiences, I wish to reach.

Moreover, the designation afforded me the opportunity to run for national office – actually in 1994, national president to be exact – since the board had decided (and rightfully so) that is was required:  how could we tout the certification, urge members to take the exam, and boast of its benefits, if national board members were not certified.  It seemed disingenuous, synthetic. We could not. I was proud to be the first off-premise caterer to be elected national president, and with CPCE behind my name, I was proud to represent that industry segment and was humbled by the responsibility in leading our association.

My story may be unique, because of the time in history, but the principles remain strong today.  Recently, I was honored to have written a CPCE exam scholarship recommendation letter for a young 30-something female chef in our chapter. She’d approached me with questions about certification, which industry acronym behind her name would best serve her career and help her inspire others, and what was it like to take the exam. We had multiple conversations, I compared and contrasted CMP, CSEP, and others against CPCE, and shared my own NACE/CPCE success story. She was awarded a CPCE exam scholarship, and I can’t remember anyone being more excited at the news! She stands to be the future of the association and our certification designation, and I was thrilled to be a small part of this next chapter of NACE’s certification program.
I will again be humbled and honored …this time to receive Emeritus status for my CPCE designation, and appreciate your positive considerations on the matter.  Thank you again!”