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News | April 10, 2017

Former chocolatier creates smiles as quality assurance specialist

By Tonya Johnson DCMA Public Affairs

Farris Riggsbee has a knack for making people smile and providing good customer service.

He’s a quality assurance specialist at Defense Contract Management Agency Orlando who enjoys helping his customers and making sure defense contractors meet his clients’ needs. It’s his prior background as the co-owner of a chocolate candy store that helps him excel in his job today.

“The best part, for me, of being a business owner was knowing that each day I was building something for the future,” said Riggsbee. “I was providing a service or product that thousands of people loved, so I rarely had anyone come into the chocolate shop in a bad mood, or at least they weren’t in one when they left.”

Riggsbee said it’s important in his current job to make sure his Department of Defense customers are satisfied with their products. But as a former business owner, he can provide an additional perspective on how to do his job with both his customers and the contractors he works with every day. Riggsbee has been a part of the DCMA team for more than four years, and he also served more than 25 years on active duty and as a reservist in the Air Force.

“My job duties include performing quality audits, analyzing all elements of a quality system, and reviewing contracts to ensure the contractor understands what is required and, in short, making sure the warfighters get exactly what they need, when they need it, each and every time,” he said. “After retiring from the military and being a former warfighter myself, I saw DCMA as another way to serve my country and make a positive impact on the products the men and women of the armed services are using.”

Riggsbee said his prior business experience reminded him that providing quality customer service in any position is important.

“I learned as a business owner the importance of customer service and following the recipe,” said Riggsbee. “Customer service to me is paramount. I know what my customer from the program office wants and it is my job to see that the contractor provides it.

“As for the recipe, candy making is a lot like chemistry — one wrong ingredient and your customer will let you know. Following the recipe is a lot like following contractual requirements. We all end up with an end product the customer wants.”

Riggsbee said that communication is a major component of good customer service, which includes responding in a timely manner and having integrity. He encouraged his fellow quality assurance specialists to remember those traits when doing their jobs.

“The interaction with all of my customers years ago at the candy shop helped me develop strong communication skills that have helped me out as I meet new contractors all the time,” Riggsbee said. “I have so much respect for my fellow Q’s. My only advice is to continue to maintain your integrity, stay engaged with your contractors, and keep the communication flowing. We, as Q’s, have a lot on our plates, and if we do not keep communicating, we could miss an important event, meeting or new process.”

As a prior business owner, Riggsbee said he understood when a contractor explained about necessary equipment repairs or waiting for parts to fix a machine.

“Believe it or not, you use a lot of machinery in the chocolate business and it breaks down,” said Riggsbee. “Working as a business owner, you do a lot of the repairs and maintenance yourself so you get to see how things are put together. Your eyes and brain get trained on how to find the problems and fix them as fast as you can to get the machine up and running and producing more candy.”

According to Riggsbee, being a business owner could be stressful at times, which helps him also understand contractor concerns such as making sure delivery dates are met and employee turnover.

“Even in a fun chocolate shop there was some stress,” he said. “As in all businesses, things break, people leave, inspectors inspect, bills are due, and you have a workforce that looks to you to keep them employed.”

Riggsbee said he enjoyed working at DCMA because the agency is committed to working with small and large contractors to ensure customers are satisfied with their products or services.

“We can be small businesses’ biggest allies by helping direct them into having a compliance type mentality and watching as they grow to help guide them through our regulations and contractual requirements,” he said. “As for the large businesses, we can help them by ensuring that their quality management system stays vibrant and up-to-date, and making sure their policies and instructions are reviewed and updated at regular intervals.”

After being called back to active duty in 2003 in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, Riggsbee decided to become an Air Force Reserve technician fulltime and retire, and later joined DCMA, which meant he would have to give up being a business owner.

Aaron Arce, the technical leader for the quality assurance team, said Riggsbee is a “dependable employee who always goes above and beyond when doing his work.”

“He’s very involved in everything he does,” added Arce. “He’s a team player who enjoys interacting with his fellow teammates and mentoring when the opportunity arises. Farris can also explain business processes to his co-workers in a manner they can understand. He always strives to do the best job possible.”

Although Riggsbee enjoys making chocolate as a side hobby, he said it takes patience to perfect chocolate. He also studied his craft for more than a decade before opening his prior business.

“I worked in the chocolate industry for 12 years learning from an ‘old school’ candy maker,” said Riggsbee. “I learned to make over 20 different cream centers, caramel from scratch, fudge, glazed pecans, pralines and caramel and candy apples, just to name a few things. I use to sculpt dolphins and swans for the pastry chefs at the resorts in Orlando. It is a creative and fun skill to possess.”

Occasionally Riggsbee will bring his chocolate into the office to share.

“He has a neat hobby, and it’s really good candy,” said Arce. “One time he brought in caramel popcorn chunks drizzled in chocolate. He knows I like to watch my weight, but he ruined my diet for that week.”

Riggsbee said it was hard leaving his candy-making business, but he is glad to be a part of the DCMA team.

“Right now I’m very happy where I am,” he said. “I am a member of a proactive contact management office of quality assurance specialists who work hard to provide warfighters with the best products available. In my spare time, I do make caramel and hand dip candy centers at home in smaller batches for family and friends. My latest creative endeavor is woodcarving, but that’s another story.”