The work ethic needed to succeed, and my spirit of entrepreneurship, was instilled in me very early in life. At a very young age, my father taught me how to mow grass, both with a push mower and a riding mower. By the age of eight I was mowing by myself on the riding lawn mower, sitting on the front edge of the seat just so I could reach the pedals.
Then at age fourteen I took my drive, goals, and a few bucks and started my own lawn care business with my childhood best friend. Yep, business owner at age fourteen. We had business cards, went door to door to sell our services, and I drove a riding lawn mower and trailer full of push mowers and weed eaters all over town with no driver’s license. I made good money mowing lawns for a couple summers, especially for a teenage kid.
However, it wasn’t until my junior year in college that the foodservice industry would begin to impact my understanding of entrepreneurship, following my application and acceptance as an intern at Mid-America Dairymen, today known as Dairy Farmers of America. Mid-America Dairymen was a high-growth company with a very well-respected CEO, and throughout my time there I gained tremendous real-world business experience. Furthermore, I was working for a cooperative (co-op) owned by dairy farmers.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with what that is, a co-op is a company that is owned by its customers, which provided an experience that would benefit me later in life, and likely played a role in my decision to turn PFSbrands into an ESOP. Just like with an ESOP, the mentality within a cooperative is all about ownership thinking and helping others to be more successful, which has become a guiding principle not only for PFSbrands, but for me personally.
After about 12 months in the training program, someone resigned, and I stepped into the role of Regional Sales Manager for the Packaged and Processed Cheese Division, working under my mentor, Tom Goddard. I credit Tom for the first Core Value of PFSbrands, which is to HAVE FUN. Tom was a great storyteller, loved to tell jokes, and had a great personality. He had an incredible work ethic, but he was always joking around and having a good time. On all of his presentations and on his annual plans, he would always start with encouraging everyone to HAVE FUN. His philosophy was a little out of the box in the corporate “suit and tie” world, and the dairy cooperative environment wasn’t exactly centered around fun. But I picked up a lot of tremendous leadership skills from Tom during my years at Mid-Am.
Entrepreneurship may have been engrained in me at an early age, but it wasn’t until my experiences in the foodservice industry that I learned some valuable lessons that have stuck with me to this very day, lessons in Customer Service, Purchasing, Logistics, Accounting, Operations, Human Resources, and of course, Sales. Who knew the business of cheese could teach you so much!