The Schwan Food Co. has a new leader and a new mission.
Bigger isn't always better, new chief executive officer and chief operating officer Greg Flack said.
The new mission: "Enriching the lives of others through being the best frozen food company on the face of the earth," Flack said.
Photo by Rae Kruger
New Schwan Food Co. CEO and COO Greg Flack realizes there are challenges ahead when dealing with today’s economy, but is ready to lead and to help the company face those challenges.
Sounds a bit like the prior mission that said the company was more focused on being the biggest, except for one important difference - "the part that's taken out is 'the biggest,'" Flack said.
"There is no specific goal to double our business in five years," Flack said in reference to a company-announced goal of several years ago to do just that.
"A company has to have goals that stretch it, but it has to have realistic goals," Flack said. "Goals too far out to be achieved can be demoralizing.
"Goals too small can also be demoralizing."
Flack acknowledged that today's economy of high fuel prices, and high prices for corn, dairy and other commodities used in Schwan products gives the company some tough challenges, but he's seen the company work through difficult times before during his more than 20 years with the company.
The company will be the best by focusing on the best people, the best product and the best performance, Flack said.
Flack grew up and went to school in Granite Falls and is familiar with the company's presence in Marshall and the region. After 20 years of progressively-demanding roles with Schwan, Flack said he's poised to lead the company in today's economy and into the future.
Flack grew up in Granite Falls and graduated from high school there where he as a player on several stand-out football teams.
He graduated from Moorhead State University with an emphasis on business, finance and marketing.
"I joined this company 22 years ago because of the opportunities I saw here," Flack said.
fits his values
"Am I learning every day, am I contributing to other people's growth by the things I'm doing?" Flack said.
Schwan started and has grown in more than 50 years on creating opportunities for people to grow and to contribute, Flack said.
The company's public profile and continued investment in Marshall
The company will continue to invest in Marshall and other locations, Flack said.
As it has in the past, Schwan will want to be a partner with other private and public partners in investments, Flack said. The company would want a collective commitment from other partners, he said.
"I'm not aware of any investments now," Flack said of Marshall. "We will look at each opportunity."
"I would like to see more employee involvement in the community," Flack said. That involvement could come from participating on boards, committees and other activities, Flack said.
His leadership style and some of what employees can expect
Flack wanted a combined CEO and COO position because as CEO, he will interact with the board of directors, and as COO he will have "line of sight on operations."
"It's one thing I thought was critical," Flack said of the combined CEO and COO role.
A leader has to have the ability to communicate with employees, he said.
It will be important for him to state very clear goals for the company and the ways to achieve them, Flack said.
The leadership style within the company will change, as there is a concrete effort to engage employees in the goals and direction of the company, Flack said.
"We've started doing employee surveys, which haven't been done in some time," Flack said.
Flack has also formed a task group of executives who will work with employees on various issues.
Employees and the community are uncertain when there is a transition to new leadership, Flack said.
Flack wants to ensure employees and the community he is committed to growing the company in smart way, he said.
Growth and becoming the best frozen food company in the world comes from the best people, the best products and the best performance, Flack said.
All employees, from the production line to executives, have roles in the growth and success of the company, he said.
It can be more challenging to have production employees "buy into" their roles in the overall success of the company, but it can happen, Flack said.
Employees need to have goals at all levels and need to understand the overall goals, Flack said. As the CEO and COO, he needs to lead in communicating that to employees and in listening to the needs and ideas from the employees, Flack said.
"We also need leaders that are willing to roll up their sleeves," Flack said.
As Flack helps the company to re-focus more on its core business and plans for future success and growth it will take some time.
"It's not something that happens in three months or six months," he said.
It wasn't like this when founder and former leader Marvin Schwan was here
Flack has heard comments like that in the past several years and understands them.
The values Marvin Schwan had when he started the company more than 50 years ago remain, Flack said.
The company needs to do a better job of connecting employees to those values, he said.
"(The company and employees) also have to recognize, in general, the world has changed in the past 55 to 60 years," Flack said. A company doesn't function like it did 55 to 60 years ago, but it can still retain those core values, Flack said.
Flack is a local - could it help to solidify that corporate headquarters will stay in Marshall?
"It's understandable (the public is considering that)," Flack said. "We continue to be very committed to the city of Marshall and southwest Minnesota. Marshall will be our corporate headquarters in the future."
"I grew up 30 miles down the road and I lived in Marshall for many years," Flack said.
He understands the benefits of southwest Minnesota and what being in Marshall means to the community and the company, Flack said.
Will there be more executives with his history of being from the area and moving up the ranks within the company?
"I think there are a lot of people in the company with strong leadership skills ...at all levels. There are leaders with Upper Midwest roots and there will be more," Flack said.
The company is expanding the programs of Schwan's University to include more potential employees in the leadership and management courses, Flack said.
The company will identify its future needs and existing talent to create "more opportunities to grow talent from within," Flack said.
Where will Flack spend work time?
"It all depends on the needs of the business," Flack said. He is based in Marshall and in Bloomington, where Schwan has a large company presence, and will also travel.
"It would be about half the time here in Marshall and about half the time in (Bloomington)," Flack said. "I consider the office here to be (the home office)."
Some tough challenges but also positive outcomes ahead
"The economy today is very challenging," Flack said.
Commodity prices for corn, dairy ingredients and others used in Schwan food production are increasing. Fuel costs are increasing the costs of transportation.
The company has already been looking at improving efficiency in many areas, Flack said, and that will continue. Schwan can't raise its prices to recover all the increased costs, because at some point, costs will go down and prices need to be competitive, Flack said.
"We need to focus on our core businesses of consumer brands, home service and food service and look at the investment we are making on those....," Flack said
There is plenty of opportunity in those core businesses, Flack said.
Schwan is still young in the natural ingredients and organic product lines, Flack said.
The company can expand greatly in the retail market at market outlets such as dollar stores and drug stores, Flack said.
"Places like Family Dollar continue to commit more physical square footage to frozen foods," Flack said.
Drug stores are also expanding their frozen food lines.
Schwan has several advantages in today's economy other companies don't, Flack said. Innovations used in frozen desert and frozen pizza can be applied and adapted for other products, Flack said.
"A key part of our growth plan going forward will be leveraging those innovations...," Flack said.
retention of employees
"I will tell you all companies face challenges with recruiting, but I bet our retention rate is far better than others, particularly (with employees) in Marshall," Flack said.
While the economy poses challenges in operation costs it does have a positive influence on the company's ability to attract employees, Flack said. The company will be able to recruit people to work in Marshall, to work in Bloomington and elsewhere in the U.S., not just because the economy has caused potential to lose jobs with other companies but because the environment of the corporation and the communities where plants and offices are based will attract employees, Flack said.
With the challenges of the economy and related issues, why take the CEO/COO job?
"Our company has been through (challenges) and I've had the benefit of living through those," Flack said.
The company has weathered difficulties, and has grown and found opportunities through challenges, Flack said.
Flack cites the company's culture of smart, hard-working employees who find innovations and solutions.