Business Advice from 11 Successful Food & Beverage Industry Leaders (Part 2)

Erica Berry

Our two-part blog series on advice from successful business owners continues as we share insights from leaders featured in our Spring II edition. From sales, to building relationships, to customer service and more, their responses are as varied as the businesses they run — encompassing all aspects of the food and beverage industry. 

JoAnne LaBounty, president and CEO, Spartanburg Meat Processing Co Inc.

JoAnne LaBounty Spartanburg Meat Processing Co Inc.

As a member of the global network of executives participating in the OPM 48 program at Harvard Business School, Joanne LaBounty, president and CEO of Spartanburg Meat Processing Co Inc., has worked side-by-side with some of the world’s greatest business leaders – picking up tips and secrets to success along the way. “I have learned not only from my Harvard studies, but also from my classmates, that the greatest success can be achieved when you convert your passion into a business,” she says. “By using your proprietary assets and distinctive culture, you can build a successful company and keep aligned with your core values.”

Javier Bravo, president, Blue Ocean Trading Company

“Work hard and have passion.”

Javier Bravo, president of Blue Ocean Trading Company began his career as a salesman in 1982 and has been in love with the business ever since. He realized that when you love your work it’s no longer a job and the result is increased happiness and productivity. Unless you work with passion and love what you do, you shouldn’t be in business,” he says. “I survive because I love what I do and I do it with conviction.”

Ray Sierengowski, director, Hudsonville Creamery & Ice Cream Company  

Ray Sierengowski Hudsonville Creamery & Ice Cream Company

Having worked for national conglomerates such as Kellogg’s, Sara Lee, Meijer, and now as director of Hudsonville Creamery & Ice Cream Company, Ray Sierengowski has seen firsthand how business is run on many levels. Through more than 20 years of innovation, Ray has learned that to differentiate yourself from the pack, you must become an innovation disruptor. “Disruptors and Innovators are very similar, but disruptors change everything you know and trust about how you innovate, how you do business, think, behave and learn,” he says. “If you’re a team that surrounds itself with sticky notes and whiteboards all day, change the normal day-to-day and go outside.  Challenge your team to look at how others innovate by visiting a company that is different from what you produce or what service you offer.  Once you take off your internal blinders you’ll be surprised how far you can go.”

Alma Castillo-Decanay, CEO, Pik-Nik Foods

Alma Castillo-Decanay Pik-Nik Foods

There are many unanticipated, and sometimes unaccounted for, expenses in business, but Alma Castillo-Decanay, CEO of Pik-Nik Foods, knows that cutting down on frivolous spending can decrease costs and in turn, increase the bottom-line. “We are always looking at the bottom-line because the more we cut unnecessary expenses, the more money we can put toward product innovation,” she says. “If we fall behind on creating new products, or become stagnant, consumers will lose interest in our products and look elsewhere for something more exciting.”

Dave Smalley, CEO and founder, Spectrum Catering Concessions & Wicked Whisk

Dave Smalley Spectrum Catering Concessions & Wicked Whisk

The Golden Rule is nothing new, but this widely adopted mantra is at the core of Spectrum Catering Concessions’ and Wicked Whisk’s business models. Dave Smalley, CEO and founder of the companies, says, “It’s apparent that living your personal and business life in accordance to the Golden Rule gives a solid direction and a solid answer to anything you’ve ever asked yourself. We don’t abide to help business, we do it because it’s the right way to live life – but the dividends have been enormous.”

Andrew “Drew” O'Quinn, vice president, Thompson & Little Inc.

Drew O'Quinn Thompson & Little Inc.

For nearly 70 years, third generation family-owned and -operated Thompson & Little Inc. has been one of the Southeast’s top food service equipment dealers. But when the recession hit, Drew O'Quinn, vice president, knew it was time to make new business developments. “While some were sitting still and not reinventing themselves, others reinvented their business models and came out ahead,” he explains. “Over my 13 years with Thomas & Little, I have seen ups and downs and have realized that success comes from passionate people who are in the right seat to make their skill sets shine.”

Robyn Bass, president, Maple Ridge Events

Robyn Bass Maple Ridge Events

It took a major life-changing event and encouragement from her peers for Robyn Bass to get the valor to start Maple Ridge Events, a Nashville-based destination management and corporate event planning agency. Since she started the business in 2012 with her then fiancé now husband, Randy Bass, she has learned a lot about herself — and others. “Understanding my own strengths and weaknesses allows me to hire people who are not the same as me and can bring something different to the table, creating balanced and well-rounded team,” she says. “Seeking council, continuing education and asking other people for help have gotten me, my business and my team where we are today.”

Brent Kallop, co-founder, Pisco Porton LLC

Brent Kallop Pisco Porton LLC

Hiring people who are personally committed to the success of the business is key, according to Brent Kallop, who co-founded Pisco Porton with his father, William Kallop, in 2009. With a career entrepreneur for a father and business partner, Brent has learned that starting a new company is a team effort, and no matter how hard you work you will need the support of talented people who really care. “Seeking advice from others is prudent, but no one will look out for the ultimate best interests of your enterprise like you will,” he says.

Frank Heuschkel, president, Yoshida Foods International

“Underpromise and overdeliver.”

Filling the shoes of a young entrepreneur like Junki Yoshida, who founded Yoshida Foods International in 1982 with little more than a reputation as the ‘Boss of Sauce’, Frank Heuschkel, company president, knows that making customers happy is the key to success. “You need to know what your abilities and limits and abilities are, and if you make promises you can’t keep, both you and the customer lose,” he says.

Marino Stratigakis, director of operations, GRK Fresh Greek

Marino Stratigaki GRK Fresh Greek

A few years ago, Marino Stratigakis, director of operations of GRK Fresh Greek, was introduced to the Principle of Priority. The Principle states: “(a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.” This rule stuck with Mario and has guided his business choices ever since. “Having worked in the hospitality industry for the last 19 years, I spent half my career not making the distinction between what is urgent and what is important,” he explains. “Everything was urgent and everything was important, but often enough not everything was getting done. Being able to manage objectives, regardless of the never-ending urgent issues that require immediate attention, appears to be the only factor that prevents me from feeling overwhelmed, overworked or insane. Loving what you do helps, but even love needs time management and prioritizing.”

Bart DeClark, president, Flavor Infusion (FISA)

“Take calculated risks.”

When Bart DeClark joined the family business more than 10 years ago, the stress and worries of running a business often kept him up at night. But with a decade of leadership under his belt and a few pointers from his father and FISA founder, Daniel DeClark, Bart has learned to take it one day at a time and find adventure in each new challenge. “By staying flexible and moving faster, we are able to keep on top of trends, outrun the competition and exceed customer expectations,” he says. “Don’t let others tell you how it should be done, but rather show people how it could be done better.”

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