A rich history
The company’s heritage is rich and its early leaders are memorialized in stunning oil-painting portraits that adorn the walls of the office of its headquarters. From that office, Gary reflects on the proud history of his family’s business and looks to the future of it with optimism.
He discusses the details of how the company diversified, including delving into all aspects of the poultry business, from operating egg production facilities to hatcheries and starting a propane business, which is still operating today. He harkens back to his grandfather’s love of buying and trading land, running a cow-calf operation, raising turkeys and nurturing orchards where he enjoyed working, growing apples and peaches. C.L. George’s farm, where it all started in Brush Creek, is still owned and maintained by the family.
That tradition of diversity continued through the years. Gary remembers his father and uncle began packing table eggs in the back of the Springdale facility when he was a small child. “It grew over the years,” he says, “and at one point we were approaching 2 million hens.”
That number was dialed back through the years, and George’s sold the laying business in 2007 to focus on what would become its core business.
Two for all
This was also the era when Gary’s twin sons, Carl and Charles, took a more active leadership role in the company. Having worked at the company growing up, the brothers began learning all aspects of the business in 1997, from production through processing and sales. In 1994, while the boys were still in high school, Gary hired Monty Henderson, the former COO and president of Pilgrim’s Pride, to help him continue growing the company.
“Besides marrying my wife, it was the smartest decision I’ve ever made,” says Gary of the partnership he formed with Henderson.
His fresh perspective and vast experience in the industry made Henderson’s appointment as president and COO a move Gary would never regret. Before his retirement in 2009, perhaps one of the most valuable contributions Henderson made to the company was serving as a mentor to Charles and Carl as they prepared to take over the company. He still serves as a trusted advisor to the company today. Otto Jech, a 60-year veteran of George’s who served as executive vice president, also was a teacher to the fourth generation of leaders of the company prior to his retirement.
Before his sons followed in his footsteps, Gary asked them to write down the top five careers they wanted to pursue.
“I’m happy with what they chose, but I wanted them to be happy first,” Gary says.
Their father did insist, however, that if the boys planned to work in Arkansas, they needed to attend college at the Univ. of Arkansas.
“I thought that was important,” he says, because of the connections and networking it would provide with people in the state and beyond.
Charles and Carl joined the executive team in 2006, after graduating from the alma mater of their father. At that time, Gary was acting CEO and president and his father, even in his mid-80s, remained involved with the company, still serving as its chairman. Gene passed away in 2010 at the age of 88.
In 2013, Gary continued the family tradition by passing the torch to the fourth generation.
“My dad made me president at 30. I made [Charles and Carl] co-CEO and co-presidents at 30,” Gary says, noting they were “much more ready than I was” in terms of understanding the details of the business.
Part of that preparation was the mentoring they got from their dad and the other company leaders, but another important part of their development included working on the processing floor, at every position in the plants.
Appointing the twins as the new leaders of the company also sent a positive signal of stability to the rest of the company.