Carl says besides the investments the brothers have put toward upgrades and plant acquisitions, they’ve emphasized hiring and recruiting top-notch employees, enhancing IT systems and the infrastructure that ties the company together and make it more efficient.
Through the conversion, the brothers’ humility and lack of egos contributed to their acceptance among longtime employees and executive-level leaders. But everyone in the firm realizes that running a company successfully also means adapting and a willingness to change.
Building a leadership team at the company, Charles says, “and who you allow on that team are some of the most important decisions we make as CEOs.”
The brothers realize the value of maintaining a mix of longtime, loyal George’s employees while infusing the new perspective of some newly acquired talent, like Robert Garlington, vice president of operations for Arkansas and Missouri, who Carl says brings experience to the company along with some fresh ideas.
Farm-to-fork food safety
For integrated companies like George’s, food safety is a focus that starts with the breeders, broilers, feed mills and hatcheries and requires a multi-hurdle approach throughout the process, including in the plants.
Third-party animal welfare audits are a key part of the company’s efforts to maintain top-level animal handling standards.
“We do a lot internal training with our team members but also have the third party come in behind our internal audits, which we think is a key component to our animal welfare process,” Carl says.
Carl says the avian influenza (AI) outbreak has been the impetus for internal discussion and implementation of biosecurity procedures among its valued contract growers.
“It’s at the front of our mind right now and throughout the industry, especially as we prepare for fall and winter.”
Throughout George’s history, growers have played a vital role in the company’s success. Part of the relationship often requires George’s to ask its growers to increase housing and invest more in their business. Fortunately for George’s, these requests are typically honored by growers without hesitation.
“When people are willing to build for you, you know you’ve got a pretty good reputation with them,” Gary says of the longstanding grower relationships.
George’s employees number 4,800 today, and Carl says the company is well positioned to grow with its current system. Additionally, he says, “We don’t play heavily in the retail side of the business right now, so in the next five or 10 years that might be an area we might try to get into a little bit more.”
The company’s leadership team spends plenty of time discussing strategies and the shifts in the market that have recently been positive for George’s.
“Both foodservice and retail segments have leaned heavily into chicken in the past 18 months,” Charles says. Looking ahead, “We are looking hard at where it is that our customers want us to be.”
In the coming year, George’s annual sales are expected to approach $1 billion. “Some of that is due to inflation in poultry pricing but we have increased our production every year,” Charles says.
Carl points out that 2015 will be the first year since the brothers have taken over that George’s will break into the Top 10 poultry processors in production of pounds produced.
“That was a big step for George’s,” he says.
Gary’s transition to chairman means he still comes to work, albeit on a more flexible basis. “I don’t know what I’d do otherwise,” he says.
He pauses while thoughtfully reflecting on the company’s history and future.
“What better dream could a father have than to see his sons take over and be qualified and willing to work hard and still have the opportunity to be with them? Boy, I’m a lucky guy.”