Five Food Business Mantras

The CEOs of five food companies share their business mantras. These philosophies determine the effectiveness of the underlying businesses’ sales and profit.

“Everything is possible, and everything is actually simple.”

Daniel Jacobs, CEO of Ambassador Foods

Ambassador Foods is an Mpumalanga-based company that supplies 54 tons of packed product (across 147 product lines) for Woolworths per week. Ambassador works only with nuts and nut derivatives – so their value-adding business model lives and breathes innovation. “People have a tendency to make things very complicated because that makes them feel important,” says Ambassador CEO Daniel Jacobs. “But when you break it down, it usually turns out to be easy.

“With a culture of ‘everything is possible’ and a can-do attitude, you try and then you try again and if it doesn’t work, you try yet again and you fix it – and the next thing you know you’ve become an expert in the field and soon you’re leading the category. The only limitations are those you put on yourself. If you take them away… and if you put your mind to it, what is actually not possible?”

“Happiness is a way of life. It isn’t something to be achieved.”

Luciano Previtera, CEO of Rialto Foods

The head of South Africa’s largest importer of food from Europe, Luciano Previtera believes that you need to “have fun and enjoy life”. This is also true for the company’s 400 employees. Previtera, whose company imports about 30 million tonnes of food every year, ensures this philosophy by actively reaching out to his employees.

“I talk to all my employees every last Friday of the month,” he says. “This ranges from the cleaners to the machine operators.” He explains that Rialto focuses on celebrating success and is bound to its business values. These values, which were reinforced after a stint of rapid growth in the company, form the reference point for Rialto’s daily operations, he says.

“Try every day to be better than the previous day.”

Ryan Cotterell, CEO of Denny Mushrooms

The continuous development of himself and his employees forms the bedrock of Denny Mushroom’s CEO Ryan Cotterell’s business philosophy. “If each of us concentrates on being better every day, the results become exponential,” he says, and adds that this applies to someone mixing compost right through to selling mushrooms.

It is not enough to merely be at work, says Cotterell, who runs Africa’s largest mushroom producer. The focus on self-improvement drives a self-starter mentality. It links with Cotterell’s belief that everyone at work, including himself, should realise they are sitting in the chair of someone else. “Having a job is not a right,” he says. “It is an opportunity.”

“Attention to detail.”

Karel la Cock, CEO of Millennium Foods

Building the largest supplier of ready-to-eat meals in the Western Cape outside of Woolworths take an intense focus on the products you sell, says Karel la Cock. “A manager should know and understand his business,” he says. Millennium Foods, which produces ready-to-heat and grab-and-go meals, was bought by Libstar at the end of 2017.

For a business, especially within food production, to be successful, all employees should cultivate a sharp attention to detail, explains La Cock. “That differentiates a successful business from the rest,” he says. Where some businesspeople advise that a leader shouldn’t keep himself busy with the minute details of their organisation, La Cock differs strongly. “A leader should know about everything in his business.”

“We can’t control what we can’t measure.”

Essop Dawood, CEO of Finlar Fine Foods

“If you can’t change something, why worry about it?” asks Finlar Fine Foods CEO Essop Dawood. Instead of having people worried about a problem they have no control over, he tries to inculcate a positive outlook in employees. This is central to Dawood’s outlook that smart choices should constantly be made in the company. “We try to anticipate a problem before it happens,” he says.

This is imperative for the company as it supplies all the beef and chicken patties to quick-service restaurant chain McDonald’s. “What will be the solution if one of our production lines break?” he asks, adding that proactive thinking minimises lost production times when mechanical breakdowns do happen.