In addition, manufacturing, quality control, and accounting processes had become outdated, and there was no succession plan. Holmes stepped in, launching a reorganization that effectively left him in control as his father took a less active role the elder Holmes has since died , and began transforming Chelsea Milling "from a sole proprietorship into a professionally managed company"--another of his mantras.
It was a difficult process, both structurally and emotionally, because family businesses are notoriously intractable and making changes inevitably leads to bruised feelings. Or, as Holmes puts it, "you don't run a business with your heart, and you don't make family decisions with your head.
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Therein lies the problem, because when the family is the business, their direct thoughts and feelings are in conflict. Howdy Holmes declines to discuss the situation, saying, "That's all in the past now. The ruffled feathers were probably unavoidable, because while some of Holmes' moves were just basic updating--adding more muffin flavors, say--his biggest changes, enacted through the early and middle '90s, struck at the heart of Jiffy's family-oriented nature: He began bringing in outsiders.
First, nonfamily members were appointed to the company's board. Then Holmes began recruiting managers from other companies, a major departure from his father's autocratic style. The current executive team hails from all over the American business map. Human resources director Patricia McGraw jumped over from Unisys. And general manager Jack Kennedy came from Ocean Spray. Holmes, sensitive to his family's heritage and his father's reign, repeatedly stresses that he still respects the firm's old way of doing things and that he has made changes incrementally, not overnight.
Kennedy, the general manager, says Holmes' patient but persistent approach allowed the newcomers to settle into their roles. But that is not what this organization wants--they want us to step back and spend our time worrying about relationships and culture and adapting.
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Then there will be plenty of time for contributions. For Kennedy, that meant smoothing out a manufacturing schedule that relied too heavily on overtime at one point plant employees had worked 41 straight days during a period that included Thanksgiving and Christmas. He also developed a preventive maintenance program--incredibly, the company's first--for Chelsea Milling's aging packaging equipment.
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The changes took place as the physical plant underwent other modernizations: increasing the number of production lines from 13 to 17, upgrading quality-control mechanisms from analog to electronic, and building a new ,square-foot warehouse, capable of storing more than a million cases of finished Jiffy products. That has not only put an end to the overtime-laden boom-bust production cycles that the company used to endure but has also provided room for further sales growth in the future. And yet despite the modernizations and the influx of big-company talent, Chelsea Milling still has a small-town, throwback feel.
But a walk through the factory floor, where scores of little blue boxes make their way like tin soldiers through filling, weighing, sealing, and packing stations, reveals a decidedly chipper workplace, with friendly employees who seem to be genuinely enjoying their jobs.
They greet Holmes warmly, he appears to know virtually all of them by name, and none of it feels phony. Despite all Howdy Holmes has done to modernize his company while retaining its aw-shucks feel, his biggest challenge may be external: The dry-mix game has slowly been contracting for about a decade, as modern life's increasingly busy pace continues to redefine the notion of a "convenience product. Holmes says one thing not in the offing is selling the brand, although he claims there have been several offers.
We are seriously looking at institutional. We are seriously looking at food service. All these are possibilities. Whatever direction his team chooses, they'll do it efficiently but methodically, just as they made their changes within the company. Confidence bordering on cockiness? Maybe, but maybe not--after all, you probably have a few boxes of Jiffy muffin mix in your cupboard right now. Jiffy's Secret Recipe Chelsea Milling has beaten its competition--the Pillsbury Dough Boy and Betty Crocker never laid a whisk on 'em--and plans to stay on top with two parts aw-shucks family business and one part professional management.
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