Learning to fly higher

by Joel Crews
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Carl and Charles George are the fourth generation to lead George's Inc.
Carl and Charles George are co-executives at George's Inc. where they share the controls with their father, Gary. (Photo: NWA Photography)

When most people think of thriving poultry companies based in Springdale, Ark., George’s Inc., a fourth-generation, integrated firm isn’t the first one to come to mind.

In this poultry-rich region, George’s history dates back to more than 90 years, when C.L. George opened a small general store while raising turkeys and a few cattle at a farm in the Brush Creek community.

“It was just like everybody else in the ’20s, trying to make a living however you could,” says Gary George, chairman of the venture that was started by his grandfather.

What began as a modest grocery store has evolved over the past nine decades as an enterprise C.L. George couldn’t have imagined in those early days. With operations now in three states, nearly 5,000 employees and sales approaching $1 billion, the family-owned poultry company processes products for some of the most successful foodservice and retail chains in the country. The business was handed down from C.L. George to his two sons – Gary’s father, Gene, and his uncle, Luther. The brothers successfully ran the business along with their father until the untimely death of Luther in 1969 followed by the passing of C.L. just six weeks later. Gary was attending the Univ. of Arkansas at the time and he realized the burden of running the business fell squarely on the shoulders of his father, who assumed the role and title of president of what, in 1973, became George’s Inc.

Gary (left) and his father, Gene, worked side-by-side to grow George's Inc. in Springdale, Ark. and beyond.
Gary (left) and his father, Gene, worked side-by-side to grow George's Inc. in Springdale, Ark. and beyond.

After graduating from the Univ. of Arkansas in 1972, Gary joined the company, working mostly in sales during the early years. He never considered a career outside the family business and the unspoken expectation was that he would be the next generation of family ownership after college.

“Nothing else ever crossed my mind,” he says of other career aspirations. “I knew what I wanted to do and everyone assumed that’s what I would do.”

Within a decade of joining the company, Gary found himself at the helm.

“In 1980 he made me president,” Gary recalls, “when I was 30.” His father Gene then assumed the role of chairman, but stayed involved with the company and helped his son adjust to his new leadership position.

In the 1980s, the company expanded, including the construction of the Cassville, Mo., plant. “You’ve either got to grow or eventually you’re going to sell,” Gary says. “So we made the decision to build the plant from the ground up,” which was the industry’s first project of that scale in nearly two decades. During that time, the company expanded its Springdale feed mill, along with purchased feed from other integrated companies until the Cassville mill was built in 2005

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.

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