Learning to fly higher

by Joel Crews
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Two for all

Carl and Charles George were named co-presidents at the age of 30.
Carl and Charles George were named co-CEO and co-presidents of George's Inc. at the age of 30.

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.

Co-operative leadership

Sharing leadership responsibilities and titles is unusual, especially between brothers and even more uncommon among twin brothers. And Gary knows about the pros and cons of working alongside family members.

Gary George, chairman of George's Inc. was appointed president and CEO of the company by his father at the age of 30.
Gary George, now chairman of George's, still comes to work but on flexible hours.

“That’s not to say we never disagreed,” he says. “But we’d do it behind closed doors and when we came out it was with one voice. We have a strong family bond.”

Part of getting along is sharing the same vision and the Georges would agree the company has a history of making conservative decisions and is measured in its growth plans.

When the brothers were announced as co-CEOs and co-presidents in 2013, the declaration was more of a formality considering the responsibilities they inherited after Henderson retired.

The brothers set the tone early in their leadership tenure, demonstrating their plans to continue growing the company. One of the first examples came in 2011 when George’s acquired the former Tyson plant in Harrisonburg, Va., which would prove to be a valuable big-bird processing facility. With George’s already operating a small-bird plant in nearby Edinburg, “It gave us greater ability to serve customers in the Northeast with a larger bird offering,” Charles says.

More recently, an investment in the expansion of its further processing plant in Springdale, less than a half mile from the company’s headquarters, allowed for increased par-frying capacity to serve national account customers. Approximately 800 total employees work at that facility, known to most in the company as “Porter Street.” There, home-style chicken strips are cut, tumbled, battered and fried on one of three par-fry lines and then quick-frozen in one of three freezers, including one large-scale spiral unit.

The recently renovated processing plant is design to convey whole birds in the second floor processing area on to a mezzanine.
Whole birds in the second-floor processing area travel onto a mezzanine, where they are cut-up and sent to a leg and front-half deboning operation below.

When the Porter Street plant renovation was completed in early 2014, the blueprints included a test kitchen complete with commercial-grade equipment where customers can simulate the processes they utilize at their restaurant or deli. “Now we can interact with customers at a culinary level,” Carl says.

This past year the brothers also spearheaded the expansion of the Springdale processing operation (located about two miles north of the headquarters on Kansas Street) to handle big-bird processing. The renovation was designed “to allow for greater efficiencies and allow for serving more customers,” Charles says. The strategy has been to focus specific plants on dedicated operations so the success of the company isn’t over leveraged in one part of the business.

The revamped plant now employs about 980 workers on two shifts per day to slaughter and process birds with a target weight of 7 lbs. The plant has been expanded to include eight deboning lines. Currently, capacity hovers around 210,000 birds per day. Designed for growth, the additional lines allow for daily capacity of up to 268,000 birds.

The newly configured plant conveys whole birds in the second-floor processing area onto a mezzanine, where they are cut-up and sent to a leg and front-half deboning operation below. The plant produces 50 percent leg quarters and some bulk products, such as breast and wings and deboned leg meat that are shipped across town to the nearby Porter Street facility, which focuses on portion-controlled breast production, par frying, product freezing and whole-leg deboning.

The expansion of the deboning operation at the Springdale processing plant required a significant portion of the plant to be idled for approximately two weeks. 

Charles George
Charles George, co-president and co-CEO of George's Inc.

“We were able to shift production to our other facilities,” Charles says, including the Virginia deboning operation and the plant in Cassville, Mo.

An automated whole-leg deboner is a new addition to the line at the Springdale plant. The company’s leg deboning business has been a mainstay for over 18 years. Automating that process has been a significant upgrade, Charles says.

Previously the only leg deboning operation was across town at the Porter Street plant. “We were packing whole legs here and hauling them across town and re-dumping them, which meant a lot of double handling and yield loss,” Charles says. “Now it’s all done right on the line so it’s a much more efficient operation.”

George’s relies on the typical export markets for sales of the back half of the chicken. There’s still more opportunity for value-added products in the export arena, “but by and large, it’s still the back half of the bird and paws and tips,” Charles says.

Charles explains that because so much of the company’s foodservice customers’ products are size specific, the consistent carcass sizes are critical. “We’re not a commodity deboning company,” he says. “We’ve got a strong, committed foodservice customer base that buys product by the pound and sells it by the piece, so we manage live weight and carcass size consistency across our operation.”

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