Phil Clemens and his wife, Linda celebrate his retirement from Clemens Family Corp.
Phil Clemens and his wife Linda celebrate his retirement from Clemens Family Corp., the family business he has been a part of since he was 10 years old.

Picture it if you will – a relay race. A runner is making his way around the track, baton in hand, on the approach to transition. Runner number two starts his run and falls into step an arm’s length in front of his teammate. As the two are running in unison, the runner reaches his arm back to grasp the baton and for a single moment the two both hold onto the baton. Then the first runner lets go and the second grasps tighter, and the handoff is made. The first runner keeps up his pace alongside his teammate for a few moments longer before sending him on his journey around the track.

According to Phil Clemens, his life for the past five years has been one long leg of a relay race. Last August he handed his baton to Doug Clemens, but kept on running with him for another year. This past month, Phil officially stopped running.

Aug. 6, 2015, marked the official retirement of Phil Clemens, CEO of the Clemens Family Corp., which includes Hatfield Quality Meats, for more than two decades. Doug Clemens, Phil’s second cousin and fourth generation of the Clemens family, has taken over as CEO – a hand-off Phil has been working on for more than 13 years.

In 2002, Phil started a mentoring program for fourth and fifth generation members of the Clemens family who were involved in the family business. There were 18 family members involved in the large group mentoring process over the past 13 years – something Phil called, “Lessons in Leadership.” Phil’s goal was to have three suitable candidates selected as possible successors within five years of his retirement. The program was a success – and out of it came his successor, Doug.

Unlike many in the business world, Phil has known the exact date of his retirement for years. It was written into his company’s bylaws years ago that there is mandatory retirement for the leader of the business. This retirement was to take place at the shareholder meeting immediately following his or her 65th birthday. In fact, Phil spearheaded the push toward mandatory retirement at Clemens Family Corp.

“I’m a firm believer in family businesses having mandatory retirement,” Phil explains. “What I find in family businesses is that too many people stay way too long and instead of contributing to the business they pull down the business or don’t contribute anymore. I’m a firm believer of having a date to retire.”

Phil turned 65 last December, so he always knew August 2015 would mean retirement for him. And he is the first to admit he has no one to blame but himself.

Family ties

Phil Clemens' (left, standing) career began at the age of 10.
Phil Clemens' (left, standing) career began at the age of 10.

Phil’s lifelong career with the family business started 55 years ago. At the age of 10, when his family lived next door to the Hatfield Quality Meats pork processing plant, he was given the choice of working at the plant or doing more chores around the house (both for the same salary of $0). He thought working at the plant sounded more fun – and so it began. At the age of 12, he was added to the payroll (for 75 cents an hour), and he has been a paid employee of the family business ever since.

In September 1967, he had plans to attend Pierce College in Philadelphia – but that didn’t mean he would stop working. In fact, he worked 60 hours a week at the plant, commuted by train to Philadelphia and took a full course load. Every day started at 3 a.m. and finished at 11 p.m.

After college, working at the family business full time was something he wanted to do, but not something he thought he was entitled to. To be sure there was no family favoritism, he insisted upon being interviewed for a job at the company by a non-family member. “I wanted to make sure that I didn’t feel I was entitled to have a job, nor was I mandated to be there. I wanted it to be my choice,” he says.

This philosophy of the absence of entitlement has led Phil Clemens throughout his entire career. It’s a big reason he led the charge to reorganize the family business 15 years ago. Two years after being named CEO, Phil went to his board of directors and resigned. “I started feeling that the family business was going down a track of entitlement, and I didn’t want any part of it,” he explains. “After going home and telling my wife that I just resigned, the board came back to me and asked me to stay on. I said, ‘Yes, but there will be some conditions.’

“In my opinion, we really needed to separate the family from the business. We started on that path, and in 2000 we made a significant change from being a family business to a business family.”

Phil explains that the main difference between the two is that in a family business the main goal is family harmony, profits are secondary. In a business family, profits are expected and respected and “as a result of being profitable, you can work on family harmony.”

The change in the company’s philosophy also led to a change in the company’s business model. “We went to a diversified business model,” Phil explains. “We didn’t want to put all our hams in one basket, you might say.”

The company, now called Clemens Family Corp., is truly diversified with businesses in food, real estate, logistics and transport. “We’ve made some acquisitions, and we’ve grown organically as a company as well,” he says.

Clemens Food Group contains Hatfield Quality Meats, the original family business dating back to 1895 that is still based in Hatfield, Pa. The company has also since acquired Country View Family Farms, a hog-procurement and processing company based in Lancaster, Pa., and Nick’s Sausage Company. Clemens Development, based in Hatfield, Pa., manages more than 1 million sq. ft. of real estate; CFC Logistics, out of Quakertown, Pa., is a 250,000-sq.-ft. cooler and freezing facility; and PV Transport, Hatfield, Pa., offers transportation and logistics services.

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Leaving a legacy

Knowing retirement was on the horizon has been bittersweet for Phil. “Even though I know passing the baton and retiring is what’s best for the company, it’s still tough. But it’s important to me that my walk matches my talk. 

Phil Clemens, former CEO of Clemens Family Corp.
Phil Clemens, former CEO of Clemens Family Corp.

“Our company’s core values are the same as my core values, and I’ll always live by them,” he adds. “Those values are ethics – I’ll do the right thing; integrity – I’ll do what I say; and stewardship – I’ll build a foundation for the future.”

Even though he will be retired, Phil’s future will still involve his family’s business.

“I will go dark for a year – I will not serve on any committees within the company and I’ll go off the board of directors,” he explains. “I am willing to be on call, but I will not call them, they will need to call me.”

One role he won’t be giving up in retirement is that of mentor to the company’s management team and family members. In addition, he wants to take on the mentor role among other family businesses in the meat industry. “I will be an ambassador to family businesses around the world, representing our company,” he explains.

Phil will also be working alongside the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) as a part of its new family business education track. The organization plans to hold seminars and education sessions at industry events on topics of interest and concern to those in family businesses. “Family-business issues should be another non-competitive issue in our industry. We need to help family businesses be strong for the future,” he says. “There are a lot of family-owned businesses in the meat industry both on the supplier side and processor side.”

According to statistics, only 30 percent of family businesses go from the first to the second generation and only 12 percent are passed on from the second to the third generation. Less than 4 percent are passed on to the fourth generation. “We are in the sixth generation at Clemens,” Phil says. “Less than 2 percent go on to the sixth generation.”

Retiring to something

With Phil’s upcoming work as an ambassador and mentor, he’s not worried about having too much time on his hands during retirement. Now is his time to share with others, he says. “I heard it said once that your first 20 years are spent learning, the next 40 plus are spent earning, and the next 20 or so plus years should be spent returning. It’s now my time to do some ‘returning,’” he explains. “I think everyone’s got something they can share with others.”

Phil plans to keep sharing his thoughts and ideas in a monthly essay he calls his “Monthly Thought” that he emails to employees, co-workers and industry colleagues. In his most recent “Monthly Thought,” he shared the news about his retirement, as well as thoughts about the next chapter of his life. He quoted American pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick who said, “Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to.”

“I have much to retire to; I need to choose the best,” Phil explains. “My pace may slow a bit, but my passion won’t. I have a desire to finish well.”