Northern Ingredients CEO Robert Schafer on Placing Workplace Culture Before Profits

Founder and CEO Bob Schafer created a highly successful bakery supply business from scratch all from operating cash flow; no debt. Mixing and/or distributing 150 million pounds a year of ingredients to food manufacturers, this Minnesota Family Business Award-winning company has weathered three recessions since its founding in 1991. Thus far it is handing the Covid-19 recession well by adapting to the times, while also protecting its values. This includes how it pivoted to handle new business without hiring more people.

Schafer discusses this and more in this interview shot on location at Northern Ingredients in Arden Hills, MN. He talks about how to attract and retain talent beyond wage increases (which the competition can simply match) and provides tips for struggling business on how to survive this recession. These include working out creative terms with vendors and taking an honest look at parts of your business that could be eliminated, allowing you to focus on those most valuable.

Northern Ingredients has picked up additional business from commercial bakeries that used to be able to buy direct from producers. Knowing this influx of orders will likely fade when Covid-19 does, Schafer asked his employees to work extra hours rather than hire more people. And he refused to add a third shift, placing workplace culture and personal life priorities before revenue growth.

“We put out a schedule of voluntary 60 hours a week. We just said, ‘We’re going to 11 hours a day Monday through Friday, and five hours on Saturday. If it works for you, sign up. If we don’t get enough people to sign up then and only then will we add to our staff.’ Of our 16 production workers on any given day we have 14 there. The first two weeks it was 100 percent. We’re still operating only 50 hours but we’re doing the same production.”

You can watch this interview here on YouTube or listen to it here via Spotify.

About One Take CEO Interviews: CEOs openly share how they’re leading during 2020’s pandemic, recession and other challenges during candid, ‘one take’ unedited discussions begun in May 2020. The interviews are produced by Dale Kurschner, who for 30 years served as one of the Upper Midwest’s most trustworthy, timely leaders in business journalism. Dale most recently led Twin Cities Business magazine as its Editor in Chief (2010-2018) and today serves as a strategic communication consultant at Platinum Group. These interviews are independently produced with no funding or other financial affiliation with the companies that are interviewed.

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