We recognize family and non-family chief executives whose exceptional leadership has put their businesses in a strong position for future generations.
What qualities make a family business CEO exceptional?
The short answer is that an exceptional CEO provides the right style of leadership for their particular enterprise at this particular point in time. In a multigenerational business, making bold changes takes foresight and fortitude — and bold changes are often what’s needed in order to meet today’s many challenges. That was true even before COVID-19 turned commerce on its head.
Yet achieving a healthy bottom line and creating an inspirational corporate culture are only half the battle for CEOs of family businesses. There is also the “family” side of the equation.
Along with providing solid returns for family shareholders, family business CEOs must communicate well with the family, support good family governance and manage the business with the next generation of owners in mind. Baked into the job description is deft handling of sticky situations. If you’re a family CEO, you’re likely managing your children, siblings, cousins, in-laws or even parents — or at least managing their expectations about the size of their dividend checks. If you’re a non-family CEO, you’re tasked with growing a business without the opportunity to receive an equity stake.
Below you will meet 28 stellar family business chief executives. They are truly the right leaders for their companies in this tumultuous time.
Cloverdale Foods Company, Mandan, N.D.
Cloverdale serves both retail grocery and foodservice channels and is known in the Midwest for traditional favorites like summer sausage, bacon, franks, brats and hams.
Throughout high school and college, Russell worked in various part-time roles at Cloverdale, including the warehouse, the production floor and back-office operations. Upon graduating from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, with degrees in economics and philosophy, Russell took a position in the entrepreneurial international division of Cloverdale.
Russell left the family company for a few years to pursue his culinary passion in the foodservice industry. Recognizing that his experiences in restaurant management could add value to the company’s growing foodservice footprint, he returned, and soon after managed an expansionary multistate area. With an adept understanding of the business and sound leadership qualities, Russell was quickly promoted to director of sales and marketing, then held the title of vice president of sales and marketing for six years prior to becoming executive vice president and chief strategy officer. He became president and CEO in 2016, succeeding his brother T.J. Russell, who became chairman.
In 2008, Russell returned to the classroom at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, and earned his Executive MBA. He credits this experience as a strategic turning point for himself and the company. In 2017, he engaged a consulting firm in a multiyear strategic commitment to foster and support healthy organizational behaviors, alignment and clarity. Along this journey, Russell has recast his own leadership style and today primarily focuses on what Cloverdale could become, and how to involve others in that vision.
Building on the history of the family business, which began as Mandan Creamery in 1915 and transitioned to meat packing, Russell recently began exploring a change in Cloverdale’s product mix to accommodate the heightened consumer demand for bacon.
“Scott believes in family business as well as creating and maintaining a legacy business,” says Stephanie Larscheid, executive director of the Prairie Family Business Association. “He is a constant learner and does all he can to lead well and grow their business.
“Scott took an active role in leading and communicating with all employees during the pandemic. From uncertainty to a boom in business, he led his team through it all.”
“Org health is the recipe; the design for leading,” Russell says. “It’s about getting the best out of yourselves and others.”