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Coffee Manufacturing. One man's 25 year journey.

When most people think of manufacturing nowadays, they might think about Pharmaceutical company's, multi-national food company's such as, Procter & Gamble, General Foods, Perdue Farms or Kraft Foods. I think industry in general, is signific behind technology in many cases. I am sure plenty of multi-million or billion dollar company's, have successfully married the two but what about the small to medium size, privately held companies that are the absolute, lifeline to our economy?

Well let me share with everyone my life in the coffee industry. I walked into a coffee manufacturer on October 13, 1987. I was 27 years old, coming straight out of the restaurant business, and my head was spinning. I answered an ad in the Boston Globe for a food industry manager, and three days later, after the flu and a detailed personality and psychological test , I was hired. Well holy cow, I loved food, didn't care for the hours being newly married, but now I get the best of both world's. I am in the food industry and in particular coffee, which I absolutely loved. So, I walk into this 59 year old privately held company and put my shoes down to do the job. Within 3 weeks I realize, this company which is in the commodity business, with products you could benefit and sell on the street, was loading up multiple trucks, giving their drivers a list of customers. Their job was to drive to the customers, ask them what they needed and then give it to them, then they were supposed to hand write an invoice, come back to the office, turn them in and it would be entered by an 86 year old woman who was barely breathing. WHAT????

So then, after three weeks working there I finally got to meet the owner and President of the company. He was no nonsense, straightforward, and definitely a self made man. The first thing he says to me is this, "so you are a manager here, and I have decided to give you a life insurance policy for $20,000, say thank you". So I said thank you for that, and so went the relationship.

It was very hard to change the culture of a company, not being a senior manager, but I felt in my bones, that in order for the company to survive, it had to be changed. I systematically broke down every shortcoming the business had. I hired a customer service department, that would call the customers for their orders weekly. That drove up cash flow, affected production scheduling and inventory control. This dramatically affected cash flow, doubling it in the first six weeks. Wow right. Simple right? Well you try to do it, in a closely held company. Try it now, I dare you.

The next thing was production and purchasing. I was told by the owner to look at it, and if you can fix it, write up a report and submit it. It took me three weeks to figure this out, that we just weren't doing what we should be doing in a commodity based business and a production planning format. They were just making stuff that they thought they needed. Another big Wow!

So after 2 years of this, they made me Director of Operations. Big thing, more money and more responsibilities. Just what I wanted. During this time, we weren't doing our own flavored coffee, which I have never been a fan of, but it was gaining market share. We had been outsourcing our flavors to a company in Virginia. First Colony Coffee I believe was the name. I made an appointment to go down and visit them, and found it was owned by two second or third generation brothers. One was clearly the business person, the other was, shall we say the "master of ceremonies". I was with the owner's brother at the time and when we left there, I said to him, "we have a big problem, we better figure out how to do this ourselves". He just kind of laughed and shook his head. Within 6 months, we had a full line that produced our own flavored coffee in bean and ground packages. So that's where I am going to leave this tonight. But there will be much more to this story if you want it to be! Let me know, if you find this story interesting, or not. I am just trying to share life experiences that might help someone succeed or at least apply themselves. Because you know what, the biggest asset we have in America is people! Peace to everyone and I hope you check back in. Joe

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