Beth Sparboe Schnell Interview

beth sparboeAbout Beth: Now the owner, president and CEO of Sparboe Farms, Beth Sparboe Schnell began work at her father’s business in 1985. “Certainly in my case, I grew up in the business, watching my dad wrestle with it as it grew. Even when I came back to the business in 1985, it was already a very different business from the one I grew up in. Back then, our business was local; our customers, local grocers, paid us cash out of the till. Today we have a wide variety of customers, many still local but also many national and international customers.

“I loved the simplicity of our business at one point and now I love the complexity. The challenges are greater and require much different leadership, management and execution skills. The work demands more of people at every level. It is dramatically different than when I was starting out.”

Let’s talk about how the company has grown.

“Sparboe is a family business and this comes through in the way we work with our people – employees and our customers. The other day, a customer said, ‘You guys have always been an industry leader. Now, others are catching up to you. What is your next deal?’ I told him, ‘Our innovation comes from you and what you and what you are working on. As one of your suppliers, what we do next is based on figuring out how we can help you do what you’re trying to do, better.’

“We are also resilient. There is always an issue. It might be a disease outbreak, corn prices going up, or egg prices going down. We can’t be rigid. We have to be resilient and tough.”

When you think about your company’s performance chain, where do you start?

“Well, it starts with yield or production, making sure we are capturing and not wasting value all the way through the performance chain. Starting with: for every pound of chicken feed we buy, are we getting the right number of eggs? We have an intense focus on yield.

“Next, I think about the complex collection of interrelated activities. In our business, it is not so many ingredients. It is having hands-on management making sure everything is done through the entire process.

“It all starts with good chickens and quality feed. The better we care for the chickens, the better we produce. The better we produce, the better our plants, processing and our distribution work.”

Can you relate to how speed, predictability, flexibility and leverage play a role in the way Sparboe operates?

“For us, speed is most important in the customer order process. Given the perishable nature of our products, we need to be able to respond quickly. However, the shorter the lead time for the customer, the more challenging it is for us. It becomes a balance of customer satisfaction and plant efficiency.

“Predictability shows up in sales as well. We know the heavy buying periods – for example, buying more eggs at Easter. The flocks are predictable. Other things throughout the process are not predictable. Something is always changing. In this business, you have to thrive in a chaotic world. It is a commodity world where the products are highly perishable and time is always a challenge.

“Flexibility is required for constantly changing requirements. We don’t do thing the way we did them three years ago. The source of the changes can be customers, competition, regulations or consumer buying habits.

“Leverage in this business is about people. Our people are truly our greatest assets whether they work in nutrition, production or sales. Across the company, we tap into our specialists and leverage their knowledge.

“The fact is that 98-99% of the time, our employees do the right thing, and customer orders are on time and accurate. Our hens produce safe, affordable, nutritious eggs for hundreds of customers in dozens of states, and we feed millions of Americans every day.”