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CC: Can you tell me about the way you built Duncan Family Farms? We spoke before but you had a big meeting where you brought all the supervisors in one room. Can you take us back to what you shared in that room?
AD: Growing up around farming, what I witnessed in the farmer’s relationship with the people that worked with, and I’m not proud of those times. The level of respect was very limited. I admit it, since I didn’t change it, I was the cause of allowing it to continue. So at one point in time, I got everyone together, all the managers, supervisors, but I said it stops now. I shared a vision of respect for everyone on the farm, for every position, for how we treat each other. We would be going through training together, and that basically you’re either in or out. If you wanted out, I’d buy you out right now. Everyone else that’s here that’s willing to move forward as a better company, stay on board, and let’s do this together. When I mean together, I’m talking about a team. That’s what I’ve tried to establish are teams of people working together in collaboration to get everybody’s ideas instead of just one person’s.
CC: That seems simple enough. It seems like common sense but you don’t see that enough in business. What gave you the courage to take that step? .
AD: It’s one of those things that’s really easy to say, but when you get down everyday and start working on it, it’s that classic when you walk into a conference room, when you walk into any group of individuals and you’re working something out, and you’re trying to collaborate – we refer to it as checking your ego at the door, and sometimes we will remind each other that if it’s going to be a contentious discussion.
CC: It was a while ago, decades ago, when you made that decision and now where you are with Duncan Family Farms. I guess it was the right decision, right?
AD: It was and is the decision. Everyday you have to choose to contribute to a better culture in your company.
CC: Can you tell us about these meetings with your staff where they’re not scheduled meetings. Can you tell us why you do that?
AD: People on the farm joke about some of these stories but going out and just saying hi to people on the farm, walking with people, working with people. Seeing somebody that maybe in their opinion, in my opinion one of the worst things to do on a farm is pick rocks up out of a field or something, but every single job on a farm is super important, and I just want to make sure that when I visit with people what everybody understands what they’re doing really is important. And if they don’t know why it is I will help them and explain it. The role that they play and how it fits into the overall success of the company.
CC: Can you put yourself in their shoes where the CEO comes out, and he’s picking rocks or he’s in a ditch or he’s having a conversation, what that means to that person?
AD: Usually I’ll walk into the middle of a group of people, and I’ll start working with them. You start getting the looks, the sideways looks, that “what is this guy doing?” and just start, “How are you guys doing? Where are you from? How is it working here? How are the conditions?” and “By the way, thank you for doing this.” Thanks for doing THIS. What we’re doing now is so important because of this, this, this and this. Having the opportunity to just say thank you… saying thank you to people who may have not have heard that on a farm ever.
CC: I’m going to put you on the spot here. Can you just describe in a couple sentences or maybe one sentence or maybe one word your philosophy as a leader, as a CEO, at the top of the organization, what is your philosophy?
AD: Wow. It’s not a short one. Basically, we want to build as a collective group, as a team, and that’s probably the main thing. Let’s all work together to build the culture of a company with a soul. Imagine if every employee when someone asked them who do you work for, where do you work, what do they do, they describe their job as something they get to do with the company they get to work with. That’s something to celebrate.
CC: Last thing… how has your company pivoted in this pandemic time? How much has it affected you? What have you learned moving forward?
AD: We’re no different than anyone else in that the pandemic changes everything you do every day. How you interact with people, how you interact with everyone really. I would say on our farm the day in and day out logistics were not as big of a pivot as I think most companies need to go through because of the culture of food safety on the farm… The level of food safety programs we practice every day, in fact, everything we do is filtered through a food safety lens if you will, and once you start with that level of practice and programs, stepping up to individual safety wasn’t as huge of a move as I think most people would think. It was definitely a redesign of how people work together, certainly how people live and work together, so in that regard, I don’t think we’re any different than any other company.
CC: Future of Duncan Family Farms. Working with your wife and this terrific staff, what’s the future?
AD: I think the future is certainly to be willing to change everything. Imagine how our farm is today, we believe it will be completely different in the future. Trying to get closer to shorten the food chain literally. Between our farm and the end buyer and becoming more integrated and more involved with the city and our communities and really trying to be a part of the food hub of an individual community no matter where we are at.