One glorious late summer afternoon in 1974, I had what would later prove to be the most poignant and consequential conversation with my father Dean about our family company, founded in 1919. We were on Pier 134 between the fourth and fifth posts on the shores of Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva, where our family has been gathering since the 1920s.
We were sitting in a pair of low-slung aluminum-frame chairs with wide nylon webbing. The chairs were perfect for the lake— light, easy to carry and comfortable. The only downside was that a strong breeze could topple them into the water if left unattended. Which, of course, required quick action and a swim to retrieve them. As a kid, I loved sitting in those chairs with my dad, just talking and listening to his stories.
Making a Difference
Dean would often share stories about “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, an 1890s boxing champ famous for never giving up; spiritual and positive psychology ideas from Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 bestseller, The Power of Positive Thinking; and lessons about the possibilities all around us from “Acres of Diamonds,” a 19th-century speech by Temple University founder Russell Conway.
On this particular day, small whitecaps were forming on the lake, courtesy of a good breeze from the southwest, the prevailing wind at that time of year. The air was hot, humid and breezy, my favorite kind of summer weather, then and now. I know it was late summer from the sun’s position and the way the diffused light shown through the dense air, dancing and sparkling on the waves before us.
I was just ten years old at the time. Young, yes, but old enough for the story of the company to enter my consciousness in a different and profound way. How so? Because, in this lakeside chat, my father described how our family business was about more than simply making quality food ingredients. Also, and more importantly, he explained, Griffith Foods was a company that made a difference in the lives of the people and communities connected to our business.
Dean then summed up the whole conversation in one compelling and beautiful statement: “Bri, at the end the day, the company is a vehicle for greater good.” I immediately grasped the power of the concept. It wasn’t abstract, and I was proud that our company was something more.
So why does this discussion with Dean matter so much to me after all these years? Well, up until 2005, it remained a simple, private and personal moment between father and son. And then it became something more, as I began sharing our story while recruiting new members of my team across Asia Pacific, in China, Thailand and Japan. I opened up about that moment on the dock because it demonstrated the long-term perspective of our family as owners with a vision of business about more than growth, profit and competitive differentiation. Our conversation captured the spirit and essence of how we still see our business, even as it pre-dated the formal articulation of our Purpose and all the sustainability efforts we’ve since undertaken.
The story of our conversation is personally meaningful to me for other reasons as it laid the foundation of a future shift in generational leadership and gave me a lasting way to honor my father and mother. In 2013, when I put together our initial sustainability task force, Dean was 86 years old and in decline, unfortunately. In May of that year, the sustainability taskforce presented our recommendation of the triple-bottom line platform to the company’s Worldwide Management Team. But, before we did, I asked Dean to open our presentation and help launch what I expected would be the start of a new era for Griffith Foods.
I didn’t ask Dean to talk about sustainability or the strategic importance of our triple bottom-line framework, as these concepts would have been inauthentic to my dad and his experience. Instead, I simply asked Dean to talk about what he loved about the company and his personal journey. When he began to speak, everyone in the room leaned forward to listen. About 30 minutes later, when he was done, I shared the story of our conversation on the dock and how my father had described our business as a “vehicle for greater good” and, in so doing, building a bridge between our past and our future.
New Era of Griffith Foods
This was an important bridge for many reasons. Involving my father enabled him to be part of creating a new era for Griffith Foods at a pivotal moment in our history. Sharing our story also allowed me to honor Dean and my mother Lois for the values they had instilled in me throughout my life. The sustainability framework we adopted and have since pursued gave form and structure to the concept of our business as a “vehicle for greater good”—an idea that had shaped and infused Griffith Foods for many years. Throughout 2013 and 2014, I presented our sustainability plans more than 40 times in town hall settings with our associates around the world. Each and every time, I shared a photo of Dean and Lois and their view of Griffith Foods as a “vehicle for greater good.”
Today, we continue to build and refine our sustainability vision and the various ways we are reshaping our business to make a larger positive difference in the world. Looking ahead to 2030 and beyond, we are taking steps and making commitments my father could scarcely have imagined. Even so, we continue to take inspiration from the words he shared with me all those years ago in a quiet moment on a lake dock between father and son.
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