by Chris Bahn
Posted 5/20/2013 12:00 am
Updated 11 months ago
Some of Carl and Charles George’s earliest memories naturally involve the family business.
Charles recalls touring a new George’s Inc. facility for hours with his father, Gary, the former CEO and current chairman of the board of the Springdale poultry processing operation. Carl remembers occasionally riding to school with his grandfather, Gene, as early morning updates from local plants were delivered via handheld two-way radio.
Neither brother fully realized it at the time, but those moments were great educational opportunities and had a significant impact on where the 30-year-old twins find themselves today. Named co-CEOs of the poultry processing operation in April, Carl and Charles George picked up knowledge in their early years that is invaluable today in their current roles.
“We definitely grew up around the business,” Carl George said. “We have a great appreciation for where the company was in the old days and how it has grown. We have an understanding of what it takes to succeed.”
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Certainly, they have the right last name to lead George’s Inc., which is a fourth-generation family business, founded in 1920. But the two have also worked for years to acquire the right skills needed to run what has grown into an estimated $900 million operation with approximately 4,700 employees in Arkansas, Missouri and Virginia.
In 2009 — at age 26 — the two were named to the executive staff and served as senior vice presidents. It was then they began dividing up duties that they now hold. Carl George is in charge of live production and processing. Charles George oversees sales, accounting, human resources, quality assurance and purchasing.
Gary George, who like his sons became CEO at age 30, said he was often impressed with how the two brought fresh ideas to meetings and showed a knack for problem-solving. In fact, he said he had no doubt that his sons were ready to take over. Gary George views the brothers as much better prepared for the job than he was at their age, he said.
“They got a quick education and have seen the highs and lows of the business,” George said. “And how much better education can you get than being thrown into it? When is the right time? The right time is when you are prepared. And they are prepared.”
In addition to their early start on the management team and tagging along with their father and grandfather as kids, the duo held assorted jobs within the company as teenagers.
They’ve spent the last 15 years working in some capacity at George’s Inc., including stints at the Springdale processing plant and at a local hatchery. Those jobs afforded them a first-hand look at what goes into the integrated poultry — or “farm-to-fork” — operation.
“That’s one thing I feel like my dad and the whole management team did a good job of is focusing on teaching us as opposed to just making sure we paid our dues,” Charles George said. “They were focused on making sure we understood the business.”
Involvement with management also allowed the brothers to test what they acknowledge is an unusual approach to running a company. Having co-CEOs isn’t unprecedented, but the situation does lend itself to questions, including one relating to competition and good old-fashioned sibling rivalry.
There is none, they said.
Charles was quick to acknowledge — before the question was asked — that the two are competitive, but not with each other. Walking the sometimes delicate line between relative and co-worker was something they picked up watching their father and grandfather.
Gene George was chairman of the board until his death in 2010 at age 88, and he helped provide an example of how to keep business and family separate, despite how entwined the two are for George’s Inc. leadership.
Working together is a lesson they learned early on when the two played baseball on the same Little League team. They played different positions and each found areas in which they could contribute, an approach they take today when overseeing George’s Inc.
“Winning, for us, is not how we fare with each other,” Charles George said. “It’s how we do against everybody else. That’s where we start.”
Carl George echoes that sentiment. And he notes that splitting duties is viewed as a good way to keep the duo working together.
“We’re not in competition with each other,” Carl George said. “We’re in competition with our peers in the industry.”
George’s services major food service distribution companies, major retailers and national fast food chains. The brothers don’t get specific about clients — the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen chain is among them — but aren’t shy when it comes to outlining general goals.
Continuing to invest in facilities and modernize their operation is important to the brothers.
“We like to reinvest in our business,” Carl George said. “We keep our facilities modern. We feel like that gives us a competitive advantage. It gives your customers confidence.”
Expanding George’s reach nationally and cultivating opportunities to sell more poultry to existing customers is also a priority. They also have their sights set on adding regional chains and regional distributors not already among their client list.
“There is a lot of opportunity in the poultry business when you’re cost-competitive and at the top of your peer group for quality,” Charles George said. “We see a lot of opportunities.”