When you talk about success in the pork industry, a name that often surfaces is the Maschhoff's. This energetic and innovative family has enjoyed success for generations and is firmly committed to keep it growing.

The Maschhoffs, Inc., functions as a management company, providing the expertise that allows each division and production partner to develop the knowledge, resources and skills to succeed.

Brothers Ken and Dave Maschhoff took ownership of the farm from their parents in 1992 and now head the Carlyle, Ill.-based company. The business has since grown exponentially and today is among the largest independently owned pork production operations in the United States, marketing more than 2 million hogs annually. The company’s growth has focused on state-of-the-art production facilities, on-farm research, close alliances with production partners in five states and careful employee development.

Setting the company apart is The Maschhoffs, Inc.'s, family culture and the commitment to co-workers. In addition, the company has forged an education and research alliance with the University of Illinois, which has helped them meet some of the challenges that accompany rapid growth.

The biggest step in that growth occurred in 2005, when the family acquired Land O’Lakes’ swine production assets. That propelled the Maschhoffs to the forefront of the U.S. pork industry, and their determination and savvy have kept them there.

Here, Ken and Julie Maschhoff share some thoughts on how it’s done.

How do you preserve the family culture through such rapid growth?

All four family owners have created a culture of people working side-by-side; all are very visible and active in daily management. We stress that as a family owned business, we are committed to professional development and management.

It’s more of a challenge to portray that concept in our out-of-state locations. So we bring folks in to the home operation to experience our culture here. We also go out to visit all of our farms to meet with co-workers at their workplace. We entrust significant responsibility and assets to our managers and encourage them to take ownership in the operation along with us. The family farm concept is alive and well at The Maschhoffs, Inc.

How has the Land O’Lakes purchase gone?

It has been a huge learning curve for us. It doubled our operation and doubled our people. It also stretched our management abilities and forced us to change some things we were doing and to manage in new ways. At times, it was painful for us, but in the end it made us better people managers and production managers.

What has produced the biggest growing pains?

Initially, evaluating the health status, genetics and parity status of sows in the additional operations across the Midwest was a big task. Since the Land O’Lakes purchase, standardizing management and training programs throughout the company has been a priority.

As the company grows, bringing in the right people is an on-going challenge. With 547 employees, our Human Resources staff has doubled in the past year. We realize that we have to focus more on organizational and individual development. We have invested in more programs for our co-workers so that they can continue their growth.

Sometimes our co-workers have to wear two hats until we find the right additional person. At other times, we’ll hire an individual because we recognize his or her talent, and it might take some time before that person moves into an official role. Talent acquisition is a major focus for us.

How do you recruit new employees?

Our co-workers are some of our best sources. An employee who is satisfied and challenged at work is likely to speak well of the company, so many of our people join as a result of recommendations from current employees. We use traditional recruitment methods and we also provide a summer internship program for six to eight college students, which helps us identify young talent.

How do you develop your employees?

We try to challenge our co-workers and give them incentives to demonstrate there is a career path for them here. For those who possess the potential and the drive, there is opportunity to become a team leader on a farrowing or breeding crew, to become a section manager or assistant site manager and then on to service manager or regional manager.

There are continuing education programs, and we reimburse tuition and books as long as the field of study is relevant to their job or the business, and they maintain a B average. We provide some flexibility in work hours to accommodate these activities. We offer computer software classes, and all of our directors take the Dale Carnegie Leadership course.

Can you tell us about your University of Illinois scholarship program?

The Maschhoffs, Inc. sponsors a Master of Science degree in Animal Science with a swine production management specialization. We have two individuals currently working on their master's through the two-year program, which combines business and academics in a real-world setting. They spend three semesters doing class work and one semester within our research system. The program allows them to immediately apply what they are learning in the classroom to what is happening in the field. It’s attracting attention from other universities as to how to better prepare students for a constantly changing business world.

We need to attract more bright young people into agriculture. The pork industry has a lot of unique opportunities, and we wanted to showcase those by providing a scholarship program that allows students to continue their graduate work.

What have you learned from working with the University of Illinois?

It has been a huge benefit to both parties. We provide intense work- study for students as part of the program. It gives them a glimpse of the real world and proof of why production agriculture research is so important.

It helps us determine what data we need to collect, record and analyze to make the best decisions. For example, we’ve worked with students on transportation and pen design studies and their effects on production efficiencies. We get much satisfaction in seeing young people grow and develop through such programs.

What percentage of your market hogs comes from contract growers?

We currently market 2 million market hogs per year and also supply several hundred thousand feeder pigs. About 80 percent of our market production is raised under contract.

Will you reduce your herd during this challenging economic time?

We’re not cutting our breeding herd. We’re sitting tight and investing in people and research so we can fully utilize the science, technology and genetics within our system. We feel that will allow us to be in the best position if the right acquisition opportunity comes along.

What do you see as your biggest threat?

Our biggest concern is the influence that animal welfare advocates have on the public.

From their sheer numbers it’s hard for our voice to be heard because we’re such a minority.

Due to high feed costs, the price of our product will have to increase. That’s why we must step up and tell the public the whole story about what we do and why we do it.

Many of our employees have participated in the

Operation Main Street
and the LEADR programs, which are helping us become more effective in reaching out to consumers. The Maschhoffs, Inc., supports both programs, in time and resources. We’re not all PR people, but public relations is part of everyone’s job.

Last fall, we held an open house and BBQ contest for our local community, and 1,000 people came out. Even in our hometown, people are curious about what we do, so we’ve decided to make it an annual event.

Where do you get your motivation?

There are so many families depending on our business, and it’s a responsibility we take seriously. We are inspired and motivated by our four children as well as by our 500-plus employee families and 26 production-partner families; we want to do the best we can for them.

We also participate in conferences and seminars. For example, to continue developing our leadership skills we attended the Global Family Enterprise Program at the Thunderbird School of Management in February.

Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?

We are gradually transitioning from being active managerial leaders in the business to visionary leaders and mentors. In 10 years, we will hopefully be mentoring another generation of young people and leaders. What we’ve done right was hire good people.

Also, we began diversifying the business about four years ago and that will continue. It is our goal to have as much as 50 percent of the family assets diversified outside of agriculture by 2017.

What advice would you offer other pork executives?

Realize that government policies and energy subsidies will now have more influence over the success of your business than you will.

Don’t be afraid to bring young people, or people from outside the pork industry, into your business — and listen to them. It has given us a better perspective on what consumers need to know about our business.

Learn how to step back and transfer authority. When you build a business around great people, you can leverage those talents in many ways.