Mountaire Farms is 100 years old and still growing

Mountaire Farms boasts steady poultry production growth, highchicken processing throughput and community service, and it’s celebrating 100years.

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Paul Downes, chief executive officer of Mountaire Farms, has worked for the company for more than 34 years in positions of increasing responsibility, including chief operating officer and vice president of live operations.
Paul Downes, chief executive officer
of Mountaire Farms, has worked for the company for more than 34 years in positions of increasing responsibility, including chief operating officer and vice president of live operations.

Mountaire Farms, the seventh largest chicken producer in the U.S. and one of the poultry industry’s fastest growing companies, turns 100 in 2014.

Guy Cameron founded the company in 1914 that over the past century changed business lines from commercial feeds to poultry and geographic bases from Arkansas to Delmarva and North Carolina.

The Cameron family name is not as familiar outside poultry industry circles as Tyson, Perdue or Sanderson but had its beginning in the grain and feed milling business in Arkansas and has risen to greater prominence in the U.S. broiler industry after acquiring chicken operations on Delmarva in 1977.

Mountaire Farms, run today by the founder’s grandson and company chairman Ronnie Cameron, has experienced exceptional growth in the chicken business with a mixture of construction, acquisition and expansion of poultry operations on Delmarva and in North Carolina.

The company exited commercial feed milling operations in Arkansas in 2007. So, while the company’s roots are in Arkansas, all Mountaire operations other than the headquarters are today in Delaware, Maryland and North Carolina.

Mountaire centennial anniversary celebrations

The family owned and operated company marks its 100th year of business in 2014 with celebrations with employees, growers and customers while retaining a low-key presence outside the communities in which it operates.

“Customers will also see something different about the poultry shipments they receive in 2014. In honor of the Mountaire centennial anniversary, the company has unveiled a new logo to recognize its heritage as a family owned and operated company since 1914,” Chief Executive Officer Paul Downes announced earlier this year.

“As an additional component of the centennial celebration, Mountaire will continue its tradition of community stewardship initiatives. The company will conduct job fairs, sponsor scholarship awards and community services awards, host the Mountaire Faith & Family Night, and provide meals for those less fortunate. Mountaire’s Thanksgiving for Thousands feeding program will take place as the finale celebration to honor the company’s 100 years.”

Hayes Grain and Commission Company

It was a very different, and changing, world when the company got its start as the Hayes Grain and Commission Company in 1914.

The year the company was founded by Guy Cameron in North Little Rock, Arkansas, the first steamboat passed through the Panama Canal and Babe Ruth made his professional baseball debut.

It was in the Golden Age of agriculture, a period of high food prices and farm prosperity. The price of bacon in 1914 had risen to over 27 cents a pound from as low as 10 cents after the Panic of 1893, and eggs had risen to 35 cents a dozen from 8 cents a dozen.

The price of hens in 1914 was around 20 cents a pound but would rise by around 80 percent in the years leading up to 1921.

Start in commercial feed milling, move into chicken business

By 1931, the business became known as Cameron Feed Mills. In 1959, the company entered into a contractual arrangement with seven Arkansas firms representing various segments of the poultry business. This partnership was incorporated into Mountaire Poultry, Inc., in 1964.

In 1971, the companies became known as Mountaire Corporation. Ted Cameron, Guy's son, was chairman, and Ronnie, Ted's son, became CEO in 1975.

Today, Ronnie Cameron is the company’s chairman, and Downes is the chief executive officer of Mountaire Farms.

One of the nation’s top 10 broiler producers

Ranked No. 7 in WATT PoultryUSA’s survey of U.S. broiler companies, Mountaire Farms reported 41.04 million pounds ready-to-cook (RTC) chicken on a weekly basis in 2013.

Mountaire Farms, which reported sales of $2.03 billion in 2013, has operations that include:

The company addresses its size as follows, “a size which makes us competitive and viable, while also enabling us to maintain the personal touch of a smaller company.”

Mountaire’s community and faith-based activities

Mountaire Farms is a company that measures success by more than typical business metrics. For example, the company is well-known for its community and faith-based activities.

Examples of Mountaire’s community and faith-based activities include:

Measuring Mountaire’s business success

A couple of things stand out about the company’s success in the chicken business:

Major poultry acquisitions, expansions and internal growth

Mountaire’s growth in the chicken business has included the acquisition of major poultry operations on Delmarva and in North Carolina:

At the same time, the company has constructed and expanded poultry feed milling, hatching and processing facilities while generating internal and organic growth in its operations.

Keys to Mountaire Farms’ success

What are the keys to Mountaire Farms' success in the chicken business?

Executives involved in strategic decision making at Mountaire Farms spoke with WATT PoultryUSA on occasion of the company’s centennial anniversary. They said the keys to Mountaire’s success are the business culture, operational excellence and strategy.

Business success starts with people

The culture at Mountaire is said to be one of its greatest strengths. The servant leadership philosophy stems from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. The company’s messaging to new employees coming in the door is “service to one another and to our customers.”

Executive Vice President Dee Ann English said, “I think Mountaire’s success has been because we recognize the importance of our people – certainly our employees but also our customers, our farmers, our vendors, everyone associated with us. We allow people to have the responsibility and accountability for their decisions and that allows the whole company to succeed.”

Vice President Human Resources and Business Services Michael Tirrell agreed saying that valuing people is one way the company pursues operational excellence.

“Business culture is one part of operational excellence and is one of the things that drives our company. We believe in a culture of openness and honesty and in treating each other with respect, including our customers and our neighbors,” he said.

Sticking to the business strategy

Having a sound business strategy and keeping to it helps drive Mountaire’s success, Tirrell said.

“A good plan and great execution are needed,” he explained. “Keeping to the strategy and being true to ourselves as a company helps drive our success. It’s what we call strategy with vision. We know where we want to go in our plan and the end result, and everything has to support that strategy.”

Is growth a central business objective at Mountaire Farms?

Growth is pursued where it meets Mountaire's strategy and operational goals.

“We are always working to prepare the company to be ready for growth opportunities when they are presented, but we are not seeking to grow at all costs. We have very firm strategic objectives, and if opportunities fit that strategy, then, we might pursue them,” he said.

Knowing the mission at Mountaire Farms

Operational excellence is a more central objective, according to English. “Our objective as a company is to be the best, not to be the biggest,” she explained.

The focus on operational excellence helps drive customer value, Tirrell added.

“We provide good value to the customer. It’s not based on being low cost. It’s not based on being high cost. It could be either one of those things, depending on the customers’ needs. We partner with our customers to fill their needs however this fits into the cost equation.”

A philosophy of organized, stable growth has been successful in allowing the Mountaire organization to stay focused on the core issues of business culture, operational excellence and strategy.

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