'All I ever wanted in life is an unfair advantage'

Q: Describe your company.

A: We are the original division of the Middleby Corporation. The company was founded in 1888, went public in the early 1980s, and now has 60 divisions. Our division has made movable ovens since the beginning. Our conveyor ovens revolutionized the pizza business over 30 years ago. Our innovative patented WOW Ovens are used by all major pizza chains around the world.

The customer puts the pizza on a conveyor belt that travels automatically through the oven in half the time with no labor required. Our ovens are installed in more than 100 countries and more than 60 percent of our sales go outside the U.S. We were named supplier of the year this year by Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, Marco's and Domino's India. We were also named the favorite oven of independent pizza operators.

We've also started to automate the casual dining restaurant market with our conveyor CTX WOW Grilling System. The system automatically cooks products on a conveyor belt, rather than traditional cooking done on griddles or char broilers. The system cooks faster, better, with less energy and saves over 3,000 hours of labor a year for each location. We are now placing our CTX ovens in Chili's, Red Lobster, Cheddar's and many other chains.

Q: Do you plan to hire additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?

A: We made some very large investments in factory automation over the last few years. All our ovens are manufactured in Elgin and shipped around the world. Most of our fabrication is now done by machines or robots.

All our oven assembly, testing and crating is done by skilled employees. All manufacturing, engineering, service, accounting and sales management are located in Elgin.

Q: What is the hottest trend in your industry?

A: The worldwide restaurant industry in being driven by online order placement and speed to the door is critical for their customers to get their food in the restaurant or delivered to them fast.

We have many casual dining chains being able to get the food to your table in 12 minutes or less.

We have some pizza chains delivering pizzas in less than 15 minutes by using our high speed WOW Ovens. The large chains continue to grow, but a good independent restaurant can still be very successful.

Q: If you had on tip to give to a rookie CEO, what would it be?

A: The world is changing very quickly. Charles Darwin wrote hundreds of years ago “It's not the strongest of the species that survives, or even the smartest. It's the most able to change.”

Change is good and change is inevitable. The ability to change has enabled me to prosper in business.

Q: Do you have a business mantra?

A: “All I ever wanted in life is an unfair advantage.”

For our company, the unfair advantage was to invent a product that cooked better, faster, with less energy usage than any other oven. We then patent the invention and everyday work on the next innovative idea.

Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?

A: I'd had the pleasure of working personally with the founders of virtually every pizza chain in the world over the last 40 years. I'm amazed at Papa John Schnatter and the ability to grow his business from one store to over 5,000 locations around the world by focusing everyday on better ingredients, better pizza. We've been his exclusive oven company since he started Papa John's.

Q: What is one interesting fact about Middleby Marshall that most people may not know?

A: New customers or customers that haven't visited us before are shocked when they visit our plant and see our ovens hand made from scratch here in Elgin. They assume the ovens are made elsewhere and our plant is just a distribution center. We have employees that have built ovens here for more than 40 years.

Q: If you were not doing this job what do you think you would be doing?

A: I've been selling food service equipment for more than 40 years. If I wasn't supplying the equipment, I'd be running my own chain of restaurants.

It's a very amazing entrepreneurial industry with 100's of successful examples and new ideas every day.

Q: What was your first paying job?

A: I started delivering newspapers when I was 8 years old working for an older boy in the neighborhood. You couldn't have your own route unless you were 9. This boy had three routes and gave me one and paid me half what he got paid. You also had to go door to door to collect the money from your customers. It was a great lesson on human nature.

Q: What is a funny thing that happened to you in your career?

A: Early in my sales career, I was meeting with a large chain customer. The CEO of the chain popped into the meeting and introduced himself. He asked me where I lived. I told him and he said he used to live in my hometown. I asked him the address. It turned out, I was his paperboy years before. Every time he saw me after that, he'd tell everyone I was his paperboy.

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