Paul Moyer is the co-owner of Moyers Apple Products and Clean Works with Court Holdings Ltd. Mark VanderVeen is the president of Clean Works and president of Court Holdings Manufacturing.
Attending a board meeting with Bay-Street types in dirty work boots may not be ideal, but what do you do when you’re a farmer who just came in from the field?
As a ninth-generation farmer whose family has been working the same land in the Niagara region of Southern Ontario since 1799, my roots – pardon the pun – go deep. My specialty is caramel apples. Forget the Bachelor of Science degree in economics and marketing. Farming is what I know.
When we decided to expand to a consumer product and switch to making gourmet chocolate caramel apples, we had to grow the demand and meet production standards for food safety. That’s how Mark VanderVeen and I got together.
Successful companies are rarely due to one person. They usually involve a team or partnership where people work together, each bringing their skills and experience to the table. Mr. VanderVeen was president of a company that oversees and monitors businesses in the manufacturing sector. He had spent 24 years as an executive in the auto industry. He has an MBA and has worked all over the world.
Our businesses joined forces but I found that partnering with someone whose background and personality are very different from mine isn’t easy. Indeed, the two of us are as different as night and day. I don’t dress for the occasion, which is why my dirty work boots make it into boardroom meetings. Mr. VanderVeen comes to the board meeting fully prepared, already knows the answers to the questions that will be asked and is equipped with all the numbers.
Two different partners building a successful business requires patience, understanding, a sense of humour, and appreciation for what the other person contributes. We never would have done it without these qualities.
Knowing how to grow apples is important, but so is getting them to market. One thing I learned in this relationship is you don’t jump off the tractor and find orders from the head office of Loblaws on your desk. It takes hard work. And I also learned some other things from building a successful partnership with Mr. VanderVeen.
First, you don’t succeed in business without keeping a close eye on sales, costs, capital requirements and productivity.
I tend to be an optimist who looks at the glass half-full but that approach doesn’t always work in business. Mr. VanderVeen, on the other hand, is a corporate and financial guy who focuses on operations – return on investment, time, efficiencies, what have you. More than anything, he is a methodical problem solver.
Second, do your due diligence and be prepared every step of the way.
After an opportunity developed for selling lots of product to a large customer, Mr. VanderVeen and two of his shareholders helped us launch our new entity. With their keen talents and razor-sharp business acumen, we got capitalized, bought a building and equipment, and started filling customer orders.
Third, expect bumps in the road, so address problems head-on but always keep your ultimate goal in sight.
Things were rolling along until there was a listeria outbreak of caramel apples in the United States. It had nothing to do with us, but it didn’t matter. All retailers in Canada and the United States took caramel apples off the shelves and our sales dropped 75 per cent. Even a farmer knows that’s not good.
Leveraging my experience with food products and Mr. VanderVeen’s problem-solving ability in manufacturing, we were able to develop a process for cleaning fresh fruit and produce without water. This was revolutionary in the agri-food business. Water had always been the way to go but is only 50 per cent effective in removing pathogens and moulds. In fact, water can carry and transport pathogens and can even contaminate the containers that hold food products.
Mark, the business guy, helped to make this process scalable and commercially viable. It was time for the hurry-up offence to address the listeria problem, find a solution and take it to market. In three months we did. We worked with the food science department at the University of Guelph, Canada’s leading agri-food institution, which showed our process was 99.99 per cent effective in removing pathogens and moulds from food products.
We recently received the ultimate honour in winning an award for innovation in food safety from a large international organization.
This is all gratifying, but it never would have happened if we didn’t find a way to get by our differences and work together. One more thing. Never pretend to be something you’re not. Being genuine and true to yourself is the way to go. Just find a partner who is the right fit.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
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