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Culture-Bound: Top CEO's discuss how values define your business

Entrepreneurs make up the backbone of our economy. Three of the most successful in New England today are Mark Hintlian, President and CEO of The Leavitt Corporation, Daniel Kenary, Co-founder and CEO of Harpoon Brewery and Michael Hogan, President and CEO of A.D. Makepeace Company.

Combined, the three represent staples of New England: Harpoon and its craft beer; The Leavitt Corporation as processor and distributor of Teddie Peanut Butter; and A.D. Makepeace as the world’s largest cranberry grower and main grower for Ocean Spray. On May 20, 2015 all three CEOs spoke at a Wolf & Company and Prudential Capital Group's co-hosted CEO panel event to elaborate on their keys to successful entrepreneurship.

When the leaders behind successful brands such as Ocean Spray, Harpoon and Teddie share their ideas, a lot can be learned about how to run a business.

Culture Makes Perfect

The three CEOs covered a number of topics during the hour-and-a-half panel session. However, whether divulging the merits of an S-Corp or the nuances of succession planning, one theme was apparent throughout: the importance of culture.

In fact, all three CEOs emphasized culture when making any business decision, no matter how big or small. The panel discussion covered how culture affects:

  • Investments and shareholders
  • Stock ownership
  • Family-centric businesses
  • Giving back

Investments And Shareholders

As Harpoon CEO Daniel Kenary explained, the goal is to get every share working for your business. How is that possible?

In the example of A.D. Makepeace, the company constantly identifies ways to reinvest in the business. Out of A.D. Makepeace's 190 shareholders, roughly two-thirds are family members or family trusts. While the priorities of the a large base of multi-generational shareholders can be diverse, having a platform to receive input from the diverse shareholder base and a means of exiting those shareholders seeking liquidity is critical to making investments in the business to meet long-term strategic objectives.

When looking at Harpoon, Kenary explained that the brewery has 82 total investors, significantly lower than it used to thanks to a successful implementation of an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP. This brings us to our next point: make your stock work for your values.

Stock Ownership

Harpoon is a brand built on its culture. Many employees are millennials, and the craft-beer boom has taken hold among this younger demographic. Harpoon prides itself on being a friendly, relatable and fun business. In fact, Kenary was a main proponent behind taking that one step further and actually buying back shares from a diverse investor group and implementing the ESOP. He wanted an opportunity for workers to share in future financial success of the business. Kenary believes strongly that an ESOP was the best route to go for the brewery. The goal is to remain an independent, employee-owned business, and an ESOP is in place to accomplish that.

Family-Centric Business

Culture is also instilled in a business through family. Teddie Peanut Butter is a prime example. Teddie currently has roughly 100 employees. Mirroring the transfer of ownership from generation one to its current majority ownership by generation three, many jobs within the business have passed from one generation to the next.

Hintlian maintains that, through Teddie's positive work environment, the family-friendly atmosphere, and commitment to quality, every employee comes to work dedicated to create the best product. The key to success is the employees and the culture.

Giving Back

The final way culture becomes a part of the business model is through philanthropy and advocacy.  All three CEOs champion significant philanthropic and advocacy efforts supported by their respective businesses and provide opportunities for their employees to participate in charitable endeavors. 

The Greater Boston Foodbank is the beneficiary of significant contributions from all three businesses. Charitable gifts through the Makepeace Neighborhood Fund provide significant support to community groups serving residents of the towns in which the company owns property.

Both Hogan and Kenary serve on the Executive Committee of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts advocating for businesses operating in this state. As a result of Teddie’s commitment to quality, the company serves as a mentor of sorts to other businesses subject to food production safety regulations.  

Let Culture Guide the Business

Culture affects all aspects of a business, and these four examples illustrate how some of New England's most successful businesses create an environment where employees feel they are making a contribution to the success of the business and are giving back to the communities in which they work. At the end of the day, CEOs have to constantly think about what their employees and investors want for the business, and the culture provides the guiding principles under which leadership will respond to those employee and investors. It's about making the business work for everybody, and that's the key takeaway from this panel of successful CEOs.