At the Helm: Philip A. Clemens

By Patricia Olsen

A few minutes with the chairman and CEO of The Clemens Family Corporation, Hatfield, Pa.

Generation of family ownership: Third.

Revenues: $725 million (2013).

Years with the company: Fifty-two on the payroll and 47 as my full-time job. When I was a kid, my parents gave me a choice: Do chores at home or at the business. I chose the business. I also worked here full-time while in college.

First job at this company: Assembling boxes, cleaning and loading trucks.

At what age? Ten.

Most memorable thing I learned from my father: There are two sides to every story, and you shouldn't make up your mind on hearing only one side. It may sound convincing, but if you do, you're probably going to be wrong.

Most memorable thing I learned from my mother: Honest accountability. She always supported us, but that sometimes meant giving a pat on the back, and sometimes a kick in the pants. In other words, tell someone when they've done a good job, but if they've messed up, a kick in the pants may be appropriate.

Best thing about this job: I love cheering our team on—the whole company—and seeing them win.

One of our greatest successes: Helping one of our competitors. When the company shut down due to flooding from Hurricane Agnes, we sent our maintenance crew to help them get up and running again. It's part of our core values; it was the right thing to do.

Best advice I ever got: Take care of your people and they'll take care of you.

Quote from our company's mission statement: We aspire to operate in a way that honors the Lord Jesus Christ as demonstrated through ethics, integrity and stewardship.

One of my greatest accomplishments: Challenging our family to move from a family business model to a business family model in 2000. It drove us to strong accountability. For example, in the first model, family members sometimes feel like they're entitled, or guaranteed a job. In the second, the goal is to have profits, which provide the ability to build family harmony.

Best thing about working in a family business: Having the family grasp the concept that a family business is not about family; it's seeing our entire team as our extended family.

Worst thing about working in a family business: You have family members who may feel entitled, and you have to correct that. Entitlement always leads to a downward spiral.

My advice for other family business leaders: God gave you two ears and one mouth. Do twice as much listening as talking. Never take the credit; always take the blame.

On a day off I like to... Be with family, read and help others.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: We're involved in educational programs, programs for battered people and, because we're in the food business, we like to help programs that feed needy people.

Books I think every family business leader should read: When Work and Family Collide, by Andy Stanley; Helping People Win at Work, by Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge; It's Not About You, by Bob Burg and John David Mann; and Necessary Endings, by Henry Cloud.

Succession plans: I'm retiring in August 2015. We've been working on a succession plan for 14 years. A fourth-generation family member will take over.

Word I live by: "When you're green you grow, when you're ripe you rot."

Copyright 2014 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact    

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July/August 2014


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