Leadership: 135 year and no layoffs

By Patricia Olsen

A quick Q&A with Howdy Holmes, Chairman and CEO, Chelsea Milling Company, Chelsea, Mich.

Generation of family ownership: We have a complicated family tree. I’m the eighth generation in the milling business, which my family started in 1844. I’m fifth generation in our current location in Chelsea, Mich., and third generation with our brand, Jiffy, which my grandmother started in 1930. Most people think of us only as a brand, but we’re still also in the flour milling business.

Revenue: North of  $140 million.

Number of employees: 350.

First job at this company:  At 16, when I was a sophomore in high school, I worked in every department during school breaks and learned the company from the ground up. I was a “grunt,” scraping paint off railroad cars and sweeping the inside of silos while swinging from a rope. I tried college while doing odd jobs at the company but left both to become a race car driver, a dream of mine. I competed in the Indy 500 six times and won several awards. I also started two small companies, Creative Motorsports, for marketing, and Motor Racing Advertising. I returned to the company in 1987 at age 40 as V.P. of sales.

Most memorable thing I learned from my father: Please and thank you.

Best thing about this job: It’s an opportunity to help others grow. When it comes to personality traits, I’m what’s called a “counselor.” I bring people together.

Our greatest success: During the pandemic we’ve had 100% fill rate, which is unusual. Every order has been delivered on time and complete. We’ve also never laid off an employee in 135 years.

A quote from our mission statement: 100% product integrity with quality people caring about one another and the communities served.

On my wall: A montage of keys that have fit rooms in buildings since the beginning. I refer to it as “The Keeper of the Keys.” There are big ones and fancy ones and all kinds. They ground me; it’s an honor to have them. I immediately think of people who came before and how the eight generations are all sitting on each others’ shoulders. We wouldn’t be here if they all didn’t make more right than wrong decisions.

One of my greatest accomplishments: Introducing professional management into our company and creating a unique culture of trust and collaboration by hiring for character and not task. That was monumental because we had a 100-year history. It was like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around in a swimming pool. We managed to do that without losing the character of the company. Culture is created by the process surrounding how people make decisions and around how they communicate.

Best thing about working in a family business: Being able to think long-term, which is harder than thinking short- or mid-term. It a discipline of looking at a horizon as opposed to getting a report card from the whiz kids on Wall Street every 90 days.

Advice for other family business leaders: Don’t make family decisions with your head or business decisions with your heart.

On a day off I: Really? What’s that? How would I identify it?

Philanthropic causes our family supports: Hundreds of school groups and 501(c) nonprofits. There is an endless number of good causes, and we switch it up every five years.

I realized I had emerged from the previous generation’s shadow… when I struck out on my own and started a motorsports career at 21.

Words I live by: We judge ourselves by our intentions; others judge us by our actions. You can’t think your way into acting; you must act your way into thinking.

— As told to Patricia Olsen





Article categories: 
Audio Sound Duration: 
January/ February 2023

Other Related Articles