Maple Leaf Foods (Maple Leaf) employs approximately 12,000 people across Canada, the U.S. and Asia with 75% of their business in Canada. As of November 2019, Maple Leaf is the first large-scale manufacturing food company in the world to become carbon neutral. The impetus for this is that Maple Leaf is constantly trying to reinvent themselves. The focused journey towards becoming a sustainable enterprise has affected their decisions on investments, food, animal welfare and environmental commitments. Maple Leaf has ambitious growth plans in North America in the next five years, including a new poultry processing plant in London and Shelbyville (Indiana). Maple Leaf currently has three per cent of market share of North American protein.
“A FAMILY CONSTITUTION IS NEEDED WHEN YOU SHARE A DINNER TABLE AND A BOARD TABLE.” Michael has experience with generational transfers: first with his McCain Foods family, and now with Maple Leaf Foods. Michael encourages all family/business enterprises to create a structure that determines the family’s purposeful journey together – what does the family hope to accomplish together? The make-up of this document is like a business plan, mapping out details on ownership and voting rights, as well as managerial statuses based on merit. After the family structure is established, it’s important to make sure all the business policies are decided. Michael believes the best years to take care of these matters are when the next generation is between 25 – 35 years old, and it’s important to keep in mind that every family culture is unique.
“DEBATES ARE OUR NATIONAL SPORT.” Michael is a supporter of ultra-transparency and straightforward leadership, which is what has led to debates being encouraged in the workplace. When ideas are being considered, it is expected that everyone voices their opinions at the table. Michael calls this “cabin rules”. This collaborative approach to decision making assures all opinions are heard and respected. It is rooted in the belief that the collective thought makes the company better as a whole. However, once the call has been made about the direction to take, the debate is over. This culture and values-based leadership model creates a cooperative environment for decision making, but also establishes focus and alignment for execution.
“BE VERY STRATEGIC AND THEN EXECUTE LIKE HELL.” When it comes to a business expanding into new jurisdictions, Michael encourages the company to be clear on the strategic blueprint for the expansion: who is your company as a business? How do you want to compete? What markets will you compete in? What’s the basis for how the business will win in those markets? Be vivid about articulating where the company is heading, and then work backwards in terms of steps for how you get there. Once the end goal is established, it boils down to the execution: how well, thoroughly and precisely the strategies are executed. Maple Leaf Foods’ acquisition approach follows the same model – it starts with strategic fit. They receive inbound opportunities every day, but most are rejected because of the fit. Maple Leaf Foods has made four acquisitions in the last three years.