Amid the COVID-19 pandemic--one of the most difficult business climates in recent history--business is booming at the Chelsea Milling Company, maker of the top-selling product known as "JIFFY" Mix.
The pandemic is the latest major event that has put the culture of Chelsea Milling Company to the ultimate test. "JIFFY" Mix today remains among the most well-known and popular food products in America, with its signature, retro-style, blue-and-white boxes that most people instantly recognize. Still, the success of this longtime family-owned business founded in 1887 can't be chalked up solely to the fact that people like corn muffins and nostalgic packaging. The leadership at Chelsea Milling, headed by President and CEO Howdy Holmes, has made a concerted effort to clearly define its culture, following two guiding principles: first, the process by which decisions are made and second, how people communicate.
During the Spring of 2020, the Chelsea, Michigan-based company's family of employees worked eight consecutive weekends with a 100% fill rate. As Holmes explained to me in a late July interview, two factors were evident during this particularly hectic time: first, being vertically integrated, the company does everything itself, including making its own machinery parts; and second, the entire workplace adopted Holmes's philosophy, "We feed America." This viewpoint gives employees pride as they realize their jobs carry a heavy responsibility bigger than themselves and their paychecks.
I was enormously fortunate to know and work with Howdy's father, Howard Sumner Holmes, in his prominent leadership role as a member of the Board of Directors at St. Joseph Mercy Health System and chair of its Development Council.
More often than not, our meetings started at 6 a.m. at Stivers, a restaurant off I-94. Howard Holmes was always prompt. Only later did I realize he had been at "the mill" for a couple of hours before we met! This...