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Corporate culture allowing Ben B. Schwartz to thrive

With age comes wisdom. Ben B. Schwartz & Sons Inc., now in its 105th year of operation, has honed a fine edge on its operating philosophy.

“We sell a lot of interesting commodities, and they come in from all over the world,” said Nate Stone, the firm’s chief operating officer. The company moves product from the Detroit Produce Terminal. “If it’s available, we try to provide it on a year-round basis,” Mr. Stone said. The bulk of product is moved in the Detroit metropolitan area. “We have quite a bit of Canadian business,” he added.

Mr. Stone said that the company’s longevity is underpinned by its ability to adapt and thrive with the times. “The [produce] industry is becoming tech savvy,” he told The Produce News June 20. “This company has made a point to bring in young people — tech savvy people — people who will be here for a long time.”

During the course of its existence, the company has experienced dramatic changes in technology, and Mr. Stone was quick to illustrate. “The three oldest people in the company have been here [since] before fax machines came along,” he stated. “If you can’t text or tweet [today], you’re falling behind.” As for the impact on the industry dynamics, he went on to say, “It’s kind of a pretzel. It’s a little twisted, but it works.”

Mr. Stone credited the vision of company President Chris Billmeyer in bringing confidence and stability to the company’s young work force. Mr. Billmeyer’s 23-year-old son, Jake, is the fourth generation of the family to be involved with Ben B. Schwartz, and he is being groomed for a future leadership role.

“You recognize when you’re working for a good company,” Mr. Stone said. “The employees are happy, satisfied and enthusiastic. Young people can see stability in their employment. This is the furthest thing from a dead end.”

Most of Ben B. Schwartz’s buyers are young. “We’re talking about well-educated people,” Mr. Stone noted.

The Internet has changed the way businesses conduct their work, and use of state-of-the-art technology by Ben B. Schwartz’s young workforce is second nature. “Smartphones have changed everybody’s world,” Mr. Stone stated, adding that quick response codes have revolutionized the flow of information to customers and consumers. “Our guys are doing this all the time,” he added.

Today, the Internet is routinely used by Ben B. Schwartz to conduct a host of activities such as on-line research, credit inquiries and providing customer quotes. “It’s amazing how much we use the Internet. If you don’t use it, you’re losing time and money,” he commented.

The company’s corporate philosophy has spelled economic success for all involved. In an earlier interview with The Produce News, Mr. Stone described 2010 as a “blockbuster,” adding that it was the best year in the company’s long history. “Sales are up,” he said. “There is a real note of hopefulness at the company. I come to work smiling every day.”