Clemens Food Group Finds Key Ingredient to Maintaining a Family-Owned and Operated Business
In 1895, John C. Clemens took a wagon of livestock from his pig farm in Mainland, Pennsylvania, to market in Philadelphia, marking the Clemens family’s entry into the pork processing business. By 1930, he incorporated the Pleasant Valley Packing Company and brought two of his sons into the business—who eventually purchased it from him.
One fateful evening, a fire broke out at the packing company, burning it to the ground. But instead of cutting their losses and moving on, the Clemens brothers—who inherited their father’s entrepreneurial spirit—bought the Hatfield Packing Company and expanded the family business.
Four generations later, Clemens Food Group is now one of the leading pork processing companies in the U.S., offering hog farming, food production, logistical services, and transportation services.
The company has changed a lot in that time, but one thing has remained the same: descendants of John C. Clemens—the pig farmer from Mainland, Pennsylvania—still own and operate the company. What’s more, the core values set forth by John C. Clemens over 120 years ago—integrity, ethics and stewardship—remain deeply rooted in the company today.
Doug Clemens, the great grandson of John C. Clemens, serves as the company’s chief executive and sits on the Board of Directors. Some 300 members of the Clemens family are shareholders in the company, spanning in age from 2 months to 98 years. The company employs over 2,000 people and markets seven brands of consumer products and other services.
Keeping a growing and successful business in the family is a remarkable feat, to say the least, but it hasn’t been easy. In fact, according to Doug Clemens, the company went through a significant reorganization in 2000 to address growing pains of the family business head on.
“We made a conscious decision to separate the family from the business and the business from the family,” said Doug. “We transitioned from a ‘family business’ to a ‘business family.’ What does that mean? We said the business is very important, and the family is very important, but they need be individually focused—they cannot be meshed together as many family businesses are.”
One of the first things they did to refocus the company was moving to an outside, non-family-member majority on the Board of Directors.
“Since we did that, our returns have been much greater than they were in the previous decades,” said Doug.
Another significant change was putting into place a policy that discourages automatic placement of family members into jobs at the company.
“Our requirement is that if you choose to have a career in the business, you must work outside the business for a minimum of three years,” explained Doug. “We wanted to avoid a sense of entitlement, but we also wanted people to have other experiences in other businesses that hopefully they could bring back here and make us better.”
For family-owned and operated businesses that would like to remain that way, Doug says it’s crucial to emphasize the importance of the family and the importance of the business separately.
“I have given this advice to others. The best thing we did was to place importance on the family, period, and place importance of the business, period, and to make sure that those two don’t cross over. At first, it was difficult to separate them, but I think now we’ve proven that it works.”