Ben Biery leads Biery Cheese to many firsts in pursuit of growth

The strategy once the deal was finalized was to move the people from the acquired company very quickly into the Biery culture, but not without respect for their roots.

“They have to maintain some independence,” Ben says. “You’re not acquiring them to get rid of their history. You’re acquiring them to bring part of their history in to you, too.”

To make that idea more apparent, Ben hung the Kickapoo company’s old sign up on the wall of the newly renovated facility.

IT systems were installed immediately to make sure that reporting was up and running. The company set a strategy for leveraging data and facilitating communication that hinged on the concept of quickly identifying opportunities to improve.

“A lot of it revolves around how fast can we get an answer and data to somebody so that they can spend the time answering, ‘how do I fix this’ versus, ‘what is the answer?’”

Organizationally, Biery put leaders and managers in place within the plants and empowered them to manage their day within a decision protocol and goal structure that emphasizes what needs to be achieved, but allows each person to take ownership within the company.

“Just because my last name’s on the building doesn’t mean that I’m the only one that owns it,” Ben says. “I view it is as the whole company owns it together because we all have invested time and effort into this operation.”

As the organization grows — it has nearly 525 people in Ohio and 140 in Wisconsin — it’s necessary to recognize that each employee has a role to play within the organization in order to make it successful. In some ways, Ben says he’s still working out how to put responsibility in people’s hands, let them perform the task and then evaluate based off how they perform.

“I’m learning every day about how to manage this way because it is different. You can’t take it all on yourself,” Ben says. “As you proceed every day, the business changes. Different skill sets require different types of managing, different types of delegation. It has been a change, but it’s a very good change. We’re putting people in places who we know can operate and take ownership within their areas.”

Something to prove

Biery wants to ensure it’s delivering innovative products to the marketplace, whether that’s in packaging or product.

The company recently developed sliced and cubed cheese packages; snacking cheeses; meat, cheese and cracker trays; new cheese varieties; and for the past year-and-a-half, the company has, for the first time in its nearly 90-year history, moved into branded items.

Private label business, he says, isn’t based on new, innovative products or new flavor profiles. That’s considered too narrow or too risky. With all its decades of established private label business behind it, the company looked forward to imagine what else it could be.