Entrepreneurial spirit award: Seizing opportunities

Robert Shearer, co-founder, chairman and CEO, Shearer’s Foods Inc.

With his company feeling the effect of the economic recession, in August 2008, Bob Shearer used his state of the company meeting as an opportunity to turn the challenge back to his team of employees. He asked associates at Shearer’s Foods Inc. to come up with cost-saving ideas that would also allow him to give them pay raises. The result was an outpouring of 1,000 employee suggestions, whittled down to approximately 100 ideas that could help move the company forward. After implementing 65 of the suggestions to date, Shearer’s has already experienced a $1.4 million savings and been able to give his employees raises.

As the company’s chairman, co-founder and CEO, Shearer has always operated under this idea that a great leader develops future leaders by giving them opportunities to succeed. Over the last 37 years, he has built a culture at Shearer’s that is able to meet the challenges of today’s ever-changing business environment with creativity and enthusiasm. Under his leadership, the company has grown from a $4 million operation with a handful of employees into a $350 million business that employs more than 1,600 people today. With the company’s 2010 acquisition of the nationally successful private label snack food supplier, Snack Alliance Inc., Shearer’s also now has the capabilities needed to manufacture and distribute its snacks nationwide.

Shearer is passionate about leading by example. Within his company he has helped many employees excel in their careers by providing support and guidance. For instance, when one employee wanted to be a distributor for the business, Shearer helped him finance the operation and mentored him during his pursuit. The employee eventually became the company’s director of distributor operations. Another example is when Shearer helped one of the company’s route sales associates start his own Shearer’s distribution business by financing his truck and working with him to develop his business plan.

In addition to mentoring employees in the company, Shearer spends time counseling and sharing his experiences with the future leaders of tomorrow outside of his organization. He serves on numerous boards in Northeast Ohio to share insights that can benefit other organizations and businesses in the area. He also makes himself available to mentor college students, young people interested in business and other individuals with entrepreneurial interests. Whether it is speaking on a panel of business leaders, partnering with business schools or acting as the keynote speaker for a commencement or awards event, Shearer is always willing to lend the experience of his business background to inspire and help others in their own entrepreneurial journeys.

Today, Shearer spends his time focusing on the growth of Shearer’s snacks but also leading the continued growth and development of the company’s culture. The tenants of Shearer’s culture, such as the importance of being involved in different aspects of the business, including your people in decision-making, communicating a vision for the future and making sure that people understand the values of the company, are a reflection of the family ethics that the company was built on. To advance the family-focused culture that was first established by the founding Shearer family, Shearer instituted the Culture Club, whose mission is to create programs and activities that build unity between the company’s new hires and long-term associates.

When it comes to the culture, one of Shearer’s proudest achievements is the organization’s leadership in the communities it serves. Over the years, the company has continued to build on its reputation as a successful company made up of caring employees. Each year, Shearer’s supports numerous community organizations and events on a local, regional and national basis with monetary donations, product donations and employees donating their time to planning and fund raising efforts. The company’s in-house Caring and Sharing Committee has raised and distributed more than $100,000 for people with special needs in the company and community thanks to the support and fund raising efforts of Shearer’s associates.

Shearer’s ability to innovate and recognize growth opportunities for his company over the years has helped make Shearer’s the leading manufacturer of kettle cooked potato chips. When Shearer sees an opportunity, he seizes it. By always pushing his team to think entrepreneurially, he gives employees the tools to further the company’s growth as a quality producer of snack foods.

How to reach: Shearer’s Foods Inc., (330) 767-7160 or www.shearers.com