Lancaster Colony sticks to what it knows best — and gets even better at it

Digging in the right place

Guiding organizational change has to be done in good faith with everyone working collectively. Ciesinski compares it to mining.

“You go down into a mine shaft and you don’t find anything,” he says. “If you don’t, discretion is the better part of valor. Stop digging. Pull up and let’s go dig someplace else, right?”

Build a culture that enables employees to be comfortable saying: OK, it’s just not working out like we thought. We need to go look someplace else.

Create an atmosphere where people try their best, but are willing to accept failing — and even more importantly agree to fail fast.

“No organization is going to be perfect. So, if we fail, let’s just learn quickly. Let’s adapt and go back and try again,” Ciesinski says.

One of the more challenging strategies was starting a Lean Six Sigma program from the ground up. A vice president of operations worked with the Center of Operational Excellence at The Ohio State University on a training program. Then, volunteers were recruited and had to implement a cost savings project as part of their training.

“When we started, we literally had zero in savings and we had zero in the pipeline. We had aspirations, but we didn’t even have specific goals,” Ciesinski says. “By the time we finished last year, we were averaging pretty close to the mid seven figures, you’d call that $4 million to $6 million a quarter in savings, every single quarter.”

More than 50 people have trained in the program, which has since been insourced, and some of those will increase their expertise with additional training.

“We’ve had some projects that presented fabulous savings, hundreds of thousands of dollars. We’ve had some that didn’t end up amounting to much,” he says. “And at each step along the way, I think we’ve learned, and we’ve gotten smarter about how do we screen the projects and how do we determine what needs to be done.”

 

Takeaways:

  • Innovation doesn’t spring from one place.
  • Clarify priorities within your change.
  • Fail fast, adapt and try again.

 

The file:

Name: Dave Ciesinski
Title: President and CEO
Company: Lancaster Colony Corp.

Born: Long Beach, California
Education: Bachelor’s, United States Military Academy, West Point; MBA, Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I started mowing yards when I was about 9 years old. I cut the yard across the street, getting 50 cents a week. I talked it over with my mom and dad and I wanted to go ask for a pay raise. They offered me $1 to do it every other week. That grass doesn’t stop growing. It was twice as hard that second week.

I would say I learned the importance of margins. When they weren’t willing to move on price, I actually took my lawnmower and went and cut somebody else’s yard.

My business philosophy is … focusing on the best idea. I try to create a culture here that’s highly collaborative, that’s honest, that’s transparent and really is all about the best idea, not the person who has the most stripes on their sleeve.

How have you and your family settled into the community? Of our six children, two are now away at college, but my wife, Trish, and I have gotten involved with the kids’ activities. My wife volunteers with my daughters at the homeless shelter. We’ve also done church retreats and volunteered through St. Andrew Church.

One thing people might find surprising about me: I was a surfer and an ocean lifeguard growing up. In 1986, I left Orange County and I reported to West Point, where I promptly got a close haircut and wool uniform. It was a Mars and the moon cultural shift.