While their customer bases and commitment to quality food were similar, some differences had to be overcome. As a smaller company, Heineman wasn’t as technologically advanced.
“It was definitely a little bit more work initially because we didn’t recognize that the technologies didn’t talk to each other in the same way when we integrated,” Bellin says.
The rest of the integration went smoothly because no C-level leaders or managers came onboard. The lower-level employees could just start working in Paragon’s purchasing, customer service or warehouse divisions.
“They couldn’t grow where they were, they would have to get a new facility, so it worked out for both of us,” she says. “We had the facility, we had the technology, we had the delivery system — everything we had was more favorable to them growing that particular line of products.”
Going forward, Bellin hopes to keep focusing on the strategic development of the company, whether that means more acquisitions or opportunities to move into other geographical areas.
“As you get older, you want to mentor a little bit more and coach a little bit more rather than being in the day to day,” she says. “So I’ve been able to do that because I’ve been able to have strong people in the day to day.”
- Seek employee input when growing the management team.
- Use your strengths to attract quality talent.
- Change is easier when you’ve built up trust.
The Bellin File:
Name: Elaine Bellin
Title: President and CEO
Company: Paragon Foods
Education: University of Dayton, sociology degree
With your degree, how did you end up leading a business? I did not anticipate doing this at all. Never did. But it worked out really well because I just have a passion for the business which, again, was kind of accidental.
This is a family business. My grandfather had always been in business. He had several small retail grocery stores in the city, and so he saw wholesaling in 1962. He was a visionary; definitely, he’s the guy that I think I most resemble in terms of my vision. He saw a need for food service in the early ’60s — and he was right.
So he started Paragon and set that up for my father to run. My father did that starting in ’62. I finished college, started working here part time and fell in love with it. I just thought, “Wow, this is really terrific.”
What was your first job? I worked some odd jobs. I worked in a bakery. I worked in restaurants. They were just jobs in high school to pick up extra money working in the summer. I would do some babysitting, but it never crossed my mind to work for the family business.
When I went to school, I was going to be a social worker. That’s why I went for sociology; I wanted to help people. Hopefully, I’ve helped some people in a different way. I’m employing people with good wages, good benefits, the whole bit.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do? Oh, my gosh, I do everything. I have crazy energy.
I’m a health and wellness nut. This is probably what appeals to me so much about this business — it’s fresh, it’s clean, it’s healthy foods. So I’m very active, physically. I’ve been a runner for years, but I’m not running as much now. I like to exercise because I’m energetic. I have to have that outlet.
We do family skiing. I love to enjoy sports here in Pittsburgh. We go to the baseball games. I’m involved, too, with some professional associations, my church, some boards, so that keeps me active outside of work.