Grote Company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Read reflections from our CEO, Bob Grote, on our company history, how special it is for a family-owned and managed business to reach this milestone and the core values that will continue to lead us into the future.
50 years. It’s a MAJOR milestone. Grote Company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The journey to reach this milestone has undoubtedly come with its share of twists and turns. As a family-owned and operated business, the odds weren’t in our favor. Many family businesses don’t make it as far. Only about one in 10 stays viable into the third generation, according to statistics.
Grote Company has been fortunate. We’ve grown from a small, closely held and managed company to a much larger, broadly based business with eight locations worldwide.
From Humble Beginnings to a Global Footprint
Grote Company was born when founder Jim Grote wanted to automate putting pepperoni on pizza to help accelerate the first company he started, Donatos Pizza. So, Grote Company started as a means to an end – bringing automation to restaurants – but it has grown far beyond the original concept to encompass automation solutions across the food processing industry.
Seeing what Jim wanted to achieve, understanding his dream, and having the privilege of carrying that legacy forward drives me as I lead Grote Company into its next era.
I remember walking through the factory for the first time in 1983, when I was just 18 and preparing to head off to college to study engineering. Then, it was only half as big as it is now. I felt inspired as I watched the demo for the equipment that placed toppings on pizzas, which would be considered rudimentary by today’s standards. I’ll never forget sitting in my uncle Jim’s office with my dad that day, discussing what we’d seen and anticipating what the future might hold.
Watching how technology has evolved and how data and robotics have impacted the world of automation – yet realizing there’s still so much that can be done in the future – you recognize what opportunity there is. The heyday of data acquisition at the restaurant, food service, and industrial processing levels means there is infinite potential.
Jim Grote invented the entire category of slice-and-apply in the food processing industry, which makes me wonder, what will we invent next? As we move into the future, based on the strong foundation Jim built along with a reputation for holding our values tight, even as we expand, the possibilities are endless. The market will keep growing – everyone needs to eat – and Grote Company will play a role in that.
We’re an anomaly in this business. 50 years in, with the third generation now joining us and playing a role in the future, Grote Company is one of the industry's few independently owned equipment suppliers of this size. Many owners choose to sell their companies, but we’re committed to remaining family-owned and operated. It goes beyond the money. For us, it’s about creating a legacy.
Lessons I’ve Learned During My 22 Years with Grote Company
As I reflect on my 22 years with the company, here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned:
You want to grow – but not at any expense: You’re only as strong as your reputation. Growth matters – you must keep moving forward – but be sure to keep your values in check along the way.
Have a team you trust: As a leader, you learn that you can’t be as deeply involved in everything as a company grows. Put people you trust – who share your values – into leadership roles. You must believe in everyone you bring to the leadership to carry that forward and keep the values you hold dear intact. That helps build a culture that will cause employees to want to stay – and attract new talent to join the company.
Cultivating a community culture helps you get there: We take pride in our culture at Grote Company. We genuinely do our best to honor and appreciate each employee’s contribution to our success and to let them know that everything they do matters.
We aim to build a culture that retains and attracts team members. Even as we’ve grown, acquiring other companies along the way, we recognize that allowing each location to retain its unique “feel” is important. Rather than consolidating all workers under one roof, continuing to operate each individual site makes it easier to keep that feeling of community that employees appreciate.
Leadership is a balance: When acquiring other companies is part of your growth strategy, it’s vital to maintain a balance between your vision – and what helped that particular business get to where it is today. As much as we want to make that business part of our company, we want to embrace its individuality.
To that end, we’ve encouraged the acquired companies to continue to operate as independent entities. We wouldn’t want to change how each of those businesses operates too drastically, because we understand that each of them attracted its customer base by operating the way it has.
This approach also cultivates a sense of trust, as there can be fear that the parent company will swoop in and change everything when a company is acquired.
Leading a growing business is a rewarding responsibility: While serving as a leader comes with challenges, it can also be rewarding.
I remember my early days with Grote Company when I was on the road selling. That job seemed a lot easier than my job today! However, this role is much more fulfilling because I never forget that 300 employees (and their families) are counting on our leadership team to figure out the right direction to head, regardless of economic conditions or other factors that may impact our trajectory.
Change can lead to growth: While leaders are always aware that there are initiatives they could and should undertake, sometimes it takes an unexpected event to kick those ideas into gear.
For Grote Company, the latest event was the pandemic. There were a lot of initiatives we’d been considering that we hadn’t yet implemented – that is, until the world changed.
That shift in thinking was positive for the company, although I’m not sure it would’ve happened as quickly without the jolt the pandemic caused. I learned that becoming more flexible in your thinking opens up new opportunities.
There’s no one you trust like family: Working with my uncle Jim Grote taught me there is no one you trust like family. Over the years, as additional family members have joined the company, I continue to see the value in those relationships. My brother Jack is Grote Company’s chief operating officer, and my son Jack is now the sales manager for Vanmark, one of our acquisitions. That’s three generations of the Grote family leading the charge into the future.
50 Years – and Counting – As Grote Company Moves Into the Future
What will Grote Company do next? We’ve learned so much these past 50 years that the sky is truly the limit as we head into the future of the food processing automation business. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us all.