Founder: Leonard Gentine Founded: 1953 Industry: Cheese
Originally from Milwaukee, Leonard Gentine Sr. and his wife, Dolores, moved to Plymouth, Wisconsin with a dream to open a funeral home. Developing a consistent business base in a small town proved more problematic than anticipated. The few families employing his services paid in cash, an IOU or, on rare occasion, a cow. After nearly two decades of anemic business growth, Leonard remained patient as his trickling cash flow barely supported his family.
With help from a friend – an owner of a cheese company – Leonard ventured into a cheese gift-box business: a side venture intended to subsidize his funeral-home business. Surprisingly, that gift-box business eventually evolved into something far greater – a regional cheese company.
Leonard believed in a basic philosophy “Hire good people and treat them life family.” That simple idea, coupled with innovation – a hallmark of the company’s growth – and Leonard’s entrepreneurial bent, changed the face of the cheese category with scores of ground-breaking products common today, including vacuum packaging, sliced cheese, shredded cheese, easy-open/close packaging and peg-bar merchandising in retail stores.
By 2014, eighteen years after Leonard passed away, a profitable Sargento Foods Inc. posted sales that exceeded a billion dollars in revenues. As a formidable competitor in the cheese industry, offering natural cheese products, cheese sauces, and other culinary solutions, Sargento has dramatically reshaped the cheese industry.
What Leonard Gentine Sr. achieved in the mid years of his life – how he engaged and energized those around him – is the story of a true entrepreneur. His willingness to place others ahead of himself – treating others, as he would want to be treated – left a corporate culture and foundation upon which others could build to even greater heights. And following his death, they did.
Story section given by Bob Pfeiffer of Sargento
A foundation of Trust, Honesty and Fairness are the main values that Leonard Gentine Sr. established when he founded Sargento cheese in 1953. These values were set in the culture because Leonard Gentine Sr. knew that success was contingent upon working with good people and treating them the way you would like to be treated. Sargento has always been a family-owned cheese company, which takes responding to customer and consumer needs as the central purpose. The pride at Sargento within its staff is at a premium, when they refer to quality excellence, they truly mean quality excellence. In a quote from the Sargento website, “Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence.” Sargento also makes all employees responsible for quality. Whether you’re the CEO, or a packager, all employees are responsible for the quality of Sargento products. Achievement, whether great or small, is worthy of celebration. Sargento employees are recognized for a job well done, which in turn, more likely creates a superior performance. With various rewards and recognition for working at Sargento, the turnover remains low, which keeps experienced employees who understand how to keep production at a high quality. Sargento is willing to help the community, whether its time, talent, or treasury. Sargento has been helping the community since Leonard Gentine Sr., the founder, who was a firm believer in helping others.
Sargento has been around for over half a century and continues to produce world-class products in the small Wisconsin town of Plymouth. The company has been within the Gentine family throughout the company’s fifty- year history. Being able to treat your employees like family, has allowed Sargento’s to have long lasting staff that can complete tasks at a high quality. The willing to give back to the community started with the founder, Leonard Gentine Sr., and continues today. Sargento has been quite innovative over the past 60 years, they were the first to use vacuum sealed packaging, first to market shredded cheese, first to use resealable packages, and also first to use Slide-Rite freshness seal. Sargento also offers a wide variety of recipes and eating options on its website for cheese enthusiasts.
— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 262-243-2149.
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