VCU Center for Corporate Education

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We’re continuing to highlight members of our Family Business Forum with an interview series that asks local family-owned businesses what makes them tick and brings them to participate in the forum, held at VCU School of Business and coordinated by The Center for Corporate Education.

This month, we’re featuring J.J. Smith from Valley Proteins.

J.J. Smith, photo originated in The Winchester Star, 2018.

In a few sentences, describe your family business.

Valley Proteins, Inc. is the largest privately owned collector and processor of animal by-products and waste cooking oils operating in North America. The business was founded by Clyde A. Smith in 1949 and is now owned and operated by his grandsons Gerald F. Smith, Jr. and Michael A. Smith. The business processes over 100 million pounds of waste material each week and employs a staff of around 2000 associates.

What role do you play in your family business?

I have been employed by the company for 34 years and have served as President for the past 27 years.  Since my father’s passing in 2003, I have also served as the chairman and chief executive officer. My main focus areas are finance, administration, transportation, procurement, markets, sales and personnel.

Why do you participate in the VCU Family Business Forum?

Since I work in a family business, I am aware of the challenges that we face in working together while retaining a healthy family relationship.  My main interests are in transitioning our business to a fourth generation in a successful manner for all involved.

Describe a “lightbulb” moment you’ve had that has helped your family business.

My lightbulb moment occurred about 10 years ago when we had a speaker that worked in a firm that provided family office services.  He told a story of a father who had his son coming into the business. The father went out to a shop that embroidered clothing and had two baseball caps made.  One had “Dad” embroidered and the other had “Boss.” The father put these two caps on his credenza and he and the son would agree on which cap he would wear each time they had a meeting.  This allowed both to keep in mind whether it was a conversation between son and father, or supervisor and subordinate. I think this was a great idea to help keep family conversations focused and constructive while minimizing bruised feelings.

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