Shearer Steps In
By Andy Hanacek
The saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” For Bob Shearer, who has been a part of the snack food industry for three decades, the time is now.
Shearer, president/CEO of Shearer’s Foods, Inc., will be the newest chairman of the Snack Food Association, and he plans to use his new position to “give back to an industry that’s been extremely good to myself and my family” and has helped him grow his company to a regional powerhouse.
Shearer has been the picture of stability among snack manufacturing executives. After graduating from Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, in 1975, Bob and his brother Tom formed Shearer’s Foods, Inc., originally making potato chips with the help of their parents, who were third-generation owners of the family grocery store in Canton.
“[Tom and I] thought we would branch out into something different, and we knew that snacks sold well in our store,” Bob explains. “Jokingly I tell people that we overbought potatoes one time, and with the excess potatoes we started making potato chips. But that’s an exaggerated story.”
But it’s not an exaggeration to say Shearer’s leadership style has led to the fantastic success of Shearer’s Foods, especially when you look at the growth the snack manufacturer has attained.
“We started with four employees — my mom, my dad, my brother and I,” he says. “We didn’t need an employee handbook at that time.
“We started the business … as more of a lifestyle — this was our life commitment. We looked at it as building the business and trying to make it grow, but did we ever think it would get to the size that it is today? No, probably not.”
Growth clearly has not eluded the company, which has, according to a report in the Akron Beacon Journal, quadrupled its workforce in the last six years. But even adding employees wasn’t always an easy thing to do, Shearer says.
“We never had to have an HR department to do interviewing and screening,” he explains. “If your mom worked here and you were in high school and wanted a job after school, you worked here and then graduated from high school and stayed on. That’s the way we got our people. But eventually, everybody ran out of relatives and friends, so we had to change our hiring practices.”
No matter who was working for him, one thing has never changed in Shearer’s leadership style, and that’s his demand for perfection and persistent focus on keeping the family-like culture of the company intact. Those motives will, no doubt, be carried into Shearer’s goals as SFA chairman.
His competitive drive spills into his personal life too, where he and his wife, Melissa, who is Shearer’s Foods’ director of public relations, play tennis competitively on United States Tennis Association teams. In fact, that competitive spirit, coupled with a great love for horses, is how they met 22 years ago. Both grew up showing horses, and a good friend of Bob’s introduced the couple. March 21, 2005, will be the couple’s 13th wedding anniversary. As for family, Bob’s attitude is a good picture of why his company’s almost 500 associates enjoy working for him.
“[Melissa and I] agree that … we have been blessed with a lot of wonderful associates who are our family,” he explains. “And outside of work, some of our best friends work within the industry, and I think that is unique.”
It’s that family patriarch focus that has made Shearer’s Foods as successful as it has been.
But SFA chairman is a new kind of focus, one for which Bob Shearer certainly will need to be ready, as a multitude of more difficult issues face the snack food industry nowadays, including state snack taxes, acrylamide, obesity and others.
“I think the challenges are more difficult than they were 25 years ago, but I would like to think we’re a stronger organization that can handle them.”
Even SFA has its own in-house challenge in the works, in the form of finding a new headquarters and moving into it. But Shearer believes it’s the right move to make.
“This gives us the opportunity to get into a new facility that’s going to be more workable and less costly,” Shearer says. “And that’ll be a looming challenge ahead of us in the next couple of months. We have a good team in place, and — come June — we’ll have a great office and great staff.”
He believes that SFA already has shown itself to be prepared to make the association and the industry better for all involved, and he credits his predecessors with setting up the association for success.
Meanwhile, Shearer’s main goal will be to improve participation, both by getting current members more involved and by bringing in new members.
“In the last 14 to 15 years that Shearer’s has participated in the association, we have learned so much as a company. The networking and opportunities have made our business better,” Shearer says. “If we all make our businesses better, the whole industry will be better.”