That’s what Paul Kennedy, the CEO of Dakota Supply Group (DSG) in Plymouth, MN told me when I asked him why he wanted the We Supply America tour to visit DSG. His reasoning was mirrored in my own mission—calling attention to the often-overlooked noble calling of distribution.
Paul wanted his staff to know how important they are, and the more I think about that, the more I see a theme among distribution companies: they’re in the game for each other. There is a powerful spirit and bond between employees that radiates the message that they care about each other, that they’re in this together. This is even more apparent by the fact that DSG is an ESOP—an employee-owned company.
Paul said he had watched the other episodes of our show and noticed how empowering the message was for distribution companies, leadership, and their teams. And he wanted that for his team. He wants them to know that they matter.
“Our people don’t know, or didn’t know, how they contribute to the end product.”
When I visited the warehouse and spoke with the transfer manager, Rich, I was inspired by how he spoke about these community-centric values. You can really hear it in the tone of the team’s voices and the way they talk about each other. Rich said he’s stayed at the company for more than 20 years because of the mutual respect each team member has for one another.
“I like what I do, and they like what I do,” Rich said, gesturing to DSG’s leadership.
I loved witnessing how DSG stripped away the hierarchy and the titles and made their mission to partner with their employees. Rich is not a number, he is a valued employee and, more importantly, a valued person. Leadership at DSG isn’t, in Rich’s eyes, a group of domineering, unapproachable policy-makers—they are partners. They partner with him and his entire team.
Employee ownership is a big part of this community-centric thread that seems to run through distribution in this country, and I closed out last week’s meet and greets at another ESOP—Edney Distributing Company in Huron, South Dakota.
This 70-year-old company is several generations in, and the family bond that has sustained the Edney’s has been extended to the rest of the staff. I’ve seen this theme throughout my tour—people in the distribution industry work for each other. There is a level of respect and sacrifice in this industry that I don’t think exists anywhere else.
It helps that the Edney family is so passionate about the business. While at a lunch that included the community and the full Edney staff, Jennifer Edney, the newest president of the company, and her father and former president, Douglas Edney, gave a heartfelt presentation about the history of the company. I was delighted to hear about the founder of the company, Frederick Edney, who started the business at 65. Can you imagine? He was 65 and still full of dreams, full of purpose, and motivated to reach his goals—and he did reach them. I love that.
While Jennifer and Douglas joked that Frederick wouldn’t recognize the company now since it’s grown immensely from the small family-owned business he started—I don’t know if I agree. While the business is vastly different in size and revenue, I think Frederick would recognize the commitment to helping independent agricultural dealers thrive, and I think he’d recognize the passion and community-centric feeling that still permeates the business. No one at Edney does things selfishly. This is a team that is in it for each other and for their customers. Their passion, their purpose, their dreams are all built in this team-oriented mindset.
One lesson I hope you take away from my journey is that the people in this industry are incredibly committed to each other. We’ve seen these family-like cultures and people-first principles displayed time and time again. DSG and Edney are two more great examples of leadership and staff partnering together, in it together, working with and for each other.
And let me tell you something, that’s noble as hell.