March 31st marks the 17th anniversary of Curtis Food Recruiters, a woman-founded, retained, food and beverage executive search firm. When Julie Curtis started CFR in 2006, she was pursuing her passions while also striving to create more of a work-life balance in her home. In the beginning, CFR consisted of herself plus one part-time employee. Whereas now, 17 years later, the team is continuing to grow.
To celebrate 17 wonderful years, Julie took the time to sit down with us to give an inside look into Curtis Food Recruiters over the years.
When Founding CFR, What Gap Did You See That Needed to Be Filled?
Growing up, my dad was a food industry executive in the industry, so this space was all I had known. Sitting around the kitchen table there was always talk about new products, commodity pricing, the usual. My first job was with Kraft Foodservice, I spent time in procurement & category management before moving into executive recruitment. As the head of Talent Acquisition at Nash Finch, it was evident the hiring managers solely wanted food industry people; They felt that these were the only people that understood the CPG space, and very few recruiters had a division of CPG in this sector, and those that did had not worked in the space.
How Did Your Past Experiences Propel You Forward When Starting CFR?
Early in my career I had been both a buyer and a category manager. This gave me insight into operations, retail operations, and supply chain. I knew everyone in the organization, and what it took to be successful in those roles. As I moved into executive recruitment, my experience of recruiting for all types of positions in the food industry played a key role.
I have also worked for many great executives throughout my career who taught me so much. I understood what it was like to be in a boardroom, create a budget, as well as set metrics and goals to achieve that budget. I knew if I could work with a tough, type A group of executives, I could do anything.
In 2006 What Was Your Vision for Curtis Food Recruiters?
My original vision was to give myself more balance. I was in an environment where every day I was commuting to the office, arriving at 6:30am and not leaving for twelve hours. I had a baby at home, and I knew that I needed a job that would allow me time to also care for my family.
This new venture gave me the opportunity to be there for my kids as they grew older. To have breakfast with them and put dinner on the table was an everyday dream. I have been able to attend their activities, baseball games, meet them when getting off the bus. It allowed me to be a successful, working mom and engaged mother; the best of both worlds! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always “just that easy”, but 90% of the time I get to prioritize the right things.
How Has That Vision Evolved Over Time?
Over the past 17 years, we have grown significantly and are now in a position where we are able to really scale the business. When I first started, it was myself and a part-time employee, who eventually turned full-time. I then hired another part-time employee who turned full-time, and it was a consistent repeat cycle leading up to our current team of 11.
Hiring amazing executive recruiters, sourcing specialists, an HR administration team, and project staff has really helped me to dream a bigger dream. We have created a larger organization to solve more problems for more customers and be a key resource throughout the process.
When I brought on Lynn Ducharme, Vice President of Talent Strategy, I not only brought on a leader in executive recruitment, but more importantly I hired a thought partner. Hiring a thought partner was a game changer. Having also spent some time doing eye opening leadership development with Sarah Bridges Ph.D., Owner of Bridges Consulting, I allowed myself to think in much more strategic ways about how we can service our customers.
What Has it Been Like Founding and Running a Female Owned Company within a traditionally male-dominated industry?
In all honesty, I have had many champions in both men and women. I have had great role models who have coached me and talked me through challenging situations; I have tremendous respect from all of my clients. I do not think that this industry being male dominant has hindered the success of a woman founded business. If anything, my clients have embraced it. They are looking at the work product versus who is doing the work.
What Makes CFR Stand Out Amongst the Competition?
Recently, we worked with Propeller to do a Voice of the Customer (VoC) survey. We received a lot of kudos and great, honest feedback. What stood out the most was our integrity, how hardworking we are and our ability to do whatever it takes to make sure the project gets done for our customers, in a way where they know they are getting the best of the best.
This team focuses on how to support each other, not how to compete against one another. Customers don’t necessarily see that, but our behind-the-scenes support of one another is why we can successfully take on such challenging searches.
What Has Been One of Your Biggest Challenges?
One of our biggest challenges is the tremendous level of sales that goes into executive recruitment. I’m not sure if it’s my Midwest upbringing or my personality, but I am not a salesy person. I absolutely love going out and selling my clients to the candidates for the role, but selling my own brand has been challenging for me. It is something I work on overcoming every day.
What Has Been the Best Piece of Advice You Have Received Throughout Your Career?
“Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket.” Because if something goes awry, you will have to start over from the beginning. This has always been a guiding thought in my strategic planning. We have helped many Fortune 500 companies fill key roles, but it’s important that we not rely too heavily on 1 or 2 clients for the bulk of our searches. By building out leadership teams for small to mid-size organizations we are able to diversify our portfolio rather than investing all of our services in one client. Another key piece is hiring people with excellent customer service skills. These soft-skills translate to so many areas of what we do and are really the backbone of what makes my team, and CFR as a whole successful.
Looking Ahead to the Future, What Are You Looking to Accomplish Over the Next 17 Years With CFR?
Continue to grow our organization. I want to see the ability to build out service offerings to help customers beyond solely executive recruitment. Looking ahead, eventually when I retire this will be a company that can function without me and still thrive in the executive recruitment space.
Thinking Back on The Years Tell Us About One of Your Most Memorable ‘Firsts’ at CFR!
Hitting the ten-year mark was an incredible milestone for me. I had read and heard how few businesses make it past one year, and even more will fail within the first five years of opening their doors. Coming out even stronger on the other side of the 2008 – 2010 recession was a huge turning point of our success.
Hiring Eli as the first man on our team. He has been the perfect addition. Adding an international team member living in Spain! The best was the first time my daughter asked me to be a judge for the DECA program, “Because you know so much about business!”.
How was CFR affected by the Covid 19 Pandemic?
Successfully making it through one major downturn in the market helped give me the confidence I needed to navigate the business through the Covid 19 pandemic. We saw it affect our clients in various ways depending on what sector of business they were in. It was often a dichotomy in which many of our manufacturing clients were reaching record level sales while several of our foodservice clients were looking for creative ways to stay afloat. This created a shift for us in the types and levels of roles we filled and having the agility to pivot as needed was key for us.
What Is Something Not Many People (Or Anyone!) Know About You?
When people meet me, it’s evident I do not like a ton of fanfare, and I cannot take a compliment to save my life. I’m not sure anyone knows how much it means to me to know how proud my dad was of my success. Something I’m not sure I even knew until after he passed away.
My father was not one to boast about anything, but at his funeral dozens of people came up to me to relay how often my dad would gush about how well I was doing, and how proud he was of me for founding and running my own company. He loved that I followed in his footsteps both in recruitment and the food industry. His pride in my success will always be the highest compliment I could ever receive.
Curtis Food Recruiters
As a full-service executive search firm, Curtis Food Recruiters has successfully matched skilled job seekers with prominent businesses throughout the food manufacturing and grocery retail industry for nearly two decades. If you’re searching for your next top performer or need help advancing your career, contact us today and we’ll leverage our vast industry experience to move your hiring needs forward.