Just last month, Curtis Food Recruiters celebrated our 15th anniversary. It’s been an incredible journey only made possible by the invaluable people who have been a part of our team and the wonderful clients and candidates we’ve met along the way.
To commemorate this special occasion, we sat down with our founder, Julie Curtis, to talk about what the past decade and a half has been like for both CFR and the food industry.
Why start Curtis Food Recruiters?
I had a leadership role with a Fortune 500 company, which came with a tremendous amount of visibility and responsibility. While I loved that job, it was hard to balance that with a young family. Starting my own business was a way to create my own work-life balance.
While I admit I still struggle with achieving a true work-life balance, I love what I do, I truly do. This encompasses all of what we do here, our team, our clients, and our candidates. A lot of work goes into owning your own firm, but to me, I think it’s more than worth it!
What thoughts & emotions come to mind when you think about the 15th anniversary of CFR?
It should feel like a huge accomplishment, however, with the ups and downs of the pandemic, it doesn’t quite hold the same weight. Our 10th anniversary felt like “we did it!” Our 15th feels hard-fought, like running a race. The past 13 months have made searches more difficult and complex.
When business is good, you work hard to make sure it stays good, and when business is slow, you work even harder; embracing those challenges is the only way to make it through. Reflecting on this particular anniversary, our whole team continues to work hard for each other, for our clients and for our families. Without this particular team and group of women, I couldn’t have made it to 15 years!
What was some crucial advice you received that has helped you make it to your 15th anniversary?
I received an incredibly impactful piece of advice as I was starting out with CFR: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. As simple as that may seem, it had incredible meaning for our business. It means for executive search, don’t spend 75% of your time working with one client because so much can change — organizational and leadership changes, mergers and acquisitions, and that can lead to completely redeveloping your customer base. Rather than rely so much on just a few relationships, diversify your client base. We have been able to successfully diversify our portfolio with branded food manufacturers, private label, large and small grocery retailers and wholesalers, and foodservice customers across the country.
Another piece of advice I received that has stuck with me all these years is, when you are hiring people for your own team, focus on their customer service skills. Hire someone with great client relations skills; someone who understands how to communicate, gather information, pay attention to the details and problem solve for the customer. Rather than focusing on hyper-specific skills, hire a stellar communicator, someone that is innovative, and has experience overcoming challenges. Your clients will be happy and come back time and time again.
How has the food industry changed in the last 15 years?
I think there are components of the food industry that have changed drastically; quality assurance, quality control, point of origin, blockchain technology — being able to know exactly where that bushel of product originated. The ability to find out on a granular level how to improve our food supply has greatly improved.
Another element that is fun to reflect on from the past 15 years is how the organic, natural products and grocery chains have grown. All of these tiny little organic and natural food companies were just sprouting up and finding their place back then.
We’ve also seen an incredible amount of innovation in food products, flavors and ingredients. There has been such a dramatic change in the way we eat, what we eat, and how we as consumers make more educated decisions on what we are putting into our bodies. We have seen some amazing transformations within food companies and it will be fascinating to see how that continues to evolve.
Who is your business role model? Who has inspired you?
One person that stands out in my mind is Sheryl Sandberg — both her books “Lean In” and “Plan B” mean a lot to me. I relate to her values, her thought process and problem-solving. Helping other women inspires me as well. I recently participated in a mentoring experience with the Network of Executive Women (NEW), and I loved that! I’ve also learned a lot from some of the clients we’ve worked with over the years, such as Kathy Hayden, VP of Sales during her time at WhiteWave and beyond, Rhonda Harman, VP of HR at Michael Foods, as well as so many other great business leaders.
I have also grown a lot as a business leader through working with Executive Coach, Sarah Bridges — she has inspired me and knows how to ask just the right question to help you problem-solve on your own. As a leader, this is the area that I have grown in the most over the last five years and continue to work on. My tendency was to jump in and fix the problems, but instead, I have learned to ask more questions and redirect people to solve the problems on their own.
What is your favorite part about your job?
For me, the motivation always comes down to my client and candidate relationships. A client once commented, “You come to every single conversation with such energy, how do you do that?” I might not always have that same energy while working at my desk, but I definitely do when I am working with my clients — it’s my favorite part of the job! When clients are innovative, thoughtful, authentic and share who they really are, I’m able to help them define what they truly need, and in turn, find the right person for the role.
What do you foresee in the next 15 years for CFR? What are your goals?
Applying the insight I have gained this year from working with an executive coach, my focus will be on trying to let go a bit more, trust more in others and continue to let my team shine. I am naturally a take charge person and I am learning to sit back and let others take the lead (sometimes) — I’m a work in progress!
From a company standpoint, I want to continue strengthening our existing relationships, grow our customer base and focus on higher-level roles that are appropriate for executive search. Also concentrate on being more efficient with the time we have and improve our processes with new technology. It’s important in our industry to always challenge our mindset and continue to try new things.
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 over a decade. 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.