Tampa Maid Foods Case Study – COO Search

Tampa Maid Foods   

The path of engaged leadership continues

Success Story

By utilizing Curtis Food Recruiters in their executive search, Tampa Maid Foods had a new COO on board in just 5 months. The company hired this person in January and promoted him to CEO within 12 months.

Who They Are

Based in Lakeland, Florida, Tampa Maid Foods is a $100mm national seafood manufacturer owned by Watkins Associated Industries; a family owned, successful business comprised of food processing, building materials and real estate development. Tampa Maid Foods is a privately held corporation and is in its third generation of Watkins family management. Their plant has over 350 full-time employees and five processing lines. The company has international vendor relationships and sources, processes and markets quality value-added food products from around the world. Both Tampa Maid and Watkins have a long and successful history and reputation.

Their primary business is in coated, battered, breaded vegetable and seafood products for food service, private label and retail customers throughout North America. They market their products under their own company brands, including Cap’n Joe, Margaritaville® and Harvest Creations®, as well as private brands for leading food service distributors, chain restaurants, retail grocers and co-pack customers.

Their Goal

All major functions reported directly to the CEO, a 30-year seafood executive and well-loved company leader with a 20+ year history with TMF. As part of the CEO’s succession plan, TMF created the COO role and all major functions would now report into this person. Cultural fit was of the utmost importance, as this role would replace the beloved Chief Executive Officer in 12-24 months. The priority was to find an engaged leader who had the right balance of sales and operations experience in foodservice and the personality to become as beloved as the CEO.

Major Challenges

The main challenges that were specific to filling the COO role centered around the right cultural / personality profile, the job market at the time of the search was extremely competitive and TMF is a small company without a well-known brand.  The company itself faces many challenges in this unique environment that needed to be taken into consideration during the search, including navigating the global supply chain, sustainability issues and increasing competitive pressures. Additional industry issues include; long supply chain, customs challenges, sustainability issues and the many federal, state and local regulations that must be incorporated in the operations.

Their Solution

With a small HR team, the company decided that they didn’t have the band-with to conduct a search at this level and needed to engage the services of an executive recruiter. We were selected from an initial group of 5 national recruitment firms, based on our food industry expertise, engagement with their leadership team, and our executive presence.

Our Strategy

We worked closely with the Chairman of the Board, the President and the Director of HR to find a leader with a balance of sales and operations experience in foodservice for the newly created COO role. This person would be the face to the customer and would develop a strategy for growth through sales, improved operational efficiency and product development. They would need to be a go-getter, who is decisive, drives change and is able to work alongside the team and customers.

Together with the client, we identified the following as the top cultural and skills requirements for the role:

  • A sales and operations leader that is highly credible, has experience in front of the customer, with vendors and trade associations.
  • Strong understanding of international supply chain and related issues, sustainability, customs, irregular product, etc.
  • Relatable to a highly diverse workforce (68% Hispanic).
  • Strong financial acumen (P&L, costing, pricing, margin management).
  • Strong change management skills (improve efficiency, profit, world class operational excellence).

Early on, we engaged our network to develop a benchmark candidate. This person not only had the technical skills necessary, but also the personal leadership attributes the company was looking for to truly become an engaged leader in their corporate culture. Once the benchmark was established, we presented several other leaders with similar attributes.  The final candidates engaged in phone, VTC and ultimately in-person interviews with the executive team. Through the vetting process, the final candidates also prepared a presentation of the brief-case scenarios where they engaged in simulated client scenarios, describing the approach they would take in various workplace situations. The final candidates were narrowed to two and from those, TMF hired its next CEO.


The person chosen for the role had a combination of large company foodservice, sales success and small company, general management and operations experience. He is warm and engaging and the person each member of the search committee could see themselves spending time with professionally and personally.  He has driven sales every year since hired. The VP of Finance for the parent company had this to say: “If we had 10 more just like him, we could rule the world.”

Making a difference

The company culture at Tampa Maid Foods is unique. They are one of the last privately held American seafood companies. Their ownership by Watkins Industries since 1974 contributes to a family atmosphere and group of long-tenured employees that are personally invested in the growth and success of the organization.

They have achieved numerous certifications relating to food safety and good manufacturing practices as well as for sourcing materials from safe and sustainable wild-caught and aquaculture fisheries that also adhere to high standards of social responsibility.

Their successful history combined with the guidance of a caring, engaged leader and a family environment that values integrity, diversity and commitment to growth bodes well for the future of Tampa Maid Foods.

Executive Bio:

Rod Van Wyngarden – COO

Rod brings to Tampa Maid Foods over 30 years of experience in the food business holding various positions in sales and marketing as well as President of a small seasoning company and protein manufacturer. He has worked for well know national food companies including PepsiCo and Cargill. Under Rod’s guidance Tampa Maid has joined the Global Sustainability Seafood Initiative.  Rod holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas Lutheran and an MBA from Texas A&M.