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SANDERSON FARMS —From family business to major corporation

 

Sanderson Farms CEO Joe Sanderson chats with Mississippi Business Journal’s Alan Turner.

Sanderson Farms CEO Joe Sanderson chats with Mississippi Business Journal’s Alan Turner.

Sanderson Farms was originally incorporated as a feed and seed store in the year 1955. From that beginning, the company has grown to be a $2.5-billion corporation. It is the third largest vertically integrated poultry processing company in the United States, producing over three billion pounds of processed poultry annually. That’s a lot of chickens in anybody’s book.

The company employs over 12,000 people, and has more than 800 independent contract poultry producers. The company is currently adding new facilities, notably a new center in Palestine, Texas.

So how did Sanderson Farms go from a local feed and seed store to a major corporation? We talked recently with Joe F. Sanderson Jr., chairman and CEO of Sanderson Farms, for some insight into the company and it’s phenomenal success.

“You cannot sit still,” Joe said. “You might say we feel obligated to grow, because it is all about earnings per share and maintaining the trust of our shareholders. Without growth, that is not likely to happen.”

Joe joined the company in 1969 after graduating from Millsaps College, and worked in a variety of roles through the years, to finally take the helm of the company and emerge as one of the deans of Mississippi business. He has engineered much of the company’s growth in recent years, both through acquisitions and organic growth.

sanderson-farms“One of the main assets of any company is its balance sheet,” he said. “It’s hard to overstate the importance of a strong balance sheet, because it will enable you to weather the inevitable downturns that are going to happen in the course of time.”

That theme — a strong, healthy balance sheet — came up several times in the course of our conversation, as well as in remarks he made at a meeting of the Madison Business League.

When asked what he sees as some of the bright spots in Mississippi’s economic future, he said that “agribusiness will always be an important but overlooked industry in Mississippi. There are other great opportunities as well, including medical, petrochemical, wood-based industry and high-tech development, but certainly agribusiness will always be important to Mississippi.”

We discussed other issues, as well. Asked whether business is over-regulated at the present time, his unequivocal answer was, “Yes, it is, especially in the past few years. This has probably stifled some industries and prevented growth that might otherwise have occurred.” He does see Mississippi as a business-friendly environment with a strong and prosperous future, an encouraging assessment from a man who runs one of Mississippi’s biggest corporations.

As most are probably aware, Sanderson Farms undertook the sponsorship of the annual pro golf tournament held annually at Annandale, and Joe is very high on continuing that relationship.

“We saw this as a great opportunity to show support for Mississippi and for Children’s Hospital,” he said. “We started out with a one year commitment, and we were so pleased that we have now expanded that commitment.”

One of the big changes that will happen in 2014 is that the tournament dates will be moved from mid-summer to early November, a move that will probably be welcomed by many of us who sweated through the tournament during the dog days of summer.

“This tournament is also a great opportunity to get our name and image associated with this event,” he said. “We think this can be a true destination event for Mississippi.”

Joe Sanderson and his company have been a major asset to Mississippi through the years, and after meeting and getting acquainted with him, we can well understand why.

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