WILLOUGHBY: Taking Sanderson Farms to the top
by Martin Willoughby
Published: January 4,2013
I often share with people that one of my primary goals in writing this column is to broaden the perspective on what Mississippi-based companies can accomplish. Too often, I think we buy in to negative stereotypes about our capabilities in this state, and we create a false ceiling on what we can achieve. Sanderson Farms is truly a corporate Mississippi success story. Founded in 1947 by D.R. Sanderson, D.R. Sanderson Jr. and Joe Frank Sanderson, the Laurel-based company has grown to be the third-largest poultry producer in the United States. With over more than 11,000 employees and over 800 growers, Sanderson Farms has annual sales of over $2.3 billion. I recently interviewed Lampkin Butts, president and COO of the company to learn more about his principles of success.
Lampkin is a native of Laurel and attended Jones County Junior College for a year before transferring to Ole Miss where he graduated in 1973 with a bachelor of business administration. He held numerous leadership positions growing up and learned the value of hard work by paying his way through college. He shared, “I learned so much about people working side by side and doing hard, physical work with them. I still remember those men I worked with advising me to finish my college degree.” Shortly after graduation, he went to work for Sanderson Farms. Lampkin said, “The company had a program to teach college graduates the chicken business ‘from the ground up’ – the Sanderson way.”
After two years in working in sales for the company, Lampkin entered the management trainee program and began to learn the operation of the Sanderson plant in Laurel. He shared, “I was able to see and learn from many different styles of leadership.” Lampkin shared that Joe Sanderson, Jr. hired him in 1973 and even though he learned the business from many different Sanderson employees, he said, “I would have to say I consider Joe Jr. my mentor and I have been very fortunate to have worked for Joe for 39 years. He is a man of integrity, vision, with the ability to make tough decisions, and has a huge heart for others.”
About principles of leadership, Lampkin said, “I believe a leader must treat people with absolute respect and integrity and earn their trust. Trust is paramount. Work hard and expect excellence from yourself and others. Surround yourself with talented, trustworthy, smart, capable people, and you can accomplish anything. You must set achievable goals and hold people accountable for execution.” There is a lot of wisdom in his principles. I have noted that successful leaders understand the value of people and realize that leadership is about influence and not title. I also noted his emphasis on execution and accountability. My own mentors over the years have taught me the importance of continual accountability which is fair and consistent. Lampkin advises future leaders to be willing to “grow and learn every day of your life.” He also encourages leaders to seek out people they trust and respect, and to develop a mentor relationship. Lampkin also stresses that leaders should “develop their own reputation for being trustworthy, hard working, and capable of producing excellent results.”
Over the last 65 years, Sanderson Farms has grown from a family owned farm supply business that sold seed, feed, fertilizer and farm supplies to a public traded poultry producer. During the 39 years of Lampkin’s tenure with the company, his principles of success have been at work as he has progressed in leadership in the organization to being named as president and COO in 2004. I hope these Mississippi success stories encourage you as they do me that we have the ability to accomplish great things!
Up Close With Lampkin Butts
Title: President & COO of Sanderson Farms Inc.
Favorite Books: Godfather, Puzo; Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier; The Courting of Marcus Dupree, Morris; The Prodigal God, Tim Keller
First Job: “In elementary school, I had a paper route. In junior high school, I mowed lawns in the summer. Once I turned 15, I earned my first payroll check working for a demolition crew in the summer.”
Proudest Moment as a Leader: “In 2004, Joe Sanderson Jr. offered me the job as president, COO for Sanderson Farms.”
Hobbies: Family, football, golf, reading, traveling with my wife, Susie
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