WILLOUGHBY: Ginning up success — Robert Royal returns to his roots

by Martin Willoughby

Published: January 24,2014

Tags: Business, Butler Snow, law, Mississippi

Up Close With ... Robert Royal Title: General manager, Midnight Gin Company  Favorite Books: Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes), The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway, and Reminiscences of a Stock Operator (Edwin Lefevre) First Job: ”My first paying job, aside from cutting grass, was at the Midnight Gin.  I was only about 13, and it was a summer job helping process cucumbers. At the time, I weighed only a few more pounds than a bushel of cucumbers. “  Proudest Moment as a Leader: ”This season, our friendly competitor cotton gin up the road chose not to operate due to low cotton acreage.  Rather than go to other competing gins, all their remaining farmers brought their cotton to the gin I run.  Their dedication to the community and their confidence in me was humbling. “  Hobbies/Interests: ”Training my bird dogs.  Now there’s a leadership role I truly enjoy. “

Up Close With … Robert Royal
Title: General manager, Midnight Gin Company
Favorite Books: Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes), The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway, and Reminiscences of a Stock Operator (Edwin Lefevre)
First Job: ”My first paying job, aside from cutting grass, was at the Midnight Gin. I was only about 13, and it was a summer job helping process cucumbers. At the time, I weighed only a few more pounds than a bushel of cucumbers. “
Proudest Moment as a Leader: ”This season, our friendly competitor cotton gin up the road chose not to operate due to low cotton acreage. Rather than go to other competing gins, all their remaining farmers brought their cotton to the gin I run. Their dedication to the community and their confidence in me was humbling. “
Hobbies/Interests: ”Training my bird dogs. Now there’s a leadership role I truly enjoy. “

I n my role as a business consultant, I interview a lot of prospective employees for my clients. In addition to looking for people with the proper experience and training, I am particularly focused in on the character and attitude of the interviewee. Skills can be developed; however, it is very difficult to alter attitude. In a recent interview, the individual made a very powerful statement — “It is my responsibility to make the life of my boss easier.” This simple statement revealed a great deal. She had a servant heart and willingness to go the extra mile. She was able to consider her employer’s perspective and make sure she was delivering value.

This perspective came up in my interview with this week’s leadership focus — Robert Royal, the general manager of Midnight Gin Company based in Midnight, Miss. Royal grew up on a farm in Midnight, and he went on to graduate with a degree in agricultural economics from Mississippi State. After graduation, Royal moved to Chicago and worked on the trading floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, first as an employee of a brokerage company and later as an independent trader in the treasury-note pit. After a few years in Chicago, he moved back to Mississippi and worked as a broker in both commodities and securities. In the mid-90’s, he began cotton farming with his father and soon after was asked to serve as general manager and oversee the day-to-day activities at Midnight Gin Company.

Royal is also very active in his industry. In addition to serving as a director with the Delta Council and Delta Oil Mill, Royal is the current president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association. While cotton production in Mississippi is currently down, Royal is helping his organization and other gins navigate this cycle. He noted, “Good producers are typically good businessmen, too. Resilience is a prerequisite because hard times will hit sooner or later.”

Royal paraphrased a statement by Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, saying, “If you work for someone, your most important job is to make your boss’s work life easy.” Royal not only agrees with that general philosophy, he extends that concept to his customers. He said, “I try to take it a step further as a businessman and make my customers’ life easy. Never inconvenience a customer.”

While this is a straightforward idea, it is much easier said than done. Leaders like Royal understand that to deliver on that kind of promise you truly have to put yourself in the shoes of your customer.

Royal also recognized that we are all different and “it is easy to be impressed by a good leader and think, yeah, I want to be like him or her.” Royal explained, “That’s ok, but that leader’s style may not fit your personality. Trying to overlay it on yourself can just create stress and failure. Take it easy, figure out who you are, go with that style, and most importantly, be responsible for your mistakes.”

Royal’s self-described “eclectic” leadership style has served him well. His peers have consistently recognized his leadership ability, and he is just as comfortable on the farm as well as being a public spokesperson for his industry to the media and financial community. Royal’s customer focus is allowing him to navigate the down cycle in the cotton business, but no doubt he will be poised for expansion during the next cotton growth phase. Businesses like Midnight Gin keep the economy going in rural parts of Mississippi, and I appreciate the commitment to excellence and resilience leaders like Robert Royal bring to the job.

» Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.

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