David M. Stafford, president, Stafford-Smith, a Kalamazoo, Mich.,-based foodservice equipment and supplies dealer. Prior to joining the company Stafford graduated from Western Michigan University with a double major and then went on to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. Stafford began working at the dealership 18 years ago, making him the third generation to join the family business, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
FE&S: Would you encourage your children to work in this business?
David M. Stafford: I am going to treat them the same way my dad treated me: my dad did not ask me to enter the business. I entered on my own accord.
FE&S: Do they ask about the business?
David M. Stafford: I answer any of their questions. They have other interests, just as I had when I was their age. How many kids go to college thinking they are going to be a doctor only to emerge as a teacher? I went from wanting to be a big animal vet to being a history teacher and now I am doing this.
FE&S: What made you come into the business?
David M. Stafford: I have worked around this business most of my life, working in the parts department, warehouse, etc. So I was around this a lot and enjoyed it. My original task was to go to the FMI show with my grandfather and learn from him. My dad told me walking the tradeshow was a good way to see people to learn the business. I liked the camaraderie of the business and I like to build things, which is exactly what we do. I could have done other things but I really enjoy what I do.
FE&S: If you were not working in foodservice, what would you be doing?
David M. Stafford: I probably would have become a college professor.
FE&S: What made being a professor so intriguing?
David M. Stafford: I like history. And history always repeats itself, for the most part. Right before going into the Marine Corps I coached college football at Kalamazoo College. So there is a chance I could have gone into coaching, too.
FE&S: What keeps you working in the foodservice industry?
David M. Stafford: I love it. I want to be my own boss.
FE&S: What do you love about the foodservice industry?
David M. Stafford: The relationships. The camaraderie. It is almost like sports or serving in the Marine Corps all over again due to the nature of the relationships and the camaraderie. We might not always agree with each other but we tend to respect each other and know that the other members of the industry are good people.
FE&S: Who was the person that influenced your career most?
David M. Stafford: I have learned a lot from my father, including much of what I do day to day. And John Brown was a big influence on me. John was the president of Stryker Worldwide. His wife, Rosemary, was my math teacher and she tutored me throughout high school and college. I would do yard work for them to pay for my tutoring. I would be shoveling the snow off their driveway and he'd grab a shovel and start talking with me. John would tell me it was ok to ask him any questions I had about business. He was one heck of a leader and a business man. We remain in touch to this day. And when I first entered the industry, my grandfather was retired from the business but I spent a lot of time talking with him. And every day I continue to learn from my father.