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: What aspect of your career gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
David M. Stafford: Winning a job and making money on it in the end — that whole process is what does it for me. And it’s great to be able to see your whole team do such a good job.
FE&S: Any interesting hobbies?
David M. Stafford: I coach high school lacrosse. Also I like to work out and read.
FE&S: Why do you coach high school lacrosse?
David M. Stafford: When I am there I am not the boss. So I have to take complete orders from someone other than my family. That’s different from working in the family business and it teaches me humility. Plus, I have something I can teach them and I want to give back. You learn a lot working with the players.
FE&S: What is your definition of a business partner?
David M. Stafford: Someone is there to work with you and you are there to work with them. They are honest and straightforward. They don’t have any hidden agendas. That is a real partner. You know how many times you work with someone only to find out they had a hidden agenda? When that happens you are mad, frustrated or hurt. You feel like you got punched in the stomach. Nobody wants to do business that way. And I am not a fan of watching our employees or my partners get treated poorly.
FE&S: What do you look for in a business partner?
David M. Stafford: A good business partner is an honest, trustworthy and loyal person. It is a relationship business and that’s what attracted me to it.
FE&S: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
David M. Stafford: Don’t tell everybody everything. You don’t want to tell everyone everything you know. Also to always listen.
FE&S: Knowing what you now know, would you still pursue a career in foodservice?
David M. Stafford: Yes. There are times when you ask yourself that question but yes I would do it again.
FE&S: If I were just starting out in the foodservice industry, what advice would you give me?
David M. Stafford: Listen. When you first start, it takes you about five years to learn this industry. No, it’s not rocket science but there are a lot of nuances to this industry. Don’t assume you know everything. So ask lots of questions and study. This work is not done from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You have to work at it. My dad taught me that and that’s one of the most important things he taught me.
FE&S: When traveling for business do you have any guilty pleasures?
David M. Stafford: Reading. I love to read anything. If it is a book for business? Great. If it is a book for pleasure, great. I will read anything.
FE&S: What was your first job in foodservice?
David M. Stafford: I was 12 years old when I started working here and I did a variety of janitorial tasks like cleaning toilets and taking out the trash.
FE&S: Nobody knows I...?
David M. Stafford: ...People think I am a screamer. But when things get heated, I don’t have to raise my voice. I try to remain level and calm. The only people I raise my voice to are factory reps when they are not treating our team correctly. Even there I do not yell but firmly explain our position as a company. Everything I do at work I try to do it with a smile on my face because our employees/team should enjoy coming to work here.
Click here to read part one of the interview with David M. Stafford.
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