a few Golden Flake memories

The more I get involved in Key West and Monroe County issues, the more I am reminded of when I worked for my father’s company, Golden Flake, after completing my term with United States District Judge Clarence W. Allgood. I had worked several summers at Golden Flake during high school and college, doing manual labor in the cooking and warehouse areas, and riding with Birmingham route salesmen and running their routes when they went on vacation. After going to work there full-time in 1969, I was put on the road for a year, running routes and building a route from a small Mississippi town. Then, I was brought back into the Birmingham headquarters, and did various clerical jobs for about a year. Then, I was given key contacts and put over the Birmingham sales region for a while. I told the two men I was promoted over that one of them should have gotten the job, and I was looking to them to keep me from screwing everything up. Later, at my recommendation, one of them did get the job, and he blew the lights out. Management didn’t like him, but I told them he was running his sales division with one hand tied behind his back. He did so well after he was given my job that they gave him him the north Alabama region, too, and he got the same results up there. Parallel, I handled the in-house part of Golden Flake’s advertising and budding marketing department. Four years into working there, I was nearly dead and resigned and went into the private practice of law. Down below, you can read about some of my other experiences at Golden Flake, and those of a very loyal, very smart Golden Flake employee. I swan, I cannot say I get much thrill from pondering the issues facing Key West and what it would be like to be mayor and have to deal with and try to fix and/or improve on things I did not cause. I’ve been running solo quite a while now. I wonder if I even have it in me to work in a corporate-like structure again? Yeah, working with the angels is corporate-like, but not in the same sense as working with people. The angels tell me what to do, I do it. I don’t do much of what people tell me to do, as most people who know me have figured out by now.

Back on terra firma, this recent email trip down memory lane with a former Golden Flake employee I really liked. He drove management crazy by being smarter than all of them re working with money and wearing shoulder- length hair, which was seriously taboo at GF. Finally, he gave up and went off on his own in ways that suited his talents and ridded him of having to answer to people he was a lot smarter than. I was told to publish this history in a dream by JS, the former CEO, whom I knew better than most people in the company knew him. JS was not happy when I left the company, as he was concerned it would be sold to Budweiser, Borden, or some English conglomerate, if there wasn’t a Bashinsky to take the reins after my father wasn’t there any more. Many times I heard JS tell GF employees, “We do not tolerate incompetence!” and many times I saw GF treat their most competent, productive employees like dirt. As if excellence was not okay because it showed up lack of excellence in top management. Sad, but true.

Bash,

I found the Pringles and Snack Food comments interesting. I also saw a different angle to the manufactured snack info and to the decline of Golden Flake. Yes, I agree that P & G made serious errors in introducing Pringles, and yes, as in most situations, MONEY caused manufactured products like Pringles to miss their mark. There was a manufactured product like Pringles that COULD have created potential nightmares for chip companies. I do not remember the name of the product or the developer, but they were a snack food manufacturer in California that invented a kick ass manufactured product. They did not have the funds to promote the product and they had no immediately available sponsor. That product could have created a problem for traditional chip companies. During that time frame, GF was one of the strongest regional companies, with contacts in numerous companies across the country that could have created a strong competitor to Frito Lay with strategic alliances and business combinations. I watched GF’s failure to move into those alliances and decided it was time for me to leave because there was not a possibility of a big time growth pattern with the refusal by some to consider the future as a winning path to allow the company to seek growth. Some wanted to be the largest chip company in Alabama, some wanted to have bragging rights at Snack Food conventions as having the largest Cookers in Florida, even if the oversized cookers would not manufacture the same quality products as the proper sized cookers in Birmingham, some failed to see the opportunities in Ocala, Florida for building a plant that would function properly and reserving all the additional land for Real Estate development on one of the most valuable pieces of land near the interstate in that area.

Shortsightedness and refusal to combine with other companies to create a Frito Lay competitor is what caused GF to be in today’s situation. People seemed to forget that F/L grew by joining hands with regional companies and creating a big company over time. The first move toward the big time for GF, involved an old regional company that presented an opportunity to combine with a company of similar size that brought business from contiguous states, products GF did not produce at that time, and a good family name. There were other regional companies that would have wanted to join a consortium that could grow into the big time, but it was never attempted.

Realizing that GF had no desire to grow and compete, along with planning I knew would not work for the plant in Florida, made me decide that I was riding a blind horse on a mountain pass and would never see a company that I loved reach its potential. Remembering what could have been is sad, but remembering what was done to create the original growth after GFs IPO was a delightful trip down memory lane.

MM

Hi, Mike.

Yes, Golden Flake avoided like the plague merging with other regional companies. Stemmed from near-disaster acquisition of Don’s Foods in Nashville. Was the company you mentioned as a possible merger Moore’s? Or Lance?

I heard WP pissed Moore’s off so bad that they didn’t even approach GF when they decided to sell to … Wise? Borden’s? Lance might have been a pretty good merger, as they were really strong in vending machine business and GF was really strong in chains. Alas, my father tried vending machines back when I was still just wet behind the ears, and it went badly, and that soured him as much on vending machines as Don’s soured him on taking on other chip companies.

As I recall, FL did acquire some regional chip companies, but then had to back off to avoid anti-trust problems in the snack food industry. My recollection, FL made some horizontal and vertical acquisitions in related fields.

My recollection, Herman Lay started out running a potato chip route for Gordon Foods, in Nashville. Eventually, he started up Lay’s Potato Chip Co. in Atlanta. For a while, he wasn’t much different from GF, then he took on Fritos’ as a jobbed item. After Lay’s sold the hell out of Fritos, Lays and Fritos merged, into FL, and although Fritos was larger than Lay’s, Herman ended up with more stock than anyone else and became CEO, Chairman of the Board, or whatever head honcho. Same thing happened years later when FL merged with PepsiCola. Herman ended up with more PepsiCo stock than anyone else and head honcho. My father was very shrewd, started buying FL stock, or perhaps he waited until the merger with PepsiCola. Made a bundle betting on his competition to do well.

Not all that long after my father died in late August 2005, a fellow I knew in Key West said he had an idea, patentable, to produce meat chips, which would look something like potato chips and would be cooked somewhat similarly. The meat base would be beef, pork and/or chicken. He needed a sponsor. I told him about federal regulations requiring a federal inspector in a meat processing plant. He was not deterred. I figured Nashville could be converted, as the product had a very long shelf life and it wouldn’t matter where the product was made.

My father came to me in a dream, very excited about this product, so I put the fellow in touch with MMc at GF, which was like putting him in touch with the undertaker, as it turned out. Zip interest, MMc referred to fellow to someone near West Virginia or Maryland, as I recall. End of that story, even though I told MMc about my dream and that GF could patent the process and license it to other companies around the US and even overseas, including FL. Looked to me like GF could have made a killing and be riding high, instead of where it clearly was headed when I pitched the idea to MMc. As you certainly knew, icewater does not adequately describe the way new ideas were treated at GF.

Back around 1992 or 1993, Ty Ragland, remember him?, Message Factors in Memphis, called me out of the blue in Colorado. Ty was the fellow I had brought in to do market research for GF. What a battle that was. And what a battle over what the market research revealed. “We know our product and our customers better than a company from Memphis knows them!!!”

GF knew its customers and product so well, that instead of coming out with a triangle tortilla chip, it came out with a round one. Gratis, not working there any longer, I surveyed several Birmingham grocery stores. FL was giving the triangle Doritos 5-6 times the shelf space it was giving round Tostitos. Ergo, FL was selling 5-6 times as many Doritos as Tostitos. I reported my finding and conclusion to GF management, and, to my amazement, they took it to heart and started making a triangle tortilla chip.

Then, there was the time some years before, when fried cheese curl sales took a sudden unexplained nose dive. When I asked in a Monday morning meeting, “What’s wrong with cheese curls?”, were you there?, I got slammed. I pulled out the plummeting sales figures for the last three weeks, and kept gnawing. They told MN to check into it. Next week he came back, said they had gone through the entire process, found nothing. Fried cheese curls continued to die.

Maybe three months later, MN sheepishly reported at a Monday morning meeting that they had not actually checked the entire process. The fellow mixing the seasoning had increased the C-3 flavor enhancer ten-fold, which was not a ten times but a ten geometric times increase. C-3 went from what made GF’s fried cheese curls jump off the shelves, to what made them stay on the shelves.

Then, there was the Atlanta invasion. After going over there a few times, I knew one warehouse in downtown Atlanta was going to be a huge problem with all that gridlock traffic during afternoon rush hour. I knew we would lose route salesmen left and right, if they had to go to the warehouse every day like was done everywhere else in GF’s territory. I suggested GF not use 10-foot delivery trucks, but use 12-foot trucks, so route salesmen could load more product and come to the warehouse less frequently. I should have suggested 14- or 16-foot trucks.

I got seriously maligned over that idea, too.

Then, one day, I am in LB’s office, and I look on his desk and see a requisition for a bunch of 12-foot route trucks for Atlanta. I ask what that is about? LB tells me. I say I thought we aren’t going to use 12-foot route trucks in Atlanta? LB was one of the main ones who had clobbered me for suggesting the idea. He looks me dead in the eye, says we have always been thinking of using 12-foot route trucks in Atlanta.

A few days later, I go to see my father at his home, I think it was Sunday evening, and tell him I am resigning. I give no reason, other than it it isn’t working out, which is the truth. I wondered later, if LB did that on purpose, to force my hand. Everyone out there knew I was miserable. Maybe he did it as a favor.

TD came to me and said he knew why I was leaving. He understood. Eventually, he retired before he had to. Then, he nearly went crazy, but that passed, and he was glad, it seemed, he had quit.

Oh, I didn’t finish the Ty Ragland story. When he called me in Colorado, it was because Golden Flake had hired Message Factors to try to help GF. This was wild, because my father had blamed Ty for my leaving GF. Perhaps Ty was instrumental. We became close. He stayed in our home once or twice, when he came to Bham to call on GF and a couple of other accounts. We had frank discussions.

Anyway, when Ty called me in Colorado many years later, he said my father didn’t seem to remember him or Message Factors from when I worked at GF. Ty said he had sold Message Factors to a fellow who had worked at Proctor & Gamble, who sometimes hired Ty for different projects. The two were working GF, and the ex-P & G fellow was talking with my father. Ty wanted to know my take on GF. I said it was too macho, too set in its ways, too lacking in heart, too rough on its employees, expected them to die for GF. Ty said that was his and his partner’s take, too.

We had several more conversations, as I recall. In one, Ty said my father had asked the ex-P & G guy, if he was interested in taking over and running GF? The ex-P & G guy said thanks, but no. My father knew then 1992 or 1992, that he had a serious problem. I stayed out of it, at Ty’s request.

Weird, after he died, my father started coming to me in dreams, asking me to try take care of things he had not taken care of – left in a big mess, in some cases. He was coming to me in dreams for years before that, nearly always amicable. I got nowhere in any of the areas I tried to help my father.

I even went to the annual stockholder meeting not long after Katrina had clobbered southern Louisiana, and said in the meeting that the GF hobo clown represented the heart and soul of the company, and they needed to make him prominent again, on packaging, in advertising, on the route and over the road trucks. The in-house advertising people came up to me afterward and thanked me, but management didn’t seem interested.

It wasn’t long after that that I learned of the meat chip idea, which I still believe would have launched GF to the stars, if it was done right. TD would have loved to have been asked to come back in on special assignment to get that done. And perhaps AL, if his health allowed. For many years, AL was my spy at GF. We had many conversations about many things, not all about GF.

After AL’s heart started giving out on him, and he couldn’t put in the hours he had been putting in, he lost favor, was treated pretty darn shabby. The Golden Rule sometimes is harder to practice than it is to put on big rulers and hang over doors in a company.
You okay with my publishing what you wrote to me?

MM: no problem, what I wrote is true and the guilty that ruined things probably need some retro thinking. Not for publication are a few facts. You mentioned FL paying for shelf space. That was indeed true, but GF actually started that war. Please don’t mention that because it was not an honorable thing and was maybe/maybe not legal. Also for your eyes only …

Actually, the first possible purchase to grow a national company was Guy’s Foods. Guy and Francis would have sold and the 2 companies would have been good together. There was another small company that would have helped GF in Virginia and the Carolinas and NE Tennessee. WP gave that company all of our competitive info, cooking info, etc etc and constantly told everyone that they would call us when they decided to sell. They did not even consider calling WP and we learned of their decision to sell to someone when someone called GF and mentioned that they had sold out.

Bash: Don’t know if I’m to publish any of our discussion, but if I do, the part about who started buying shelf space corrects something I published and should be made known regardless of the smear. The rest, no problem keeping under wraps. WP was an ego maniac.

Moore’s sounds like the small company in Virigina, the Carolinas and East Tennessee. They liked GF, promised if they ever decided to sell out, they would come to GF first. But WP got to running his ego and pissed them off and they sold out without contacting GF, or so I heard the story, probably from AL. Other than the spy Joann got GF to hire and report back to her, WP was the only person in management who liked seeing her show up. I suppose they talked a lot about the Lord and being saved. Got where I coudn’t stand being around WP, but that was some time after I left GF. The Ocala story is bizarre. How’d my father let that happen? Don’t expect an answer, but if you have one, I’d like to hear it. I remember wondering what they were going to do with all of that cooking capacity? I toured the Ocala plant in late 1985, and again in late 2004. Looked like they were making lot of private label and stuff for Bham, but don’t remember what all products now. By the second visit, Nashville was closed some time. I never did understand why they beefed up the Nashville plant, instead of going further north, say to Louisville, KY. I remember when Leonard Japp’s company came up for sale, Jay’s, in Chicago. GF looked that over, Japp’s kids wanted the moon for it. Old equipment didn’t look good. I think some of the northeast regionals continued okay. Herr’s, Utz. Dense population areas, transportation costs much less, good consumer base-loyalty.

MM: Sloan, Publish anything in the first email. I don’t care about the payments for space. Everyone was doing it, just not selectively as during that time period.

About Bash

open files in header pages at www.goodmorningbirmingham.com, www.goodmorningfloridakeys.com, www.goodmorningkeywest.com
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2 Responses to a few Golden Flake memories

  1. Herman& Marianne Faulk says:

    Bash: Thanks for saying what needed to be said!!! You are 100% correct… WP
    was the worst thing that ever happened to GF and JS let him do it…

    Publish if you desire. Herman

  2. PT says:

    “MM: no problem, what I wrote is true and the guilty that ruined things probably need some retro thinking.”
    “Thanks for saying what needed to be said!!! You are 100% correct… WP
    was the worst thing that ever happened to GF and JS let him do it…”

    Those of you willing to speak up for truth are to be commended. Thank you! You have my respect. Seems few have the courage to do as you have done here.

    When the remembered past threatens comfort, privilege or power the true history of events tends to get muted, distorted or suppressed. To quote James Agee, “the deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor. Official acceptance, Agee believed, “is the one unmistakable system that salvation is beaten again, and is the one surest sign of fatal misunderstanding, and is the kiss of Judas.” As Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Virginia, Dr. Gaston learned long ago as all historians quickly learn that this process and pattern of truth altering must be combated for the past to be fully and honestly acknowledged. Writing and thinking about our past is full of lack of awareness, denials, erasures, fears, and manipulations that require effort to see past. We all have our own unique opportunity to tell the truth and do as Bash exhibited today sharing some Golden Flake history which give us a richer understanding of Miss Welty’s belief that, “one place comprehended can make us understand other places better,” that “sense of places gives equilibrium” and that, “extended, it is direction too.” Dr. Gaston states for the historian he can imagine few more satisfying experiences.
    I am sensing Good Morning Birmingham as it grows will more and more honor truth and will attract readers and posters who are hungry for a satisfying exchange worth the investment of their time.

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