Family Values Propel The Maschhoffs Forward

Respect, commitment and dedication provide staying power for the nation’s largest family-owned pork operation. Dave and Karen Maschhoff (left) and Ken and Julie Maschhoff (right), run The Maschhoffs, Inc. ( JoAnn Alumbaugh )

Next year will mark 40 years since Wayne and Marlene Maschhoff’s sons, Dave and Ken, entered into a 50-50 partnership with their parents in Carlyle, Ill. That first seed of potential was planted as an idea and it grew to become the largest family-owned pork business in North America, ranking among the largest in the world. It was nurtured with purpose and flourished with passion. Owners of The Maschhoffs have withstood the test of time thus far by staying true to their original purpose, ideals and core values.

The company is led by Ken Maschhoff and his wife, Julie; and Dave Maschhoff and his wife, Karen. The family members’ cohesive bond and complementary strengths have paid enormous dividends. As of 2017, The Maschhoffs employed 1,300 people, owned 218,000 sows, worked with 550 Midwestern production partners and had $1.3 billion in sales.

The company’s annual growth rate of 22% can be attributed to the addition of new facilities as well as the acquisition of other entities.

The Maschhoff’s business relationships are grounded on a set of core values crafted in 2003, but in reality those values began much earlier. They were practiced in the Maschhoff home and perfected in their business, allowing it to grow exponentially with production partners and top talent.

When leaders of The Maschhoffs interview people for management positions, they aim to find people whose values align with their own. Those key attributes include respect for everyone on the team, commitment to hard work and environmental stewardship, and dedication to innovation.

 “If they are aligned with our values, it’s going to be a good fit,” Dave says. “If they don’t, it doesn’t matter how much training they have.”

The investment in hiring and onboarding a higher level manager is significant, therefore getting the right
fit is critical.

“It’s not just energy and time—it’s also a huge financial cost to the business if we get it wrong,” Ken says.

The employee manual now measures 4" thick, and “it gets fatter every year,” Julie says. “It’s meant to not just tell employees what to do but to show them. We’ve found that pictures are worth 1,000 words.” 

Train and Release

The success of the Maschhoffs’ leadership strategy is evident when the executive team observes employees talking to strangers about their jobs.

“They are the owners of their portion of the business,” Dave explains. “They don’t say, ‘Well, the Maschhoffs do it like this,’ or, ‘Ken and Dave do it like this.’ They say, ‘We do it like this.’”

Although that sense of ownership is critical, the Maschhoffs think it’s equally important to recognize team members and attend company events in person. Members of the executive team go to open houses and meetings hosted by production partners. 

Appreciation is an important part of The Maschhoffs culture, too.

“Before we had all the tools, like Success Factors, there was Ken, writing personal notes to the guys saying, ‘Hey, you did a great job on this,’” Dave says. “That was more important to the employee than how big his paycheck was.

“When you’re working side by side with employees, and working just as hard as they are, it goes a long way in building trust and credibility,” Dave says. “You are an equal.”

Highlight on Human Resources

As the company grew, instructional handbooks with standard operating procedures were developed. Business entities that provide the Maschhoffs with trucking, grain production, construction and other needs are managed independently, but employees of each entity receive the same overall training and benefits.

They acknowledge turnover is still too high, especially for non-management positions, and they are investing in training to help retain talented workers.

Early on, Julie focused on the organization’s human resources.

“Originally, we wanted new employees to spend a day with someone in a barn before they even accepted the job,” she explains. “We were utilizing whatever tools the National Pork Board or the National Pork Producers Council came out with. We used video training and materials from other sources. We were not shy about incorporating any tools these groups and others had about training. There were always options, we just had to seek them out.”

The operation continues to adjust training assets to meet its needs. In 2005, for example, assistant director of genetics Randy Bowman, compiled numerous photos and SOPs into a printed manual.

The manual now measures 4" thick, and “it gets fatter every year,” Julie says. “It’s meant to not just tell employees what to do but to show them. We’ve found that pictures are worth 1,000 words.”

The document has been instrumental in training field advisers, production partners, animal handlers, etc. “It was a way to make sure we were all trained in the right thing the same way,” Julie says.

In spite of those investments, the Maschhoffs point out no amount of training will make someone a great employee if culture and core values are lacking. Karen, who for many years managed production records, says the difference between The Maschhoffs and other pork operations lies in how people are treated.

“You always treated people with respect,” says Karen, talking to Dave and Ken in the spacious boardroom of the headquarters office. “You had already established the culture of how to treat people as equal team members. I think that goes back to the fact that Wayne and Marlene treated you as equals rather than children. That set the tone and helped us grow as much as anything. My job was simply to document what you guys were doing.”


This is the first article in a two-part series from the September issue of Farm Journal’s PORK magazine. To read part two, visit “Poised For The Future: The Maschhoffs’ Adapt to A New Business Model.”