Jair Antonio de Lima Of Frigorífico Concepción On How To Take Your Company From Good To Great
Vision that includes overall service: We truly believe that companies should serve their customers and the communities in which they live. To serve others is at the core of what we do at Frigorifico and we have a clear purpose. We provide food that ends on the table of countless families. Without a clear commitment to serve others, we could never expect to be a great company.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jair Antonio de Lima.
Mr. Jair Antonio de Lima is the Founder and Controlling Shareholder of Frigorífico Concepción. He has been the Chairman of the Board of Directors since 2010. Mr. de Lima began his career in the meat industry in 1982. He previously worked at Frivale-Frigorífico Vale do Ivinhema Ltda., where he oversaw wholesale and retail sales. Subsequently, Mr. de Lima commenced his specialization in the meatpacking and trading sector in Dourados, Brazil and he later oversaw the opening of operations at several refrigeration plants in various Brazilian cities and later expanded outside of the country. Mr. de Lima started Concepcion in the north of Paraguay in 1997. He has been in his current position at the company since 2010. Mr. de Lima holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Catholic University of Santana São Paulo (Brazil).
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started as a salesman in the sales department of a chicken processing plant. In 1979, I built my first butcher shop, and in 1984, we opened six butcher shops, one chicken distribution center and another meat distribution center. By 1987, we had 32 butcher shops and a distribution center distribution that distributed 3,000 tons of meat monthly and 500 tons of chicken monthly. It was then that I began the first refrigeration plant in Brazil, which evolved into six meatpacking plants. In 1997, we started the first small meatpacking plant in Paraguay, and that grew into what is Concepcion today, a Paraguay-based multinational aspiring to reach one billion in sales in 2022.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I faced significant difficulties over the years. One that I can highlight is the Brazil price control program in 1986 that bankrupt many businesses. In Paraguay, between 2003 and 2004, we suffered from foot-and-mouth disease. Our exports from Paraguay to the Brazil market were also closed because of the disease in 2005. We again had an outreach of foot-and-mouth in Paraguay in 2012 that closed our exports for 90 days. The Operation Carne Fraca (Operation Weak Meat in Brazilian media in English), had an impact in Paraguay in 2018 that affected us greatly. Our revenues fell dramatically; however, as before, were able to cope with the situation.
I never thought about giving up because I love my work and through the challenges, I gained strength to keep on going. My desire to overcome the next obstacles gives me strength and motivates me.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When we bought Concepcion in 1997, the seller told us that the packing plant could process 18 heads a day. On our first day of operation, my team reported it could only process 11 heads. I was surprised and asked, “What happened?” The manager responded, “Sorry, we can’t do more.” When I went to see the plant, the issue turned out to be that the refrigeration chambers were so small, that they couldn’t fit any more meat than that. I was concerned at the time, but we quickly made improvements, and have significantly progress. Today, we process more than 3,000 heads a day and we cold freeze tons and tons of meat with the highest technology. It makes me chuckle how modest our operation was in the beginning.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are always developing new products and looking for more and more countries to export to.
For a Paraguayan company, it is a great achievement to export to over 70 markets, including Brazil, Chile, Spain, Israel, Italy and Taiwan, just to name a few. We are continuing to grow and our biggest goal is to access the U.S. market in 2022.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would suggest being open to the world. Also, to focus on opening new export markets by working together with the Paraguay government, through an agency called Servicio Nacional de Calidad y Salud Animal (SENACSA), to achieve successes in gaining certifications for our meats in more markets.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am very grateful to my team. They helped Concepcion to be where we are today. There are countless collaborators that have made incredible efforts through the years but if I we were to name a few, they would be my current Board of Directors: Pedro Pascutti, Marcos Hermann y Corina Meza. However, there are many people in the packing plants, our offices and our farms that I am very thankful for.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
I think to have a great company, you need to have a great plan. There is no way to improvise greatness. The master plan has to be there, there needs to be a vision and then you have to find the right people and empower them to work towards our common goals. At the same time, it’s important to never forget that our customers are everything. We live in a very competitive market. We need to be able to walk the extra mile for our customers, and give them the very best.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
We feel that the difference between a good company and a great company is subtle. In our view, the difference is made by (1) vison that includes overall service, (2) leadership, (3) people, (4) culture and (5) quality of execution.
- Vision that includes overall service: We truly believe that companies should serve their customers and the communities in which they live. To serve others is at the core of what we do at Frigorifico and we have a clear purpose. We provide food that ends on the table of countless families. Without a clear commitment to serve others, we could never expect to be a great company.
- Leadership: A top management team is essential to greatness. But a disordered sluggish leadership will be a big impediment to any company achieving greatness. Frigorifico’s leaders have to be the most prepared, the hardest workers, the ones that — through their example — inspire and guide the thousands of employees that staff our plants, labs and offices.
- People: A company’s talent is immensely important. In our case, our staff who are in non-executive positions are at the forefront of what we do. Without them, we would not be able to be outstanding or achieve success. They work directly with customers, they buy and sell products, they process food, they help to manage various aspects of our large operation. We are as great as our line employees, and we feel we are all equally vital.
- Culture: Every great company has an identity. We have a culture that focuses on innovation, rewards, investing in employee mobility, organizational structure, processes that are well understood by all of our constituencies. These are vital to employees, customers and shareholders, and elements of what create a positive, flourishing environment.
- Quality of execution: The quality of your final product should be excellent, and a level above your competitors. Great companies execute fantastically well. They deliver. They not only generate the most innovative and advanced ideas, but they are able to bring them to reality. And they can do it better than anyone else, as part of a collective effort.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
We totally agree with that! Purpose-driven companies go beyond their role of offering a product. At Concepcion, we are feeding people with our products, and we are very mindful of that. Our products have to be healthy, and also have the highest standards of quality and food safety. We want, and actually we do, from our employees to our highest executives, take home and feed our families with our own products. That is our purpose, to share the bounty of Paraguay as a food producer with all the customers in all the countries that buy our products. And we also owe that to our investors.
We also fully subscribe to the idea of having a social and environmental impact. For many years, we have focused on this and we care of our employees, an example is the low contagion of Covid we had during the pandemic. Our company also has one the first and best programs for animal care in the industry, and we care for the communities in which we work and live and we can proudly say that we will be one of the first, if not the first, Paraguay-based company with an ESG rating this year.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Look for new technologies, hire young executives or (in my case) a successor team with experience and focus on innovations and creativity to keep on growing.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
We had many difficult times during the years, it is not easy to develop a high quality business in an emerging market. I would say the most important thing in turbulent times is not to lose focus of who we are and what we do. What we do well is to keep on doing what we know, no matter how difficult it may be. And also on the good times, be grateful of what we have and remember that it is not always easy. Stay humble through good and bad times.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
You can’t be a leader if you do not know the business well. To this day, I personally train my personnel and many aspects of their work, especially at the packing plants. I work hours and more days than anyone else in the company. Employees, offices and customers know they can call me day or night or weekends if they need to reach out to me. I do not believe you can exercise leadership from a golf course. You have to work and you have to have the knowledge, and that takes time and effort and passion. It is not easy but that is the only way.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
I have been always the “salesman in chief” at the company. I personally travel to all major food fairs in the world: Germany, Dubai, China, Israel, etc. Even during the pandemic, with precautions, I went to the Dubai Food Fair to open new markets. I meet the buyers and want them to know me. We convert visits into sales essentially by telling the truth. Our customers expect to buy high-quality meats and we do not overpromise, we deliver. Proof to that is that we keep loyal customers for many years, even decades, and what we promise, we deliver. It is hard for a meat importer to wait weeks or even months to receive a shipment from abroad and when it arrives turn out to be something that is not what you expect. That disappoints. We deal with food for human consumption, and so we need to adhere to very high standards.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
It has a lot to do with what we discussed above. We promise, we deliver. A client has great expectations and waits months to receive our products, and we do not disappoint. Over the years, this is what has built the brand. A lot of that achievement has to do with our employees and the communities we serve. They all understand that anyone can enjoy a top-quality steak, a burger or a family barbeque on a sunny Sunday. And they strive to offer that experience to all our customers.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Well…. you need to understand what your buyers need and work hard to provide it. You need to understand the customer first. If you lose focus from that, many mistakes follow. Also, you need to understand the market, the context in which you work, who your competitors are. And you have to build a sustainable business. We know of many factories similar to ours that were built with a cost cutting mentality. And they started falling apart in a couple of years. We build our plants to last, we prepare our teams to be the best-in-class. It has a cost, and we lose good people to our competition because they are known to be highly-competent and dedicated, but we have to have a sustainable business and aspire to be the best.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I do not think I am a person of great influence…. I love what I do and that is contagious but that is all. We do try to give our best products, the best that Paraguay has to offer and soon Bolivia and Brazil to the table of all our customers. And we do it with love and dedication. The world needs good quality food, and we encourage everyone that shares this idea to produce the best and to reach out to the world.
How can our readers further follow you online?
We are revamping our online presence. Please follow us soon at www.concepcion.net.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!