Where Old Meets New
We visited with two of Valente Yeast’s partners to discover what makes the company Best for NYC. One partner, Tom Siegenthaler of Flushing, Queens, was hired in 1975 as a warehouse man. He went on to become a driver, then a purchaser, and is now the Chief Operations Officer. The other, Bob Chory of Washington Heights, was hired in 1991 as a salesman, then grew into the position of Sales Manager, and currently holds the title of Chief Executive Officer. Here’s a window into what we learned.
Valente Yeast treats their stakeholders with care, and operates according to a view that building a better business benefits their industry and the City at large. Their approach to continuous improvement is what makes the company a leader in its field and, truly, Best for NYC.
Though they have been partners for less than five years, Tom, Bob, and the third partner at the company, Dominic Valente, have driven a number of significant improvements. Bob recalls, “We understood how we had to change and bring our company into this century.” These words take on particular meaning as we glimpse some of the energy efficient lighting and refrigeration systems installed during the retrofit of their stately building, which, over 100 years old, stands tall with huge windows high up on the walls. The juxtaposition between the ethereal light coming through the old windows and the bluish light from the new LED bulbs is striking.
Leading us along, Bob proceeds to name additional initiatives. “We recycle palettes, we recycle toner cartridges.” He continues, “We donate to City Harvest. Why? There are people who can use the food…Why waste, throw stuff in the landfill, when people can really use good food?” Bob recounts his experience coming of age with Depression-minded parents, and concludes with, “We never wasted anything. Right, Tom?” “Right, Bob,” echoes Tom.
Bringing the company “into this century” has been a process, and it is ongoing. This year, they are making good use of the City’s workforce development resources, such as Customized Training Grants, which they heard about through participating in Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program. Bob explains: “We hired an MBA, we just hired a new Customer Service Rep, we’re going to be adding another truck…that’s another warehouse person, and we have at least one if not two salespeople who will be joining us in the next 60 days…” Valente Yeast is hiring, but more significantly, they are training — one of the many measures of job quality in the Best for NYC Challenge. “We onboard somebody, we onboard them right,” Bob declares.
“Right” means adequately preparing employees for their responsibilities, and providing them support, too. On a regular basis, Valente Yeast pays all hourly employees above a living wage and provides them a retirement plan. They also help employees on an as-needed basis: “I have a driver that just started,” Tom says. “His wife’s having an operation tomorrow. He was gonna come in after the operation. I said, ‘No, stay home with your wife.’ And because he just started, I said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re gonna get paid’ and everything. You know, he’s a new hire. What he’s going through, he’s got to be there for his wife. I don’t want him to worry financially.”
“Why should we get a paycheck and not pay our employees or our vendors? They’re our stakeholders, too.”
It’s not just their employees they look out for; it’s all their stakeholders. Bob remarks, “Small businesses normally fall back on their vendors to help support their inefficiencies. We changed that. Why should we get a paycheck and not pay our employees or our vendors? They’re our stakeholders, too.” Bob and Tom aspire to go “to the moon” — and bring each one of their stakeholders with them. This intense commitment to running a better business is what keeps Tom coming to work each day: “I’ve been here 40, 41 years and it’s never felt like a day’s work. So, this must have been meant for me. It gives me what I need, you know, personally, financially, feeds me. And I just try to feed it back.”
Bob and Tom see great value in participating in the Best for NYC campaign, even though Valente Yeast already engages in many best practices around compensation, benefits, community support, and environmental stewardship rewarded in the Best for NYC Challenge. “It opens your eyes,” Bob expresses. “It just helps you benchmark where you are…I don’t know what I don’t know, right? I don’t know all these positive things that some companies are doing, and whether I can afford it or not. We do turn a profit so there is some money to spend, but what’s going to get the best results for everybody, all our stakeholders?”
Best for NYC means more to Bob and Tom than benchmarking. Tom articulates: “I’m born, raised, I’m here. I’m not comfortable any other place but here. So, to be a part of it and have the rest of the city, boroughs, everything, meet us is very rewarding.” Bob adds, “It’s about being the best that you can. Right? The Best for New York.”
Rose DeStefano is a B Corps Senior Fellow working to grow the Best for NYC campaign at Business Outreach Center. A former social worker and recent GreenMBA Graduate, she brings heart and dedication to her work helping others use business as a force for good.