by David Brashears
Ann Garner Riddle has been leading the Garner Foods organization to consistent growth and success throughout her career. Having literally grown up in the company, she has always viewed the importance of creating a winning team that strives to help one another and inspires growth across all levels of the organization, as a very personal part of how Garner Foods operates and succeeds. We had an opportunity to catch up with Garner Foods President & CEO and learn more about how she continually leads her team from a genuine place of empathy.
Brashears: When did you begin working for Garner Foods?
Ann: I was probably about 12 when I started working from time to time. As a young lady, I helped by answering phones to cover for our customer service team when they went on vacation. I really loved getting to speak with our customers and feeling like I was genuinely helping. My first real job was in 1972 as a graduate of Hollins College (now Hollins University) with a degree in Psychology. My dad asked me to come in and help in Quality Assurance because one of his professionals was retiring, and he thought it’d be good for me. He told me I wasn’t going to like the work at all because it’s noisy, stressful, and not at all glamourous. The fact of the matter, however, was that I absolutely adored it. I loved the people I got to work with; they taught me so much. The people were so generous and helped me to grow up so much as a young adult. I did whatever I needed to do to help out in any department—from making and checking the quality of batches, helping to keep things running, or working the production line whenever someone might need a quick break. After working for a couple of years, I went back to school in food science and graduated from NC State with a new appreciation for our industry and the hard work our team was doing to grow our business.
Brashears: Tell me a little about the history of Garner Foods and your family’s leadership?
Ann: Uncle Thad was our founder, and he and Daddy (Ralph) and my other Uncle Harold were all very young when they started working together with my granddad, Sam Garner. The key was how much they loved one another and wanted to help each other succeed. Whatever needed to be done, they were always willing to pitch in and make sure that the customer was taken care of. That mentality has never changed. Our success is shared among every single member of our team. We’re here to help each other and respect the value each person brings. Family has always been at the center of our company mission, whether it’s our own families or the families that we provide products to. I remember us all gathering at my grandparent’s house for Christmas, and the house was filled with family from all over the states that knew they needed to be home for the holidays. The house was always filled with amazing food, laughter, and genuine love. That’s just how I grew up. It was a sweet time.
Brashears: As the company leader, what are the things most important to you for your team and customers?
Ann: I want them to know how much we genuinely care about them. I want them to see our sincere concern for the success of our customers and the enjoyment of our consumers—which are two different groups that we work with daily to find mutual success. I remember going with my dad making personal visits to consumers who sent us messages. They were always so surprised to realize that one of the actual company owners was standing on their porch ready to talk and make the situation right. Those memories are very formative to me even today on what true leadership looks like. It’s humble, assertive, and empathetic all at the same time.
Brashears: What is your favorite food or cuisine?
Ann: I like breakfast foods! That’s my favorite meal of the day and love just about all of it. If I had to pick another favorite, I’d say I love really good poached salmon. I have a local friend who owns a business that makes amazing poached salmon.
Brashears: What are your top 3 favorite places to travel?
Ann: I will go almost anywhere on a train. We loved going to the Grand Canyon, and I’d like to go back to Washington State and Oregon.
Brashears: Who are other professional leaders that you respect and admire?
Ann: Satya Nadella of Microsoft gave a speech that I was really touched by and inspired by recently. I have a lot of great leaders that I look up to. For me, it’s mainly about people finding common ground with other people and learning to be inspired and appreciative of how others can impact our own lives.
Brashears: What was the last Garner Foods product you used?
Ann: I put Texas Pete® Garlic Hot Sauce on some shrimp scampi I had for lunch right before talking to you today!
Brashears: What was the last thing (podcast, book, speaker, etc.) that really inspired you?
Ann: Revive Our Hearts “Grounded” Podcast has been something I’ve really been enjoying. It’s so encouraging and thoughtful.
Brashears: What are you binge watching right now?
Ann: I love the old original Star Trek shows, and I’ve been enjoying Outlander recently.