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Looking Back: Bradshaw Still Dispensing Wisdom at 98

Bob Reeves and Buzz Bradshaw

Last updated on June 13th, 2024 at 12:01 pm

[gn_note color=”#66cc66″] This interview originally ran in the March 2008 edition of The Shelby Report of the West. Douglas B. “Buzz” Bradshaw, the well-known Western food broker, died Nov. 7 at his home in Ketchum, Idaho, just two months before celebrating his 102nd birthday. In memory here is one of our favorite articles of the past few years that was an interview with Mr. Bradshaw. Download the original article in pdf format here. [/gn_note]

I spent almost half my life working for a major Southern California food broker—literally grew up in this organization. It is almost unheard of to spend 23 years with the same broker. With the ebb and flow of principals and the economy changing, a broker salesman usually bounces around from broker to broker. When asked how is it that I spent so many years with one broker, somehow dodging the layoff “bullet,” my answer was understood by my peers and associates. I got caught up in the mystique of the company, it gave me opportunities, gave me tools and, most importantly, it gave me confidence. There was, to coin a phrase from Buzz Bradshaw, esprit de corps within those walls that couldn’t be found anywhere else. The brokerage shop I’m talking about was Bradshaw Incorporated–South.

Buzz BradshawThe man that inspired me and infused me with self-confidence was the founder of Bradshaw Inc.-South, Buzz Bradshaw. I got an opportunity in mid-January to visit and have lunch with Buzz at Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He had just turned 98 a few weeks before. No surprise to me, he is healthy, sharp and as passionate as I had remembered. We talked for hours, while people came and went and his friends stopped by to greet him. What a great setting to meet with Buzz, a favorite hangout for many stars such as Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. I glanced across the room while we spoke and noticed Carole Channing sitting with family. How old is she? She looks great, too! Maybe it’s something in the water?

My mentor, and the reason I sacrificed and worked so hard not to disappoint, was someone who, truthfully, barely remembers me. Of course, he knew of me, but I was just a wide-eyed young kid, married, no kids (yet) and anxious to succeed. I can remember listening to this man talk about being the best brokerage shop in the state, and how we were feared by our competitors and revered by our principals. Why? Because we were always trying to improve and be the best we could be.

Buzz’s introduction to the food industry was initially on the principal side. He and his brother and father ran the largest independent honey-producing and -packing business in the United States. Represented by 35 brokers across the country, R.D. Bradshaw and Sons was one of the first to develop a spreadable type honey, and they labeled their package Bradshaw’s Spun Honey. After years of growth, they sold the business to Sue Bee Honey cooperative, when it became clear that the business wasn’t going to be big enough to support their six families.

As soon as R. D. Bradshaw & Sons sold, early in 1964, Buzz began searching for new business opportunities. It wouldn’t take long. In October 1965, Ray Welles called and invited Buzz and his wife Myrle to the upcoming World Series (Dodgers vs. Twins). He had ulterior motives it seems, as he offered Buzz a job. Buzz rejected the job offer, and countered with a proposal of his own: He would be interested in buying Welles’ company. The Ray Welles Brokerage in Southern California had a fine reputation and represented some blue-chip companies like Green Giant and Kal Kan pet food. Not long after this meeting, the papers were drawn up, and the Bradshaws were the new owners.

When the Bradshaws entered the food brokerage business in March 1966, the company was at a crossroads. Business was declining, with principals ending contracts and employees at a standstill. They spent the first three months trying to turn things around.

“We initiated breakfast meetings with management where we outlined our vision of the company. We introduced objectives, which instilled a new sense of direction in our people. However, as new owners, we still needed an extra dimension, a program to activate and stimulate the organization, develop momentum, and get the ball rolling,” he says.

“While attending the WAFC convention of about 500 people, we were fortunate to hear an address by Henry J. Kaiser Sr. Mr. Kaiser, a successful American industrialist and world-famous entrepreneur, constructed most of the liberty ships in World War II. His record turn-out of completed ships was unsurpassed.

“Although he had just been in the hospital, Mr. Kaiser was determined to talk to the grocery people. Using a wheelchair to get to the stage, he stood at the podium and delivered a most inspiring message, beginning with the remark, ‘I know nothing about the grocery business, but I will try in 15 minutes to translate a few business principals over to the supermarket industry.’”

This is what Kaiser said, as Bradshaw recalls: “As I observe your grocery business, you have the same size stores, the same size parking lots, the same size shopping carts. You buy your products from the same manufacturers. You have the same or similar brands and labels on the shelf. Under the Federal Trade Commission regulations, you pay the same price, so you have the same inventory costs. Your labor contracts are similar, you serve the same type of customers and your shelf prices are much the same. The only difference between your company and your competitors is your ability to inspire your people to move from 80 percent horsepower up to 90, 100 and hopefully 110 percent horsepower. If the people in your company respond to your leadership, you will have a major advantage over your competitors and, thereby, set your company up as the outstanding organization serving the consumer.

“After 15 minutes, Mr. Kaiser thanked his audience, returned to his chair, and was wheeled off the stage to resounding applause. His message has stayed with me ever since.

“I knew this philosophy was equally important in the brokerage business, which is totally people-oriented. When I called our employees together to announce the new bonus system, it was with Mr. Kaiser’s philosophy in mind, and I borrowed from it to explain the brokerage business.”

This is what he told his people: “Let’s assume our competitors are meeting in a building across the street. They are selling products similar to those we sell. Their sales people are just as bright and qualified as we are. They are well dressed and they have an excellent sales presentation. They drive similar cars to those we all drive. They serve the same customers we serve. They have credit cards and an excellent relationship with their customers. Their products sell at the same price. They each have an order book and a headquarters and call on the same customer as we do. They develop the same trade relations as those we strive for. The only difference between our competitors and us is how deeply we feel inside about winning. If we have that down-deep, strong desire to work harder, longer and with more dedication, we will move ahead of the competition.

“In addition to your salary, the Welles Company heretofore had been paying bonuses on an annual basis. There were no bonuses from earnings last year. The bonuses you received from the Welles Company were taken out of the capital. This is all going to change. Beginning immediately, we are going to pay you your regular base salary plus a bonus monthly so that you can see the fruits of your toil immediately and not have to wait 12 months for the rewards you have earned.”

“This message generated considerable excitement among our sales people,” Bradshaw remembers. “They reacted enthusiastically, saying, ‘Give us the products to sell, and this company will start to move forward immediately!’ Eager to earn bonuses, employees were fired up, and our new program resulted in company growth far exceeding my expectations. From the inception of monthly bonuses, our company put on a new face.”

This is just one example of Buzz’s deep understanding of human behavior and human relations.

“Rewards in life come through genuine and sincere human relations. These priceless ingredients cannot be purchased, borrowed or sold.”

Buzz would only come around a few times a year to address the sales organization at Bradshaw-South. When he would address our group, he would often tell a compelling story from his recent travels. These stories always resonated with me. In 1986, he spoke of the customer/principal relationship.

This is what he taught us:

  • A customer is the most important person in any business.
  • A customer is not dependent on us, we are dependent on him.
  • A customer is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it.
  • A customer does us a favor when he comes in. It is a privilege for us to serve him.
  • A customer is part of our business, not an outsider.
  • A customer is not money in the cash register. He is a human being like we are.
  • A customer is a person who comes to us with his needs and his wants. It is our job to fill them.
  • A customer deserves the most courteous attention we can give him. He is the lifeblood of this and every business. He pays our salary. Without him, we would close our doors.

“I transcribed this from a plaque on the wall of the 130-year-old Brenner Park Hotel in Baden, Germany—currently rated as one of the top three leading hotels in Europe. These words were written by Mr. Brenner over a century ago for his associates and stand as a hallmark for success in any enterprise—especially the brokerage business…I had the good fortune of being a guest for four days at the world-renowned hotel and I sensed immediately that these words were for real the moment I set foot in the front door,” Bradshaw recalled.

As you might imagine, Buzz Bradshaw is a reader. “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen “is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. The book’s message is on the power of thought,” says Bradshaw.

“For example, Allen explains the difference between the amateur and the professional. The amateur whines and bellyaches because he is dominated by outside forces. The professional never complains. He looks inside himself and asks, ‘What am I doing wrong?’”

Allen’s book had such an impact on Bradshaw that one Christmas he bought 200 copies, signed each copy and gave one to each employee.

“I think the influence of that book helped to build our team (into) the most powerful sales organization you’ve ever witnessed,” he says.

Today, three generations of Bradshaws manage an offshoot of the original brokerage business, Bradshaw International, a highly successful housewares marketing company.

For the past century, the Bradshaws have fine-tuned the art of having a family business. Their learnings from the tough, competitive, demanding food brokerage business has served them well. Buzz and his wife Myrle will be celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary on Sept. 30, 2009. Buzz will turn 100 in 2010. I hope I’m invited.

About the author

Shelby Team

The Shelby Report delivers complete grocery news and supermarket insights nationwide through the distribution of five monthly regional print and digital editions. Serving the retail food trade since 1967, The Shelby Report is “Region Wise. Nationwide.”

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