Founded over 35 years ago, Niman Ranch is a leading producer and marketer of fine quality beef, lamb, and pork. The Company raises its stock following a strict code of ecological and husbandry principles and also supports small family farms using the same practices. Niman Ranch has established a packing plant located in an Enterprise Zone in East Oakland and employs and trains a number of low-income individuals from that community. Niman Ranch distributes its products to fine restaurants and retailers across the country, and directly to consumers via an online store.
When Niman’s Mike McConnell heard about SVCV, he was excited not only at the prospect of a potential capital infusion, but also by the idea that SVCV had the potential to add significant value to the Company, specifically in regard to several human resources issues the company was facing. Since Niman and SVCV began working together in mid-2001, current and past advisory projects have included:
- Evaluating contracts with new banking partners.
- Helping management to determine appropriate target operating ratios.
- Working on personnel issues, such as revision of the company’s current vacation policy.
- And, in June 2001, SVCV made the decision to invest in Niman, contributing $400,000 in a Series B round of financing (totaling $2.5 Million).
Once they started working with SVCV, Niman Ranch grew by approximately 45% in various segments of the business. Whereas one year ago, the
company employed fewer than 85 small family farmers, there were in 2001 over 180 farmers in Niman’s program. Following the Company’s recent success, it has introduced a second shift and has greatly increased employment in its Oakland facility. During the Company’s last round of financing, Niman’s management created a pool of employee stock options, which will exist alongside a previously implemented cash-based bonus structure.
Niman has an effective apprentice system in place to transfer knowledge regarding required techniques and skills and also provides various forms of trade-specific training including classes in food safety and equipment handling. Like Planet Organics, another successful SVCF investee, Niman has been largely focused on promotion from within. Of the five managers current- ly working at the plant, all five started with Niman as entry-level employees.
Although Niman COO Rob Hurlbut admits that the company’s investment in its own people can be expensive, it is something to which the company has been and continues to be strongly committed. From what the outside observer can see, that commitment has by no means been prohibitive of tremendous company growth—it may even have served to enhance it. And this has made a big difference to workers like Oscar Yedra.
Oscar Yedra first began at Niman Ranch working as a butcher in 1992. Ten years later, he has been promoted to serve as butcher manager and plays an integral role in both the operation and development of the processing operation, managing a team of 22 butchers and assuming primary responsibility for butcher recruitment. COO Rob Hurlbut describes Yedra as someone who embodies many of the reasons for Niman’s focus on promotion from within the company. According to Hurlbut, Yedra has served as an extremely effective manager, contributing significantly to his team
and to an efficient and professional working environment.