Entrepreneur of the Month: Christopher Salm of Salm Partners LLC, USA

When I asked Chris, during our lunch in Milan, what was the secret of his success, his answer was: “Boots on the Ground”. Then he smiled and added the necessary clarification “We are credible, we are transparent and we are trusted.

This concise statement resumes the essence of Chris’ leadership style.

Sitting at a café terrace next to the Sforza Castle, we are enjoying the warm September weather in Milan. Chris is happily munching away his Piadina Rustica, while his wife and business partner Susan enquires as to the history of the Castle.

Anyone looking at this cheerful and easy going couple of improvised tourists would not easily guess that they are among the most hard working and most successful entrepreneurs of North America, now just carving out a couple of days of relaxation in between extensive supplier audits and business trips.

A PhD Food Scientist with extensive experience in the corporate world, married to an HR professional, Chris Salm is a Mid Westerner of Scandinavian origin. The blue and yellow in his company’s logo is Swedish inspired and his business is based in Denmark (!), Wisconsin. In 2004 – after more than a decade as senior manager at Conagra – guided by his belief in the value of applying latest technologies to produce top quality products and assisted by several in his family, Chris set up to build his own food processing plant. By 2010, only five years after their first production of co-extruded sausages, Salm Partners was already one of the largest US producers of smoked ring sausages and dinner links. Steady growth, fuelled by superior quality and top service to suppliers and brand marketers, has now brought Salm Partner to exceed 100 million dollars in revenues.

When I asked Chris, during our lunch in Milan, what was the secret of his success, his answer was: “Boots on the Ground”. Then he smiled and added the necessary clarification “We are credible (we have Boots on the Ground), we are transparent (the same on the outside as we are on the inside) and we are trusted (we work with partners that would entrust their children to our care)”. Susan added “… and we had a lot of courage at start”.

This concise statement resumes the essence of Chris’ leadership style.

What does “Boots on the Ground” leadership means? If you ask anyone around Chris (employees – that he prefers to call partners on the payroll, customers, suppliers and the surrounding rural community) you will be able to identify the five main elements of his leadership style:

1. Partnership, engagement and enthusiasm

Hierarchy and status have no place at Salm Partners. Everybody is involved and engaged, both internal partners and external stakeholders. As Chris and Susan say, “we work with people; we do not have people work for us”. Their motto “PARTNERS THRIVING TOGETHER” says it all.

2. Humbleness, trust and respect

Strictly linked to the principles of partnership, Chris’ style is of one of openness and respect; everyone is expected and trusted to do nothing less than their best; mistakes are welcomed opportunities to learn and acknowledged with simplicity

3. Competence, curiosity and courage to dig

Due to the focus on partnership and trust, the climate around Chris may appear easy-going. Make no mistake: Chris is a top technologist in his own right, surrounds himself with great brains in all fields and has the courage to endorse, test and implement the newest technologies that science can offer; in order to do that and still maintain efficiency and productivity he applies rigorous processes and strict production disciplines.

4. Positivity, courage to go beyond and innovation

Leading the way with the best and newest technologies means courage: to continuously challenge the status quo, to constantly learn, to be always exposed to the risks of the New.

This requires a long term optimistic attitude that is reflected in a dedication to positive change.

What Chris and Susan say is: “We believe there isn’t a single issue that we cannot solve”.

5. Passion, enjoyment and fun

“WORKING HARD AND LOVING IT” could be a good summary of Chris’ and Susan’s attitude.

After a life of hard work that they tell like a fairy tale – from living in a camper in the back of a farm, cleaning the horse stables and the pig barns in order to support themselves through college to building a multimillion dollar company in a few years – they do know how to direct their energy also towards other forms of enjoyment.

Hence my interview ends the day after, on another terrace, this time along the Italian Riviera, singing together loud movie soundtracks to the moon until the last hotel guests quietly and discreetly disappear into their rooms.

“Our philosophy is simple. We treat everyone that works at our company as partners. This is not a matter of semantics but a strongly held belief that partners take an ownership interest in the company and will go the extra mile for our suppliers and our customers. You can see the results in our customers’ product quality and the resulting positive impact we have had on the marketplace.” Chris Salm