Less than three months ago, Brian Connolly took on the role of chief executive officer at limited ingredient diet pet food pioneer Natural Balance. Assuming leadership of Natural Balance during the pandemic required adaptability and resilience. However, remote work allowed many Natural Balance employees to keep their jobs and their homes during this latest change in company ownership.
In December 2020, J. M. Smucker announced the sale of Natural Balance to Nexus Capital for US$50 million. The deal was the most recent in a series of transitions. In May 2013, Founder and actor Dick Van Patten sold Natural Balance to Del Monte via a merger agreement. Del Monte renamed its pet food brands Big Heart Pet Products in 2014. Smucker bought Big Heart in 2015.
However, the latest change in ownership and leadership is the first to occur during a pandemic. While COVID has made the process more challenging in some ways, Connolly said, the move to remote work allowed many former Smucker employees to avoid moving.
“In prior days, the relocation word would have come up a lot,” he said “In over 80 interviews that we had, we didn't mention that word, a single time. As a result, we're kind of a virtual company,” he said. “We have no official headquarters. Over the course of the brand being bought and sold a few times, folks were moved around the country. Some that were in Northern and Southern California got shifted over to Ohio, around where Smuckers is headquartered. We've left all those folks in place. So, we're in 11 or 12 different states with our team.”
This geographic flexibility enabled pet food professionals to maintain their routines and productivity. Natural Balance’s adaptation may have boosted employee retention during the acquisition, along with morale.
“We would have lost some really good people had we insisted on moving to wherever,” he said. “The downside obviously is less face-to-face time.”
While the situation may not be ideal, Connolly and the rest at Natural Balance are making it work of necessity, he said. As the new normal turns back into some version of the old normal, Natural Balance may nail down a specific headquarters, where staff can gather for sales meetings, or to keep the finance department under one roof. For now, Natural Balance and many others in the pet food industry will keep making the best of a bad situation.
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