At 19, Mark Davis drove the morning milk route for his dad’s butter factory. By the time the sun was high over Le Sueur County, Davis had hoisted into his truck about 135 milk cans, 110 pounds each, for Stan Davis’s St. Peter Creamery.
“That was about as an enjoyable a job as I’ve ever had,” he says with a grin.
Forty-six years later, Davis remains a hands-on kind of guy. He’s president and CEO of Davisco Foods International, the $700 million dairy-processing powerhouse that started with the humble St. Peter Creamery. But he still takes the time to travel the countryside and shake the hands of his dairy farmers—many of whom have supplied milk to the Davises for generations.
“If my dad has an ego, I don’t know that anyone’s ever seen it,” says Marty Davis, second-eldest of Mark’s five children. “Everywhere I’ve gone in this industry for 17 years, I’ve never ever had anybody not like my dad. And that sure opens up a lot of doors.”
“They’re good, hard-working people,” Mark Davis says of his farmers. “I spend a lot of time maintaining those relationships. You can’t do anything if you don’t have milk to work with.”
If your name is Davis, it seems there’s no limit to what you can do when you do have the milk. Davisco Foods comprises five dairy/ingredient-processing plants in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Idaho. It produces about 1 million pounds of cheese per day that’s generated from more than 10 million pounds of milk. It’s Kraft Foods’ largest supplier of cheese. And it’s the world’s largest manufacturer of whey protein isolates—milk components used in everything from skin cream to beverage supplements for the elderly.
Add one more Davis-owned enterprise: Cambria, manufacturer and retailer of quartz countertops (annual sales upwards of $100 million), also headquartered in Le Sueur. Although Marty Davis runs Cambria, his father reads every Cambria sales-call report, every day.
As a boy in St. Peter, Davis spent his time playing baseball and working at the creamery, churning and packaging. He graduated from Mankato State University with majors in business and economics. “Frankly, they both bored me,” he says. He preferred history and political science, and he contemplated becoming a teacher and a baseball coach. But when he graduated in 1964, he and his wife, Mary, already had one child, with another on the way—and Mark needed a job.
“I had a big idea of where I should fit into my dad’s business,” he recalls. “So I went and saw him. And I came home to my wife with my tail between my legs. I got about 25 percent of what I thought I was worth.”