One might say that GNP Company CEO Mike Helgeson is a bit obsessed with chicken. It comes through when he sits down at a restaurant and asks what chicken dishes are on the menu, sports a tie with chickens on it, or devises a new poultry product.
He’s been around chickens since he was a boy. At 12 he started working at Gold’n Plump Chicken, the business his grandfather started nearly 90 years ago as a small St. Cloud hatchery. Through the years Helgeson gained experience in just about every aspect of running a successful operation. It culminated 20 years ago, when he took over from his dad, Don, as CEO.
Under Mike Helgeson’s leadership, GNP has grown to a $400 million company with sales from coast to coast. “We were profitable in the past four years, especially at a time when the industry as a whole lost money,” he says. “That goes to the quality of our product, the efficiency we have, and growing our customer base.”
He’s certainly been tested during his tenure, including a devastating 1998 fire at Gold’n Plump’s Cold Spring plant, which nearly crippled the company. Lately he has battled rising feed costs. Through it all Helgeson has called on his deep experience in the trenches. He emphasizes lean operations and efficiency, smart acquisitions, and developing new brands and product lines, such as chicken sausage and ground chicken, that expand the customer base.
Helgeson looks forward to continuing to innovate, in partnership with employees and growers. “We have 350 family farmers we work with, and many families have gone back to when my grandfather started the business,” says Helgeson, who conducts annual town hall meetings with GNP’s 1,600 employees and growers. “We are counting on the success of the company for them and their families.”