In March of 1974, Bob Ickes accepted his first job with J&M Farms. Forty years later, Bob received the Lifetime Achievement award at the Louisiana Poultry Federation’s annual convention for his dedication to the federation as well as to the poultry industry in Louisiana. We caught up with Bob to ask him what he’s learned over the past four decades – about Cobb, about the poultry industry and about how to provide unmatched customer service – and to thank him for his years of service.
Over the past 40 years, what roles have you had within the poultry industry?
I started as a broiler tech at J&M Farms, which became Country Pride, which became ConAgra and finally Pilgrims. I was also a breeder manager. Then, in 1980, I joined Arbor Acres as a territory sales manager. In 1996, I became the VP of North American sales and I was the national accounts manager for all US and Canada for Aviagen, which bought Arbor Acres and Ross. I went on brief hiatus from poultry for five years and worked for a related company in Rogers, Arkansas. And finally, in 2007, Cobb talked me back into it, and I’m now the Southwest regional sales manager.
What are the biggest changes you’ve experienced during your career?
During my career, the industry has consolidated quite a bit. Starting back in the mid-70’s, there were 15-18 primary breeder companies. Today, there are only three in the US, Canada and Mexico – Hubbard, Aviagen, and Cobb.
Obviously, we’ve also made huge strides in terms of technology and genetics. The bird that I started with in 1974 took eight weeks to grow and was a 3.8-pound bird. Now, it takes less than five weeks, and birds are nine to 10 pounds. Over time, genetics have improved so that the birds grow faster and convert feed more efficiently. Management in the field and housing have both drastically improved. All this goes together so birds are reaching their full genetic potential.
Plus, during this time, thanks to the health industry, people started asking for a whole new bird. Consumers went from eating a smaller, darker bird cut into eight or nine pieces to wanting skinless, boneless, white meat chicken breast. So, we worked with Tyson® to create a more meat-driven bird, and gave the consumers the healthier protein they wanted.
How does Cobb differentiate itself in the poultry business?
Cobb makes a great product. But most importantly, I’m proud of our values and our integrity. That is one thing I put on a pedestal.
When we approach a customer, we present our case and that’s it. We know we offer an unmatched package and we have the data to back it up. Our customers realize this, too.
Our customers also have the added bonus of our sales and tech groups working as one team. Today, I see very few chickens. It’s the tech guys who are on the ground helping customers get the genetic potential out of their chickens. It takes both parties to grow these relationships.
And, of course, our service is second to none. If customers need help in any area, we have people ready to go with that knowledge who can go help them. And it’s not just on the phone. We will be at your farm as soon as we can get there.
Is there anyone who mentored you along the way?
Julius Summers, my first boss, guided me until he retired in 1991. He was like a second father to me. Early on, I was thrown into breeders, not knowing what to do. He taught me the basics of growing pullets and breeders. I’ll never forget, he used to say, “Take care of the details, and she will take care of you.”
He also taught me to remember where you came from, and work for the customer because they pay the bills. But it’s our job to provide them with the birds that get them a profit.
What advice would you give to someone new in their career?
Say yes a lot. And thank you.
In all seriousness, as a sales person, it’s all about building those relationships over time. You have to be honest and sincere with your customers. The majority of the time, they’re right and you’re not. And you’re going to have to live with that.
I also try to help my customers in any way that I can – whether it’s on company time or personal time. If your product is good, they will buy it. But if you’re neck and neck with a competitor, you will win the business if you have that relationship. And if you lose the business, it’s your relationship that allows you to come back to them.
Stay humble. Believe in yourself. And be honest.
To hear more stories from Cobb employees, visit our Who We Are page.
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