Karl A. Schledwitz – Co-Founder & CEO, Monogram Foods

Karl is co-founder and CEO of Monogram Foods. Monogram Foods was founded in 2004 by a group of Memphis investors and has since grown through acquisitions and facility expansions to become a major player in the U.S. meat and snack food industry, with more than 2,700 employees, operating out of 8 plant facilities in seven states. Monogram’s 2017 revenue is projected to be $650 million. In 2015, Monogram was the recipient of the Spark Award for Community Service and was selected two years in a row as “Best Place to Work” by The Commercial Appeal. Monogram Foods has been on the Inc. 500 list for eight straight years and is the third company that Karl has founded to have been recognized on the Inc. 500 list. In 2014, Ernst & Young recognized him as an Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2016, the National Provisioner named Karl one of the Top 25 Industry Icons and Meatingplace Magazine chose Karl to be the 2017 recipient of the annual Knowlton Award.

Karl began his career as a lawyer and real estate developer and transitioned to entrepreneurship in the 1980’s by raising private equity for start-up companies. He has since raised over $250 million of private capital for companies he has started. Karl is an active member of the community, having managed several political campaigns, served ten years on the board of trustees for the University of Tennessee, and is currently serving as a board member for the Memphis Zoo, Orpheum Theatre, and Memphis Tomorrow.

Tell me about your early career.
After graduating from law school, I practiced law for 10-15 years, but during that time, I was also heavily involved in managing statewide political campaigns. My area of focus in law was on real estate and business transactions. Throughout my practice of law, I also dabbled in buying/selling, owning, operating small businesses, and real estate developments.

How did the concept for Monogram Foods come about?
A banker that I went to church with had a customer that needed capital and they pitched me the concept. I was in the process of selling another business I had started and was looking for something to do with my time and my capital.

How was the first year in business?
For the first two years, I was a part-time CEO and the original concept of Monogram Foods had major flaws in it and we were forced to reinvent ourselves.

What was your marketing strategy?
Initially, from 2004 to 2006, the strategy revolved around an eCommerce platform. The reality is the strategy was ahead of the times. In 2006, we bought a plant to start making products that we were selling and reinvented ourselves with the new strategy.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We have always enjoyed very good growth throughout our 12-year history. We have averaged a 40% compounded annual growth rate.

How do you define success?
Building a company that provides excellent shareholder returns, a great place to work for its associates, and a place that gives back to the communities in which we do business.

What is the key to success?
Culture, culture, culture.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Keep a positive attitude, think outside of the box, and outwork your competition.

What are some quotes that you live by?
My signature line includes the Winston Churchill quote that I live by: “Never, never, never give up.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Good to Great and The Energy Bus.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
When a seller tried to back out of an agreement to sell me his business.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The combination of the fear of failure and the desire to succeed.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Find your passion and don’t take no for an answer.