Bo Manly: Smithfield Foods’ Red-Meat Industry Maverick

The 30-year checkerboard career of Robert W. (Bo) Manly IV is a product of his various jobs in the beef-­processing and cattle-feeding industries. He honed his management skills on the pork and beef sides of the business at IBP and Smithfield Foods. Premium Standard Farms (PSF) of Kansas City, Mo., recruited him in 1996 to serve as president and chief operating officer. This year in August he rejoined Smithfield, where he served as executive vice president from 1986 to 1994, after which he served as president and chief operating officer of Smithfield Packing Company and the company’s executive vice president a second time.
Q: How do you define business and personal success in your life?
A: From a personal perspective watching and helping to guide my kids (a son, 17, and a daughter, 16) so they can turn into successful adults. My challenge is to be relevant in their lives. Professionally it is being involved in decision-making that creates enterprises that are innovative and stand the test of time. In the early days on the beef side working in the cattle-feed business in Arizona to establish the southwest cattle feed concept. Though not a successful cooperative, it led to producers working with packers in an integrated form. Coming on board at Premium Standard Farms at the end of its bankruptcy challenges and guiding the organization through a public offering a year and a half ago.
Q: What leadership traits keep you on your game in your profession?
A: Attracting and empowering people to motivate them. In many instances it is trying to find people with greater skills and expertise than I possess to motivate them to move up in whatever organization I am working in at that time.
Q: Of all the careers available to you, how did you land in your current career?
A: It was somewhat serendipitous. Professor Ray Goldberg at the Harvard business school inspired me to the degree that I became very excited about agribusiness in the mid ‘70s. It was by accident, but somewhat infectious due to daily changes and new challenges it offers all the time.
Q: What would you like your professional and personal legacy to be?
A: That he was a good father and friend, that he helped to motivate people and he helped inspire change within the meat industry, especially through my early involvement in the integrated efforts in the swine industry. More credit goes to Joe Luter III, however.
Q: What are your greatest sources of professional and personal joy?
A: Watching my kids move into adulthood personally, and professionally creating new business concepts and linkages between different parts of business, including livestock, processing and the development of export markets. It is interesting to see how people respond to export versus domestic business. Being able to motivate people brighter than you are is also a joy.
Q: What advice do you have for neophytes who may wish to emulate your career path?
A: People moving into business, regardless of education or background, must be willing to pay their dues. They must be willing to take business and personal risks. To have no failures means you have not pushed the business and profession envelope. Look for what other people are not doing and try to fill that vacuum.
Q: The food business is dynamic but also chaotic at times, mainly due to outside market forces. Do you agree with this assessment?
A: The livestock and meat business endures all the stresses and strains of any business, whether it’s concerning computer chips or anything else. New ideas are always coming down the pike. We in agribusiness have more external influences, however, that can almost instantaneously change the fabric of an entire industry — from the way things are done to profit and loss factors. Most mainstream and even high-tech business don’t face the same kinds of influences.
Q: Define power as it appears in your “personal” dictionary and how you use it to make a difference in your world.
A: I don’t dwell on the concept of power or personal influence per se. You have to try to be as knowledgeable on subjects as you can and as eloquent as possible in explaining ideas and positions. You should try to have people respect you for your ethics and thought processes.
Q: Who are your heroes?
A: Bob Peterson (now deceased leaving behind his own captain-of-industry legacy) and Dick Butkus (considered the meanest, nastiest and fiercest linebacker for the Chicago Bears). When I think about who I’d want to be stranded with on a desert island or the five people I’d like to meet on the way to heaven, I think of S.V. Camp III (Portland, Va., resident).