Karl Schledwitz

Monogram Food Solutions



A serial entrepreneur — that’s how Karl Schledwitz describes himself as he looks back on a successful career. “The whole spirit of controlling and owning your own destiny is invigorating and intellectually stimulating to me,” Schledwitz says. “I respond to the challenges of creating something new.

That same spirit urged the 60-year-old Bluff City native to join forces with partner Wes Jackson in 2004 and purchase King Cotton and Circle B Brand foods, both originally Memphis brands, from Sara Lee Corporation of Chicago. Today, those two brands are among the leaders in retail sales of processed meats in the 

Mid-South. And the company itself, Monogram Food Solutions — which now owns 10 brands, is headquartered in East Memphis, and operates manufacturing plants in Indiana, Minnesota, and Virginia — has almost tripled in size. “Good, stable job creation has been very rewarding,” says Schledwitz. “In every facility we’ve acquired, they were losing money, and people’s security was bleak. Now we employ about 900 at the three plants, and we’ve created 50 high-paying jobs here in Memphis. National sales are orchestrated here, along with human resources, marketing, financial operations, and acquisitions.”

Schledwitz recalls some questionable decisions and tough times along the way. “At first we were doing a lot of celebrity branding,” he says, “and, very candidly, none of that worked. We reinvented ourselves in 2006, and in 2007 we made our first profit. The following year, things really fell off the radar again with $4-a-gallon gasoline.” By cutting expenses and slashing pay from 5 to 20 percent, he says, “We did what it took to sacrifice and survive.”

More recently, business has been on the upswing, and Monogram’s shareholders have approved a $12 million expansion. “Our goal is to be at $60 million in cash flow,” says Schledwitz. “Achieving that goal will require significant growth, two-thirds of it through acquisitions.”

An attorney by training with a strong history of raising venture capital — “You can never have too much,” he says — this CEO has founded, grown, and sold several successful businesses and has been involved with the redevelopment of such areas as Overton Square and One Commerce Square downtown. His financial background and connections have been key to growing Monogram Food Solutions, 90 percent of whose investors are deep-pocketed Memphians. “Having a track record helps,” he acknowledges. “Raising money is all about building strong relationships.” 

Schledwitz also knows the risks involved with what he calls “OPM — other people’s money” — and that some investments, at one time or another, can take a hit. “But if you’re consistent in sharing the bad news as much as you share the good news, people understand,” he says. “You have to be transparent and totally candid.”

Often working 10-hour days, including Saturdays and Sundays — after attending services at Lindenwood Christian — Schledwitz surrounds himself with employees who possess the same passion. “People selection is so important to what I do,” he says. “We want partners or associates with that entrepreneurial spirit.”

While challenges clearly drive Schledwitz, he says his prime personal motivator is family — his wife, who’s also his business partner, and two daughters, ages 27 and 24. “I love what I do,” he says, but, he adds, at the end of the day, “my family’s happiness is first and foremost.”

 

Name: Karl Schledwitz

Company: Monogram Food Solutions

Founded: 2004

Address: 930 South White Station Road

Services Provided: Food manufacturing

How Long With Company: Since the beginning

Number of Employees: 900, including 55 in Memphis

What makes a good CEO: “Communication skills are critical. Being able to listen and to surround yourself with the best talent available are the best components of success.”

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