Episode with guest: Steve Jones
CEO at Jenner Ag
(This episode was recorded in August of 2021.)
Key Episode Take-Aways:
1. With the Great Game of Business, everyone in the company understands what we are trying to do. (click to jump to this topic below) It doesn't seem excessive, to me, it seems like, and I'm oversimplifying it, but it doesn't seem like excessive behavior to me, and it doesn't really feel like they're trying to manage the company. It feels to me like, they're watching the numbers, and they understand what we're trying to do.
2. When times got rough for the Ag industry, Jenner Ag was able to make it through because everyone in the company knew the numbers and why things were happening. (click to jump to this topic below) I've been through about three Ag recessions in my career. And then came the Ag recession of about 16, 17, and 18. And I think, I don't know what it would have been like if we hadn't played the Game, because people, we were able, through those years to cut expenses. We lost a little bit of money one year, but never a lot. And I think, you know, nobody liked it. But I think that people understood why the numbers were what they were.
3. Associates are prepared for whatever financial situation the company is in because they are mentally charged with the finances thanks to playing the Game. (click to jump to this topic below) I think what I'd say about how we're using the Great Game today is our people are mentally charged already with the finances. And so it's kind of like they're coming into any growth, or they're coming in any new situation, already understanding the finances of the business.
Continue scrolling to read the full episode transcription.
Welcome to the "Change the Game" Podcast, where we share stories of open book management and highlight capitalism at its best. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the "Change the Game" podcast with special guest, Steve Jones. After 60 years of business and 10 years as a Great Game of Business practitioner, Steve will share how having a model of working together as one, and a strong referral program has propelled their business through every roadmap in their way. Here's your hosts, Rich Armstrong, and Steve Baker.
Steve Baker 0:34
Welcome to the "Change the Game" Podcast where we are changing the game by doing business differently and highlighting stories of capitalism at its best. I'm Steve Baker, and with me as always, is Rich Armstrong, president of the Great Game of Business, and co-author of our new book, Get in the Game. Hello, Rich.
Rich Armstrong 0:54
Hey, Steve, how are you today?
Steve Baker 0:56
I'm doing great because I'm super excited about our special guest today. Steve Jones, CEO of Jenner Ag. Steve's been working in agriculture since he could walk, from feeding hogs to spreading and selling fertilizer, which I think I do most of the time. You could say that Steve was made to be in the Ag industry. He started as a sales manager for Jenner Ag in 1997. And has seen the company grow from one office in Harristown, Illinois, to a company with three locations that serves two states with more than 80 employees. Steve Jones, welcome to the podcast.
Steve Jones 1:32
Thank you, Steve. It's great to be here.
Steve Baker 1:34
It's wonderful to talk to you again. We're very excited about seeing everybody at the conference again soon, of course. But let's talk about 2021 it's an important year for Jenner Ag, a real milestone. This is your 60th anniversary. Congratulations.
Steve Jones 1:52
Thank you. Yeah, it's been. It's been a great. I've only been here for 24 of it now. But it's been, it's been a wonderful company with a lot of great owners. And it's a big milestone for us to finally make it here and celebrate 60 years. That's an accomplishment for any company. And you know, we're healthy. We're doing well. We're thriving right now. The agricultural market is very, very good right now, I'm sure as you guys know, as well. And so, we're having a fantastic year. All of our associates are engaged on board and happy to be here and we're happy to be celebrating this significant anniversary.
Steve Baker 2:32
Love it man. That is amazing. That's the backbone of America right there. Well, for those of you who don't know, Jenner, because in the Great Game community, you're kind of legendary. Could you share a little bit about Jenner Ag, and you know, the history and kind of what, you know, what makes up the Jenner Ag mystique.
Steve Jones 2:53
So, Jenner Ag is, we have three really different businesses that we have here. We're all united in somewhat fashion, some form or fashion with Case IH. But we actually have three very different unique businesses. One of those businesses is located in Fairbury, Illinois, and they surround mostly the precision Ag business. So, anything revolutionary, innovative. Right now, we're coming, they're introducing a product from Raven Manufacturing, called Omni Drive that is actually a self-driving tractor, that farmers can call to the combine with no operator in the cab. So, they're working on the very revolutionary new product, new technology stuff. Then we have our store in Harristown, Illinois, that is an application distributor for Case IH. And out of this store, which I'm in right now, we cover two states, all of Illinois and all of Indiana, mainly focused on the commercial fertilizer retailer, like the FS's, the nutrients, the helenas. And so that's our business model here. And then in Taylorville, Illinois, we have an Ag store that focuses on three counties in the state of Illinois that works directly with farmers in those three counties. So, very, very vast, different businesses, which will kind of lead into the next question somewhat on the schedule here.
Rich Armstrong 4:18
Well, Steve, I really, really thank you for joining us. And it's really interesting how well you've diversified the business with what you just described and being and knowing Ag based business a little bit like myself, that's a good thing in the Ag business. But I wanted to talk about what we see from the Great Game of Business, and you know, community is that use youth you believe culture is extremely important for an organization and can you talk a little bit about the process of creating that kind of culture at Jenner Ag but specifically about working together as one model which is one of the centers of that.
Steve Jones 5:00
Yeah, so great question. And then it kind of just jumps off the last question. So, in 2015, we had the stores in Fairbury. And we had the stores in Paristown, and because they were largely different business models, they functioned well independently of each other and did okay. At the time, the employees of Fairbury were not employees of Jenner Ag. They were employees of another company that we owned at the time. And the employees of Harristown were employees of Jenner Ag. And then we added that farm store in 2015. And we had some challenges culture, we started to combine all of the stores under one umbrella, which the employees in Fairbury, were happy to become employees and Jenner Ag, but then we brought in employees and Taylorville, and we tried to start to bring it all together. And I really have to give credit to our service manager, Jeff Reeter, who come up with the WTAO slogan. And then we started pushing this Work Together as One. And really, I'd say we use the Game, to kind of help propel that Work Together as One and use the numbers and use the Minigame play, and that kind of stuff to really start to blend all of the cultures together. And since about 2015, 2016, I wouldn't say we were 100% there, because it's always a challenge to continue to blend in new people and new ideas and new thoughts. But I would say we're 85, 90% percent there, we really have the team pulling together, it hasn't met without some challenges. And without a lot of education, a lot of meetings. And obviously COVID affected our ability to huddle like we used to and meet like we used to. And we had some real challenges through COVID, in terms of just continuing to communicate the Game and continuing to do what we did. But we started to bring back just almost everything we were doing prior to and it just really, we really had our first full blown company meeting this month. And it just really starts to feel like we're together again. So, I hope that we don't have another shutdown or another challenge that puts us, sets us back, like the last one didn't because I personally, you know, we've been playing a Game for 10 years, and a really important aspect of playing the Great Game of Business is the ability to huddle. And I think it has to go beyond the zoom call, or a video chat. We really have to get in front of the numbers and see the numbers and see the faces of the associates. And really talk and discuss our culture and share in that culture. And we were able to do a company outing this year in July, which really, really, which was the result of them winning a game called BOOMOPOLY in the fourth quarter of 2020. And I told them I'd take them on an outing if they, if we did 10 million in sales and over above what our plan was last year. And they were able to do that. And so, they paid for the company outing last quarter. quarter of 2020. And so, we rewarded them with a trip to Chicago, which we were able to pull off because the restrictions were down enough. And that really, you could really see the associates. And that really helps with Work Together as One because, you know, we have three facilities that are miles apart, in some cases, a couple hours. And the ability for them to see each other's faces, as the result of a Minigame win was a real positive for our culture. So yeah.
Rich Armstrong 8:34
No, that's great. And just a quick little follow up on that. Because what I've also, what I've seen from Jenner Ag and yourself specifically is that you have no hesitation to invest in that culture, if that's maybe some money but more time you spend a lot of time educating, coaching, training, that kind of thing. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because a lot of people get busy. And they just say, well, I don't have time for all of that. Can you talk a little bit about the importance?
Steve Jones 9:01
Yeah, so over 10 years. I don't know that that makes me an expert playing a Great Game of Business. But I've certainly learned a lot. And the biggest thing that I've learned is that my role significantly has changed over that time. And so, you know, if I go back prior to the Great Game of Business, and really making the investments that we have in the Great Game of Business, my time was spent really worrying about the numbers and worrying about what's going to happen this month and watching the financials on a daily basis. And, you know, I can recall, we had a report back before ways called daily operating report and I would literally print that out every day. Take a look at it, it's good to go out on the floor and make adjustments based on what I saw on the daily operating report. And so, I've had to learn and I'm good with it. I'm really good. With what my role is right now, because my role has changed from that guy or gal that would be on the floor every day trying to make those adjustments and making those margin increases and making those inventory adjustments to, really, I would call myself the super coach of the Great Game of Business of Jenner Ag. And so, you know, I still worry about that stuff, right? You have a natural tendency, so worried about that stuff. But we're now forecasting out two months, both our financials and our balance sheet. And I don't, we get, you know, people in here, I hear it, I don't see it firsthand, we get people worried about how much we're spending on toilet paper, or how much we spend on that
1. With the Great Game of Business, everyone in the company understands what we are trying to do.
it doesn't seem excessive, to me, it seems like, and I'm oversimplifying it, but it doesn't seem like excessive behavior to me, and it doesn't really feel like they're trying to manage the company. It feels to me like, they're watching the numbers, and they understand what we're trying to do. And so, I think that's the big piece you got to make, if you choose this culture, and once you choose it, I think it's damn hard to go the other way. Thought about it at times, but I think it would be damn hard for us to take this culture away from these employees. And yeah, I've just my role has just changed into something different than it was a few years ago. And I'm good with it, because it's allows me a lot more flexibility day to day that I had prior to the Game. So,
Steve Baker 11:34
Sounds like it gives you more time to work strategically as well, instead of being down in the muck in the mire, right?
Steve Jones 11:39
It does. Yeah, yeah, we have really, I think over a 10-year period, come a long way with this. Now, it doesn't take away the challenge that we still have of onboarding new associates. And you know, this is a this is a, you know, their eyes are like saucers, when they sit through their first huddle. So, those challenges just stay throughout the Game. But in our, in our seasoned veterans, this is just so natural. It's like putting your shoes on in the morning. It's just so natural to them, the rhythm of it. And that's what I talked about COVID a little bit ago, that's what really hurt, we weren't able to keep that rhythm up like we have. And so, we were still, we were still forecasting and that kind of stuff, but the rhythm of the huddle. And you know, there's so much I don't want to use the word pressure, but there's so much accountability. We have three, we have three divisional huddles, and we have several other huddles. But at the divisional level, there's so much accountability amongst the staff and each other, that I hardly ever say anything in those huddles at all, frankly, nothing because the accountability is just so high with the Game, that they self-imposed that accountability, to try to fix or do what they can about it. So, it's pretty incredible, really where we've come with this thing.
Steve Baker 12:58
But that sounds like motivation enough to keep playing. But let me ask you another question, Steve, for you, you pointed out that your role has changed, and you've been playing for 10 years. I mean, there's a lot of people that that don't believe that anything should last 10 years. What, what, how do you keep the spirit alive? How do you keep that spark? How do you keep making it happen?
Steve Jones 13:20
Well, you know, I used a term a lot over my career, and I'm kind of I'm not, well, I'll just be transparent. I'm not a huge fan of Madonna. But one of the things that I've watched Madonna and Cher do over the years and my lifetime, are probably all about the same ages, is they have consistently and continue to just reinvent themselves and reinvent their brand. And that's the that's become part of my role is to continue to reinvent the Great Game of Business because how we started buying is certainly not how we continue to play. And you all have obviously seen some of the stuff we've done with many games and stuff. And people really engage in some of the silliness that we continue to provide with that. And I think, you know, we have a couple bonus programs here. We have a profit share, and then we have a quarterly bonus if they if we meet all of our goals and everything happens. And that that becomes an incentive to help us continue. But I think I think we just have to consistently reinvent the Game and continue to reinvent, and you know, we're not an ESOP yet. We've talked about it, we've studied it, we were actually really close when COVID hit and with COVID the unknown who knew right, so I shut that down. Maybe that's something we do in the future. But I think I think if you're going to play the Great Game of Business, you have got to really be willing to invest. And I think the reward in the end is you know, for an owner is peace of mind and accountability outside of my office. That I don't have to take on and worry about. And there's a great sense of pride with the associates, particularly the younger ones, the younger people, we hire and come on board. This is what they want in a company. This is what they're telling us they want. They're telling their friends about it. They're saying you can't believe where we work and what the transparency and what we see and what we know. And I think so we've got to continue to reinvent, continue to work on the transparency continue to work on the trust. And that's one of the biggest challenges we had when we started playing the Great Game of Business was trust, we ended up hiring a coach and visiting other Great Game companies. And so, it's worth it's worth to play the Great Game of Business, I would say that it's different work. I'm doing different work today than I was before we started.
Steve Baker 15:44
For sure. So, Steve, I got a follow up on that on myself, because I love the analogy. In fact, it's going to be in the notes of the podcast that you know, you just wanted to point out that Cher and Madonna are not like the first on your playlist, but boy, they sure to have a skillet can constantly reinventing. Can you talk about because I think that our listeners are probably going okay, so I heard about Minigames and keeping it fresh and it. Can you talk about is there anything that you can think of an example of a way that you Steve Jones, like woke up one morning and said, oh, here's a great way to reinvent Jenner Ag? Can you think of one instance?
Steve Jones 16:25
Well, I wish I could we have. We have a budget committee, we have a three-year Planning Committee, and we have a Great Game committee, and they all meet quarterly, I have to give credit to the Great Game committee. One of the things that came in the last couple years is they didn't like how our bonus program looked. So, we changed it based on their input. So, I can't take credit for making all those changes, Steve, I mean, the committee is engaged in that they suggest stuff, we rewrite that playbook every year. And there are there are minor changes that come out of that playbook. We're looking right now at maybe adjusting or huddled because our huddles don't seem to at the recommendation of our coach or huddles are a little bit dissimilar from the divisions compared to mine. And Jack O'Riley, our coach has recommended we take a look at that. So, it's kind of, you know, I can't say that we sit down and say for the next 12 months, we're going to make these changes. It's, it's a constant. It's kind of like washing and waxing your car. I mean, when your car's dirty, you stop and wash your wax your car. And that's kind of how we play the Great Game of Business when something doesn't seem right or doesn't seem to be working. We don't hold on to it, we get rid of it pretty quickly, and try something different that does seem to work. And I think that's worked well for us. We just don't we don't keep doing something if it doesn't feel right.
Steve Baker 17:52
Well, what I love about that answer, Steve, is that you took it right to the people, you talked about their committees. And if I heard you, right, it's you've got a budget committee. So, they're working on the plan all the time, the three-year planning committees working on strategy, I assume and in how we're going to get there, and the GGOB committee is constantly looking at the transparency, education, culture part of it. So, really, it's not about Steve reinventing. It's about you are empowering these folks to reinvent themselves.
Steve Jones 18:20
Yes, that's exactly right, Steve. And there's, there's committee members, they're not all made up of the same group, but there is some duplication of members across the three committees so that we get a little bit of that pulled in to each thing that we do. Correct.
Steve Baker 18:36
Rich Armstrong 18:37
Yeah, I think it's a I think it's a really good message for our audience, as well, that are practitioners, especially if they're wanting to sustain it, as long as Steve has is that, as Jim Collins talks about, you know, preserve the core, but stimulate progress, and really focused on the principles, but maybe the way you practice it gets refined over time to keep it alive. And well. And I think, you know, Steve's a great example of doing that and keeping it fresh, keeping it fresh.
Steve Jones 19:08
That is key. I really think if you're going to play the Great Game of Business that's key. It has been for us, I don't know that it's key for everybody else, but reinventing it and changing it has been very key to our continuation of the Game.
Rich Armstrong 19:21
That's good. That's good. Well, Steve, I mentioned earlier, the ag market. You know, one of my first accounts at SRC was case New Holland. So, I have a little bit of a feel of how crazy the crazy cyclical nature of the Ag market is. And I'm just curious as how playing the Game has helped, you know, your business to weather those ups and downs you see in the Ag economy.
Steve Jones 19:47
That is a great question, Rich. So, when we started playing the great game of business, we were doing very well. We mainly started playing because I felt like we had an ineffective bonus program. We had a profit share program that Steve would decide, in December, and we get questions from our associates saying, well, you got issues, you're going to get a profit share no profit share, what are you going to do? So, the Game allowed me a matrix to define that the bonus program would happen under these criteria. And so, we were doing very, very well when we started playing a Great Game of Business. So, we started playing because I wanted to teach the numbers, we didn't just start playing because we had an affair, I wanted associates to know. And I'll never forget one of the catalysts into the Great Game is I had an associate stop me one day and say you made $14 million dollars this year. And I said, Seth, what are you talking about? I didn't make $14 million dollars. Our sales were $14 million. And I said, Yeah, that was our gross sales, but we had expenses and stuff out of that. So, when I met Jack Stack, all of this kind of just fell together. And I thought, man, we got to teach these people what's going on here, we aren't making that kind of money. And so, then came, you know,
2. When times got rough for the Ag industry, Jenner Ag was able to make it through because everyone in the company knew the numbers and why things were happening.
I've been through about three Ag recessions in my career. And then came the Ag recession of about 16, 17, and 18. And I think, I don't know what it would have been like if we hadn't played the Game, because people, we were able through those years to cut expenses. We lost a little bit of money one year, but never a lot. And I think, you know, nobody liked it. But I think that people understood why the numbers were what they were. And since we had that transparency going into that recession, you know, it wasn't like we were faking this stuff and Steve was taking extra money or anything like that. They understood that the business was not doing as well, as it was prior to, you know, the recession or during through the recession. And most of our associates, our retention was pretty good through those years, our retention has been really good through COVID. And so, I think it's helped our associates understand why there wasn't a profit share for a couple years. Now, we did have a profit share last year, we had a good year, last year, even despite COVID. And so, we started restoring some of those bonus programs that we had. But I don't know, prior to the recession that we just experienced, I don't know how I would have explained there wasn't a bonus program, it was a profit share through those years. So, I think it helped us weather the storm. And we didn't see people, you know, mass exodus, because we were having nonprofit share, and no quarterly bonuses. And so, we got back to those in late 2020. We've had a quarterly bonus every year in 2021. Here, and we're looking right now to make a pretty generous profit share product contribution through year end. So, I think they understand that if the money's there, and we're doing well. There's a bonus program. And if the money's not there, and we're not doing so well, at least they understand why.
Rich Armstrong 22:54
Steve Jones 22:54
You know, maybe people are buying cars and homes and other stuff. And I want them to know how the business is doing so they can decide whether or not they can afford that stuff.
Steve Baker 23:03
Yes, yes. Instead of it being your decision is their decision, which is been keeping Jack Stack up for years of course, I remember him saying the other night at a dinner that we had to some visitors, he said, you know, I people were asking me God like questions. Should I have a baby? Should I buy a house? Should I buy a car? I didn't want those that burden, right? They make those decisions. And it takes teaching. And as you pointed out earlier, you never get to stop teaching, because every new hire, you know, they're going to come in, as you say, kind of blind and we you know, pull the curtains apart and let them see what's really going on. So
Steve Jones 23:43
I certainly don't want to present; I don't want to come off as I'm the only one teaching. There are a lot of people here. We have a lot of seasoned employees 10 plus years that are highly engaged in that teaching and onboarding as well. I'd say I'm less involved in that. And I really got to give credit to the people. I'm more involved in just seeing that it happens, if that makes sense.
Steve Baker 24:03
Oh, absolutely. I think you know, you're steering the ship, so to speak. And you mentioned the Great Game committee earlier. I imagine they're involved in that training part as well. I would guess is that true?
Steve Jones 24:14
Steve Baker 24:15
Okay, so you said you just mentioned pretty good profit share this year. That has been a very good year. We all know. And everybody that's listening knows that more sales than planned and less sales than plan both are a problem. We have to deliver.
Steve Jones 24:36
Both are a problem.
Steve Baker 24:38
In the last year. How has Great Game helped you get through this this past year of extra high performance?
Steve Jones 24:48
Um, you know, it's, it's, it's been really interesting to me so the first round of COVID really didn't have There's too much we didn't hardly have we had a few associates Get up, but we really didn't have very many. And so, we've been hit a little harder with the second round for whatever reason, and we've had more associates get some, some of them vaccinated and some haven't. And so, I just, I just talked to a young man yesterday, that was back his first day back from COVID. quarantine. And it was a mild case, he didn't suffer too bad. But he said, I'm so happy to be back. He said, I was so crazy at home, I wanted to get back, I wanted to do my part. He works in the shop, and our shop is inundated with back orders right now. And he wanted to get back to work right away. We've had other associates that have gotten COVID and ask HR, I don't feel that bad. I really would like to come back to work. And we're like, look, you can't, we've got to quarantine you. But they're like, no, I need to get back to work. So, our people were No, we didn't have any, we were just didn't really have any challenges with people want to get back to work, or people calling off, or people making up excuses as to why they can't be here. It was crazy to me that we didn't. And I think, you know, the level of accountability here. I don't, I don't want to make that out to be a bad thing. Because accountability can seem like pressure to some people. But I would say it like this, I think that people want so badly to get back and do their part for the whole good of the whole company, that we just don't see those problems, people calling off. And so, it's I don't even know how to explain it. It has been, it has been incredible to me what I've heard and what I've seen through this COVID thing in our associates and how badly they want to still be here and do their part. And then crazy. I don't I don't even know how to put it in words. I really don't.
Rich Armstrong 27:04
I think it's the truth. I hear you're kind of describing the true definition of ownership. Right? You know, right. They just own it, they feel responsible. And that's pretty cool to get to that that point in a business.
Steve Baker 30:17
That's cool. Well, I think you might be the one company, we have talked to you that, that hasn't had people problems in the last year. Seems like no one can get good people.
Steve Jones 30:28
We really haven't. You know, we've been down one or two here or there. But we've been able to backfill those, and we really haven't had huge people issue.
Steve Baker 30:38
That's really great.
Steve Jones 30:39
Wage pressure. We've had wage pressure, but everybody's having wage pressure, right?
Steve Baker 30:44
Yep. And I don't think we're over that for sure. But, you know, it's not just wages. We know that too. One thing is, I know, I've stood on stage with you at our annual conference before, you know, awarding you guys the best Minigame award and that sort of thing. You're just really good at it. And I wondered if there's one Minigame that comes to mind that, that you'd like to share with our audience? And maybe you know, any tips?
Steve Jones 31:13
Yeah. I'll talk about that. So, we do, we try to do one corporate Minigame per year. And I already mentioned that we played BOOMOPOLY, which was a Monopoly board. It was about as big as the wall, about as big as a 10 by 14 wall for a scoreboard. So, this is a huge board. And the squares around it were certain things like, sell 100 anhydrous knives, sell a tractor. And so, we each week, we'd roll the dice, and they move their pieces, and then each team had an activity that they had to go out to do. And the funny thing about our Minigames, and it's just crazy to me, so one of the elements of a corporate Minigame is we hide clues. And we may hide those clues anywhere in the state of Illinois in Indiana. And they're clues, the clues are designed to help teams get a competitive edge in the game. And these people, when on this outing, I had a young man, Travis McHenry, who's actually coming to the conference this year with me. He says to me, he says I called my wife when I left work, and I said, I won't be home for supper because I got to go hunt down this clue. And it's not just him. I mean, it's we'll have groups of people, we have pictures of people. We had one at the fairgrounds here in Macon County, Illinois. And Clint got a picture, Clint Hohenstein. Our then CFO got a picture of about 20 or 30 people just running all over the fairgrounds trying to hide, find this clue. And mind you, we're not paying them to do this. They're doing this on their own, it's nuts to me. It's just nuts to me that these people, they will be out all night searching for these clues. And so, you know, the thing with our corporate Minigames, which they're very, very difficult to run. We have about 90 associates now and running a Minigame for 90 people is a challenge. And that's usually something that I'm in charge of. But there's so much competition, and there's so much competitiveness to win amongst teams. And so, it's just nuts to me what they'll do is just crazy. And we don't ask them to. Park district here in Decatur called us about two years ago and says your people are all over the park and it's too many. They're there in the park and we're like we're sorry. One of our Minigames, we mailed out sugar packets in the post office called us and says I don't know why you got all the sugar packets, but it's ruined our postage machine. And so please stop.
Steve Baker 33:52
Steve Jones 33:56
So, we've done some nuts old stuff I'm telling you, but it's what it's what keeps it alive for us. It's what keeps it fresh. It's what keeps it going.
Rich Armstrong 34:05
Yeah. Yes. It's amazing when people will compete for that's good. So, tell me Steve, what's next for Jenner Ag?
Steve Jones 34:17
Great question. We always are, you know, we're always concerned about succession. It's something that haunts every company. So, we're working on succession. I think what's next for Jenner Ag we’ve is got to figure out a way to get more real estate I think, and I don't mean buildings and structures. I mean more footprint with brand. You know, one of the things I've always asked myself about the Great Game of Business is it scalable? And so far for us, it's been scalable, it's been we've been able to do it, you know, at 50 associates, we've been able to do it at 60 associates now 80, now close to 90. We'll probably go over 100 associates this year. And so, I think it is scalable. Like it brings us more challenges. But right now, Rich, just to be frank, we're dealing with, we'll probably have about 35, 40% growth this year. And right now, it's about all we can handle to meet the, we're having terrific manufacturer problems, terrific chip problems. We're getting companies that are calling us and saying no more. We're out of this. You're not going to get any more supply this year. So, filling customer orders this year, it's nuts. I've been through this before- periods of high growth. But I've never been through the broken supply chains that we have today. And so, we're getting conmines today without tires. They literally are shipping into us without tires. And so, we're having to locally source those tires. So, just managing what is going on right now is keeping our associates full time.
Rich Armstrong 35:55
Steve Jones 35:58
And I'm sure you guys have the same challenges.
Rich Armstrong 36:00
Yeah, absolutely. It's where it is people and parts, people and parts,
Steve Baker 36:05
So, Steve, how would you say when you think about succession, and you think about more physical footprint and growing and scaling? How are you using Great Game right now to prepare for the future?
3. Associates are prepared for whatever financial situation the company is in because they are mentally charged with the finances thanks to playing the Game.
Steve Jones 36:21
I think what I'd say about how we're using the Great Game today is our people are mentally charged already with the finances. And so, it's kind of like they're coming into any growth, or they're coming in any new situation, already understanding the finances of the business. And so, it's not like we have to start over. It's not like, you know, when we when we add a new associate, it's not like we're starting over or we're starting a new, they're coming in to that tribal knowledge. And I think, I think the Game allows us to have a tribal knowledge unlike any other. You know, not every one of our associates has a master's degree in Great Game of Business play. Some have associates, some have the high school diploma, some have an eighth-grade education. But that tribal knowledge is in our organization that when somebody comes into organization in the first grade, that immediately starts to, you know, they get to the second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade. I'll never forget when we bought the Taylor Ville location, and Taylorville, Illinois, who brought all of those employees on, and they loved, I sat next to a fella in the first huddle we had down there. And he turns to me, and he says, wow, I never knew it cost this much to turn the lights on down here. And I thought, wow, we've got an eighth grader. And turned out we had a first grader, because they love the transparency. They love to know all that stuff. However, in knowing all that stuff comes a different level of accountability. And we don't have to tell them about it. We don't have to say, oh, because we're playing the great game of business, you're now accountable. Everyone else holds them accountable. And so then as some of those associates that we hired, came on board and found out that they are now accountable, because they know the numbers, we had to make some changes. And you know, I've heard jack stack say, for some people aren't right for the great game of business. And I'd say that that's it's helping us build our team into the future because we have better associates because we played a Great Game of Business. It's just that simple. We have better associates because we play the Great Game of Business. We have smarter associates, we have associates that know the numbers, we have associates that you know can go the mile and they come in, they just get that tribal knowledge as they work through it. But some people don't make it beyond the first grade with just the way it is.
Rich Armstrong 39:00
They the simplicity is perfect built, build the business and build the people, then you have the sustainability of it. Well, Steve, we like to wrap up these podcasts by asking a question, what questions should we be asking you right now?
Steve Jones 39:16
I wrote it down two. And you should be asking me how hard it is to start and how hard it is to keep playing. Because I'm going to do it again. I'm going to go to Dallas here to that next week. I'm going to be in Dallas next week. And I'm going to have somebody say to me, how do we get started playing the Great Game of Business? And the first thing I'm going to say is are you willing to show your net worth? And if they say no, then we're done there. If they say yes, then I go how many hours you got to invest in this because it is hard to start and it is hard to keep playing. As I mentioned earlier, I don't work. I might work a little bit less than I did five or six years ago. But just for What I do in terms of the coach here and the hours that I spent doing stuff has shifted to being the Superman coach of the great game of business. And so, it is hard to start, it is hard to keep playing. But if you're willing to make that investment in your people, and willing to change those thoughts and philosophies about yourself, and how you think this can be so rewarding for an owner, in planning, this thing is just going to be so rewarding, the lightbulb will just start to go off and associate eyes as they understand what's going on. But it is damn hard to start little easier to keep playing it. But we started kind of slow, I think he is I think about it, we didn't go all in at first, but very comfortable with how we've gotten through this thing. And it's worked very, very well for us.
Rich Armstrong 40:50
That's great advice.
Steve Baker 40:52
Great way to wrap it up. So, Steve, a lot of times what I'll do with the with a guest that has so many good ideas been I'll make notes and kind of recap, and you tell me if I got any of this wrong, or if I missed any important points. One of the things that that you just talked about was, you know, it's not that it's easy, but it's worth it. Culture is extremely important to the success of any business; you guys use the WTAO-Working Together as One. And you were able to combine your stores, which very often will have their own cultures under one big umbrella. You use the numbers and mini games to unite the team. You also mentioned something that, you know, we hear both sides of this coin, but you said the ability to huddle, to do company outings to really see the associates really makes a big difference. Zoom is just not the same. You mentioned it was an investment in time and money to really make a culture that's going to stick. Here's one of my favorite ones that your role has changed from this kind of CEO traditional role to a super coach of Great Game and Jenner Ag that has allowed you to be more strategic and think further out. And that the accountability amongst the team, people are watching the numbers themselves are holding one another accountable and you rarely insert yourself into the huddle. I'm taking that as you are you don't have to micromanage this business because people are managing it themselves. I heard you say that it gives you great game gives you peace of mind for the owner and pride in your people, which I thought was really great, especially because you pointed out how it's affecting your young people and it gives them a bigger picture. You're not a huge Madonna or Cher fan. But you do admire their ability to reinvent themselves. And that's been important in keeping general agriculture fresh, big takeaway for our listeners here. when something doesn't feel right, the team itself often comes up with the changes. And you've got a budget committee that works on the financial plan, a three-year planning committee that works on strategy, and a great game committee that works on transparency, education and culture. And your job is to is kind of make sure all that's working. Is that did I capture that correctly?
Steve Jones 43:13
I actually am a Cher fan. But I'm not a huge Madonna fan. So, we need to redact that. I think I think one of the big takeaways that I'd like is that our it's not our critical number, our critical number. Maybe it ties back to our critical number, but our critical number this year is net income. But we have the corporate goal of adding 10% to retain every year. That is the only goal I set. I've told my team, we want to add 10% above inflation to retain on an annual basis, all the rest of the numbers, from the margins to the expenses to the sales forecast. All of that stuff is just rolled out by the associates. The only thing I said is we want an addition of 10%. And then if you want the bonus program to happen, this is how much over that we've got to be and so on and so on and so on. And so that starts with our three-year planning committee that rolls down to our one-year budgeting committee. And then we get an annual budget we get we have a three-year forecast. And then we get an annual budget like this year, we got the annual budget from the budgeting team. And it's important for people to understand that I said none of that. I had nothing to do with it, which may or may not mean that I'm slightly disappointed when I get it. And this year I was slightly disappointed, but we took it with this is what everybody can do. We'll take it now. Because corn conveniently went to $7. We're balling it out of the water but understand that it was their numbers and that is important when you play the Great Game of Business, if you start twisting around or changing the numbers on them, they don't work you got, you got to take their numbers. And that might sometimes mean you live on a little bit less net income and you job for, but it has to be their numbers. And it works for us. It just simply works.
Steve Baker 45:18
That's amazing. And that's really the message of the Game. And one of my last notes here was, was kind of tied to that in the sense of, you know, you're really, you're asking people to think and act like, like business owners, and their do are, they're taking accountability. And I liked what you said about, you know, the game has allowed you to create kind of a tribal knowledge that allows you to grow the business and your people and knowing the financials brings a new level of accountability. That's not right for everybody. So as a result, it's like cultural Darwinism. If you have better smarter associates than your competitors do. That's pretty awesome.
Steve Jones 45:57
Yeah, I don't know. You know, I don't know why it wouldn't be right for everybody. Maybe it's just right for us because it is, but I hear this often from the game. And I'll also share this thought that if, if I wasn't all in, it just simply would not work. And so, whoever whoever's got the most, no invested in something has to be all in because if they're not all in, but if you're all in the rewards, and we do what a lot of companies shouldn't do, or maybe we shouldn't do, either. But we talk about the politics, and we talk about the effect on the business, and we talk about it openly and transparently. And we don't care how anybody voted, we just want you to understand what it means to you, and what it means to the business. And we can have those conversations through the great game on neutral ground. Because our associates understand how those political decisions may or may not affect them, both individually and the business. And so, transparency is another key piece of that we don't share salaries here. I've often thought about it. But I still think that's kind of an individual thing that we shouldn't be sharing. But everything else will talk to you about and that just we have conversations, you know, in work that probably a lot of companies couldn't get by with but that's what I'll say by with that for sure.
Steve Baker 47:24
We'll see. It's been great to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much.
Steve Jones 47:29
You're welcome, Steve. Always a pleasure to see you and Rich and we enjoy playing the Great Game of Business and hope to continue for many years. Take care. Thanks.
Steve Baker 47:39
Well, keep the conversation going. Folks. Send us your questions, your stories, your best practices, your ideas, your challenges, and of course, your victories. That's capitalism at its best. Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next time.
The Change the Game" Podcast is produced by the Great Game of Business. To learn more, visit greatgame.com