Aris, one of North America’s oldest privately owned flower producers, recently announced that its Board of Directors has elected Scott Schaefer as President and CEO of the company, effective April 1, 2016. Schaefer, who is also a member of the Board of Directors, succeeds Bill Rasbach, who announced his desire to step down as President and CEO after almost 42 years of service to the company. Rasbach is taking a part-time position as Vice Chairman and will remain active in the company, working on various administrative and strategic matters, as well as Blooms of Bressingham.
Schaefer has been with Aris for more than 15 years, most recently as Vice President COO/CFO, where he oversaw all aspects of operations, including Green Leaf Plants and Keepsake Plants, as well as corporate administrative functions, including accounting and finance.
Schaefer is no stranger to horticulture due to his family’s business, Schaefer Greenhouses, Inc. in Montgomery, IL.
“It’s an exciting time to be at Aris, and I appreciate this opportunity,” Schaefer says. “Despite the many challenges facing the horticulture industry today, there are many opportunities as well. I look forward to continued engagement and support of the Aris team to achieve our goals, including leading positions in quality and service for our customers and distributor partners.”
Greenhouse Grower magazine recently caught up with Schaefer, and we asked him more about these challenges and opportunities, and how his experience and background will help him in his new role.
Greenhouse Grower (GG): How did your previous experience prepare you for this new role?
Schaefer: Looking back and ahead, I realize that there is not any one experience. The CEO position is primarily involved with management and leadership and requires knowledge and experience in a wide variety of areas. My professional career started in public accounting with an exposure to a variety of clients, from manufacturing to real estate. I took every opportunity to learn as much as possible about each industry before deciding that I especially liked manufacturing. I worked at several companies in various financial and management assignments and was involved in a wide variety of projects, including finance and accounting, banking, new products, acquisitions and divestitures, operations, and business management. I added an MBA in 1988 to broaden my education. After seven years as CFO for Aris Horticulture, my role expanded to include COO responsibilities in 2009.
My horticulture experience was not part of my professional background, but I did learn a lot about the industry during my high school and college years, working at Schaefer Greenhouses in just about all aspects of the greenhouse operations, from potting, growing, and spacing plants in the greenhouse, wholesale packing and delivery, and retail (both florist and garden center). I remember telling my dad about a college marketing class that I had taken and then being asked to set up garden center merchandising. When I came in the next day, the display looked a lot different. There have always been a lot of family discussions about the business and related challenges, along with opportunities, which has provided insight and perspective for me.
While education and experience are important, engaging and communicating with stakeholders (customers and employees, for example) comes into play as well. It is important to review corporate goals and work together for a profitable business, and to provide industry-leading quality and service, along with growth and development opportunities for employees.
GG: What are some of the biggest issues or concerns you’ve heard from the growers you work with, and how do you plan to help them deal with these issues?
Schaefer: From Aris’ perspective, service level and quality are the biggest issues, followed by transportation. We continue to work on internal initiatives to improve processes (planning, growing, information systems, order acknowledgments, communication of order changes, and transportation) and overall internal and external communications. Many of these issues are within our control, while others are not, but we can always communicate.
GG: What are the biggest challenges this industry is currently facing? Conversely, what are some of the biggest opportunities on the horizon?
Schaefer: Defining the biggest challenges in the industry is difficult due to the complexity involved in the industry definition and all of the participants. Big box mass merchants and large volume grocery stores affect the competitive structure of the industry with pricing and volume. Consolidation, especially in the production, sales, and distribution elements of the supply chain, creates a changing landscape for competitors and customers alike. Government policies and regulatory requirements ranging from healthcare and immigration to the environment impose structural hurdles and costs not easily passed on in sales pricing or absorbed by productivity gains. At Aris, we work on finding solutions to these issues every day. In the market segments in which Aris operates, we are focused on growing our market share by improving quality and service and supporting our distributor and customer partners.
GG: Looking ahead, what role can you play in moving this industry forward?
Schaefer: I am focused on working with the Aris team to achieve our goals. We have and will continue to talk and engage across the industry. We will work with the community to move it forward on a project basis as opportunities are presented. Also, part of Bill Rasbach’s role going forward is to continue to develop strategic opportunities.
GG: If you weren’t in this profession, what would you be doing?
Schaefer: It’s hard to imagine not being in business management and doing something else. I have a deep passion for horticulture (it’s in my blood), but I also enjoy learning and handling challenges. I would likely be looking to help companies succeed in some other way.