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FEATURE STORY
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The Golden Rule

Running a $5 billion firm with clients in 50 countries takes two things, says Golden State Foods CEO Mark Wetterau: a company creed and a strong culture. What happens next is the fun part.

Interview by Steve ChurmPublished: November 01, 2012

Golden State Foods CEO Mark Wetterau
Mark Wetterau is having fun – lots of it. On a recent weekday, in his 11th-floor Irvine office with a sweeping view of the runway at John Wayne Airport, he was excitedly rattling off details about a new venture in China.

Global breakthroughs are not new for Wetterau, CEO and chairman of the board of Golden State Foods, a $5 billion company with 20,000 clients in 50 countries. But each new success never gets old for the food industry veteran. He still gets that giddy, boyish look when he strikes a new deal for his company, which operates more than 30 facilities that deliver produce, bakery goods and meat to McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A and Pizza Hut worldwide.
   
He’s also not surprised at the explosion of growth that GSF has had in recent years. Confident and disciplined, the lanky 6-foot-3 Wetterau directly links the company’s prowess in the highly competitive restaurant industry to GSF’s system of corporate values. Stemming from a creed that pays tribute to faith, dignity and service, the GSF culture is the foundation from which all internal and external decisions are made.
   
The caretaker of the firm’s culture, Wetterau was honored a year ago by the Orange County-based Passkey’s Foundation’s Ethical Edge as a “Leader of Integrity.” Moved by the moment, Wetterau stepped up to be the presenting sponsor of this year’s Leaders of Integrity Awards luncheon () on Nov. 14 in Newport Beach.
   
Wetterau sat down with Churm Media CEO and OC METRO publisher Steve Churm to talk about the importance of a company’s culture and belief system to its bottom line.

OC METRO: The world has changed dramatically as a result of the global recession that we’ve all been through. What has been the most significant shift in how companies do business with customers, partners and even their own employees?

MARK WETTERAU: It’s been tough, there’s no question about it. When I meet other CEOs or business owners, many of them talk about the fact that they’d love to build a stronger culture within their organizations, but they’re not quite sure on how to do it. Older companies that have a mature culture are stuck and can’t get started on the process. Younger companies have never established a strong core belief system within their organizations. There’s a lot of confusion about this 
critical topic.

OCM: How do you go about building a corporate culture based on a belief system?
MW: It starts with a strong vision and then a good solid strategy to implement that vision within the organization. It requires strong, constant communication within the organization. We have what we call a philosophy statement, which is our creed for the organization. Then we have a set of values to support that creed. We then make sure everyone is on the same page with it. Our creed is on our office walls and the back of our business cards. I have a philosophy and a saying that, “Talk’s cheap and whiskey costs money.” The fact of the matter is, if you don’t live it and don’t believe in it, it’s never going to happen. It’s really something that we’re blessed with that has taken hold throughout our company.

OCM: Do you see or sense companies talking more about issues of trust, integrity and behavior as a result of the recession?
MW: Because of what we’ve all been through, I think a lot of firms and individuals have been doing some serious self-examination. Companies have slowed down to be more thoughtful. Executives and employees have stopped to consider the value of what they are doing. A growing number of firms are trying to determine if they have defined their company well enough with a value statement or creed. They’re taking steps to make sure that trust is there. What we’re finding, and what I hear all the time, is that business is based on trust. The fact of the matter is that I don’t care how good your product is – it’s who you stand for as an 
organization that really matters. This is what’s driving business today.