Q&A: Bush Brothers' Jim Ethier on the Bean Business
Bush Brothers celebrates its 100th anniversary this year as the provider of all things bean, as well as foods such as canned kale and hominy. Jim Ethier, chief executive and chairman of the 650-employee business, spoke with Staff Writer Amy S. Choi about the company's beginnings, the family judicial process, and the venerable pinto.
Q: How'd your family get started with beans?
A: We started canning some beans just prior to World War II. We were primarily a seasonal vegetable canner at the time. But at the conclusion of the war, we became very serious about beans, because a number of employees who returned from the war wanted year-round employment, and beans were less perishable than our other products. And arguably, the bean is the greatest single vegetable available for your diet. It's high in protein, high in fiber, and has no cholesterol. Beans have been eaten in South and Central America since 6000 B.C.
Q: Any downside to the bean?
A: We have spent considerable effort to see if we can deal with the issue of flatulence. A number of us were involved in an experiment where we ate a pound of beans for breakfast for a number of days in order to see if we had, so to speak, dealt with the problem. Unfortunately our research showed that we hadn't found a solution. But we weren't hungry until the late afternoon.
Q: What responsibility do you feel to the family legacy?
A: My grandfather exemplified the values that we still articulate in our mission statement today: integrity, responsibility, trust, and caring. I think our family has always aspired to maintain those values by providing a good place for people to work and a product that consumers truly want to buy.
Q: What's the biggest perk of a family business?
A: The enjoyment of being able to share our mutual history. I find our family members are really delightful people.
Q: The biggest challenge?
A: Educating the younger members of the family about the positives of owning and operating a company—and the obligations we have to be good citizens of our community and our country. They're very receptive.
Q: It can't be all rosy. How do you deal with family conflicts?
A: It helps that the majority of our board are independent directors that have no self-interest in the company. And about two years ago we created a family senate, which meets quarterly. The purpose of the senate is to deal with issues brought forth by family members, such as the requirements of relatives who want to work at the company.
Q: Most people know Bush Brothers through the TV commercials with Jay and his dog, Duke. How did that happen?
A: We hired a director to help us select our salesperson and to audition three family members. Jay was ideal. He's just so personable. His day job is working in public relations for our company.
Q: What's your favorite bean?
A: The pinto. I grew up eating them with fresh chopped onions or pickle relish.
Q: How often do you eat beans? Do you ever get sick of them?
A: No, never! I eat them three to four times a week. It's hard to get tired of them. You can eat them for weeks on end.
Q: What do you eat beans with?
A: Everything from burgers to hot dogs and grilled fish or chicken. If you don't like our Grillin' Beans with bourbon and brown sugar, I swear I'll give you your money back.
Q: What's your favorite food besides beans?
A: I really love raspberries.
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