Louis Eni, the chief executive of Dietz & Watson, the deli meat and cheese maker, is 63 years old, but he still worries about what his mother, the company chairwoman, is going to say. When I visited the plant in Northeast Philadelphia, Ruth "Momma" Dietz Eni, 91, was bustling around the office.
She is the daughter of founder Gottlieb Dietz, a butcher and sausage maker who emigrated to the U.S. from Germany and began the business in 1939. Her three children, Louis Eni, Christopher Eni and Cindy Yingling, are chief executive, chief operating officer and chief financial officer respectively. Two members of the fourth generation are now working in the business. Lauren Eni, vice president of brands, is Louis Eni's daughter. Christopher Yingling, Cindy's son, is vice president of finance.
"Being a family business, being a food business, it's hands on all the time," Eni said. "There was a lot of business discussed, even when we were young, because mom and dad both worked in the business. So there were issues. There were a couple of things that solidified the fact that we really get along. they taught us to love what we make. They really engrained in us that you don't want to be in the food business, unless you can make the best quality you can make. There are a lot of food companies, and meat companies, that make something, or their products, to meet a certain price range. So they engrained in us if you can't make it better than anyone else don't make it. So that was part of the brainwashing, I guess.
"I remember from an early age, them telling us that `Don't forget. The third generation is where most businesses go ot of business. Most family businesses can't get past the third generation, because of infighting. They knew exactly what they were doing, because they were instilling in us that drive, that it was never going to happen to us.
"So, when we all got into the business, we were very fortunate. In addition to that background that we had, we were also very fortunate in that our interests and skills don't overlap. So, my brother is a mechanical engineer, loves machinery, facilities. He is a perfect chief operating officer, because that's just what he does and he does it very, very well. And my sister is tremendous with numbers. She always was. I remember she used to play Monopoly when we were kds and she would love to do that. She won often, exactly. So she just fit the chief financial officer job."
Question: So then, how did you get your job?
Answer: I guess it was what was left. First of all, I'm the oldest. I also got involved in the product itself, in product development, how to maintain, how to improve quality and consistency from the beginning. So I'm not a chef, but I'm here. I can say that I'm pretty good at making the types of products we make.
As our interview came to an end, Eni took me to meet his mother (and his dogs, who were visiting the office).
Me: You've run this business yourself. What lessons do you think your son needs to know to get it right?
Louis: That's a great question.
Ruth: That sure is a question. That's a wide open question. Well, we never know enough, and there's always progress in the business. New items and new ways to handle things and he's got all that to learn.
Louis: Always learning.
Ruth: Life is never finished, never. We're happy it's that way.
Me: True. So, is he doing a good job?
Ruth: I think he is.
Me: Louis, what are you most worried about your mom catching you doing?
Ruth: Mom's not around here that much. Mom comes and goes.
Louis: At this age, I don't know if there's anything I'm worried about Mom catching us doing. But, you know what? It's funny, because Mom's still here and we try to include her in everything, every meeting. We're always worried about what she's thinking. It never leaves you. I'm 63 years old and I still worry about what Mom would think.
Ruth: You're always going to progress, do better, not less.
Me: Can you give me an example of something where you worry about what your mom thinks?
Louis: I'll tell you one. One of her jobs forever has been to watch expenses. So I'm always being told that something costs too much. It costs too much to fly somebody somewhere. This advertising costs too much. Something was too expensive and why did you spend that much money. That's one of the things I worry about, that Mom is going to yell at me.
Ruth: In business, you've got to keep your expenses down. Otherwise you don't make it.
Louis: It never leaves you. You can feel your stomach clench.
Ruth: It's how you were raised.
Me: What happens if his expenses are too high? What do you do to him? Do you make him sit in the corner?
Louis: Oh, she gets mad. She yells.
Ruth: Oh sure (as in yeah, right).
Louis: Cindy (his sister) is the one who really has the high expenses now.
Ruth: She watches the money. It's easy, over a thousand employees, it's easy to spend money. You've got to watch expenses all the time.