10/11/2017 9:03:00 AM Cambria chairman to speak at Chamber Gala
The Davis Family founded Davisco Foods, Cambria, Davis Family Dairies, Cambria Mortgage, Cambria Title and purchased Sun Country Airlines in 2011.
When guests at the Oct. 19 Windom Chamber Gala see the name Mark Davis of Cambria on the program, their thoughts will instantly turn to quality cheese, proteins and countertops.
That's perfectly fine with Mark who has served as chairman for those Le Sueur-based companies. After all, Cambria has grown and thrived on quality and marketing. Cambria is synonymous with quality and the big plant located along Highway 169, at the edge of Le Sueur, is up to 900 production workers.
Still, the thought of being so tightly linked to Cambria sometimes seems strange to the St. Peter native. That's because before the Cambria opportunity came along in 2002, the Davis family's focus was butter and cheese. Mark's father started the dairy business in the early 1940s and it stayed in the family until a few years ago. At the time of the sale, Davisco Foods did $1 billion in sales.
"When I wake up in the morning, I think of my self as a cheese maker and butter maker," Mark said with a chuckle. "Someone told me that on our last day in the cheese business, we made more cheese than we made in the entire first year we were in business. I was amazed by that.
"Our cheese and dairy business was the springboard for everything else we do."
At 76, Mark still goes to work every day at about 6 a.m., and says he has no plans to retire.
Employees are key
Next week, when Mark speaks to Windom Area Chamber of Commerce members at the Community Center, he will likely talk a lot about the rise of his family's businesses - Davis Family Dairies, Cambria, Cambria Mortgage, Cambria Title, Davisco Foods and Sun Country Airlines. A modest guy, Mark routinely places any credit on the people around him.
When asked for his philosophy on how to run a good business, Mark chuckled and replied, "Luck."
Then he added: "The most important thing is to have good employees and we have been very fortunate with that. As we grew, we used to have local Le Sueur and St. Peter high school kids working summers for us.
"We had one employee work for my dad for 55 years. We were fortunate to have good employees. People would work part-time here as kids and then go off for more education and then return to work here. We've had multiple members and generations of families work here. It has been, as I say, a lot of luck."
The Le Sueur Cambria plant employs 900 production workers. In all, counting sales and marketing staff across the country, Cambria employs more than 2,000 people.
Among those who worked in both the Cambria and dairy businesses were members of the Davis family.
Mark and his wife, Mary, have five grown children: Mitchell, Martin, Matthew, Julie and Jon. The boys all worked in the businesses, growing up. The two oldest, Mitchell and Martin, are still involved with Cambria.
Mark grew up working in his dad's butter factory on weekends and he realized it would be a good experience for his children as well.
"My kids worked in our factories and that got them interested," Mark recalled. "Then they went to college and became educated in food science and production. A lot of our employees followed a similar path."
How it evolved
At the Chamber Gala, Mark will likely talk about how the business evolved.
The dairy business was initially known as St. Peter Creamery. In 1969, Mark, his father and a friend named Alan Cords formed LeSeuer Cheese company. Ultimately, the business expanded to South Dakota and Idaho.
"We very much loved dairy processing," Mark said. "We did business internationally over the years and had many associates and friends overseas. We had sales offices in Europe, Japan, Singapore and China. It was my life."
The Davis family entered the quartz countertop business when Mark's son, Martin, suggested it as a possible investment.
"He said it is interesting technology and we may want to take a look at it," Mark recalled.
Mark became one of many investors in this company, which was then based in Cohasset, Minn. The company, then known as Technimar, was short on funds and ultimately put the equipment up for auction. Mark purchased the equipment in 2001 and opened Cambria in Le Sueur.
"My son (Martin) took it under his wing and asked to be manager of it," Mark recalled. "Besides production, he is our marketing and sales guy in the family. It was that way in the dairy business, also."
Food background helps
Mark noted that the Davis family's food background gave them a good handle on how to operate all of their businesses.
"There is an emphasis on cleanliness, sanitation and quality," Mark said. "That all sprang from experience in food production."
Does Mark have advice for other employers? He chuckled at the question, adding that he doesn't profess to know much about other businesses.
"We just know what our compass is every day and we are so fortunate to have employees who believe in that, too. I cannot say enough good things about the homegrown talent that we are so fortunate to have working for us."