Business Partner Feature: The Morning Star Company

“Around here, nobody’s your boss and everybody’s your boss.”

When it comes to interesting companies, few networks can beat the business partners with which Praxis participants have the opportunity to work. Praxis business partners are leaders and growing companies in industries like digital marketing, consumer tech, B2B tech, manufacturing, and even agriculture. The Morning Star Company is one such agricultural leader.
Originally founded as a trucking company in 1970, the Morning Star Company has grown to attract attention not only for its immense success but also for its unique management theory.
That management theory is no management. There are no supervisors in the entire company. And it works. Named one of Inc Magazine’s most innovative companies, Morning Star is the world’s largest processor of tomatoes and California’s largest grower. If you have ever had tomato paste, ketchup, or a pizza, you’ve probably consumed a tomato that has passed through one of their plants. The company grows, processes, and ships tomatoes from California and to businesses all over the world.

How does it work? Employees are encouraged to treat themselves as entrepreneurs within the company and to make their positions and their divisions of the company more efficient by processing more tomatoes and a lower cost every day.
Employees make agreements with the company and each other to define their personal missions for the year. Recently highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, the agreements (called CLOUs) are the heart of the individual’s relationship with the company:

CLOUs morph from year to year to reflect changing competencies and shifting interests. Over time experienced colleagues take on more-complex assignments and off-load basic tasks to recently hired colleagues. In explaining the logic behind the CLOUs, Rufer emphasizes the idea that voluntary agreements among independent agents can produce highly effective coordination. “The CLOUs create structure,” he says. “As a colleague, I agree to provide this report to you, or load these containers into a truck, or operate a piece of equipment in a certain fashion. This is spontaneous order, and it gives you more fluidity. Relationships can change form more easily than if we tried to fix them from above.”

Morning Star doesn’t just stop at processing tomatoes. The company includes a shipping division, a finance division, an accounting division, a charitable arm, and a manufacturing division (during a recent visit to their offices, one associate noted the company is building a plant that will process upwards of 1,000 tons of tomatoes per hour).

Despite being a large company, Morning Star runs as a series of small companies. One plant may employee only 60 associates, the company’s main office in Sacramento takes up a small corner of one floor, and associates are trusted like the employees of a startup — taking measures into their own hands where necessary and taking responsibility for their decisions.
Working with Morning Star presents a unique opportunity for anybody interested in gaining insight into an innovative theory of management, agricultural finance and accounting, trucking, and manufacturing.
Interested in working with the Morning Star Company and companies like it? Apply for the Fall 2015 class today.