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Gary 'Butch' Hendrickson - A National success story

Published:Tuesday | August 30, 2016 | 12:03 AMRobert Lalah
Gary 'Butch' Hendrickson

Gary 'Butch' Hendrickson isn't the biggest fan of formal, glitzy affairs - particularly those at which he is the centre of attention. However, as head of Continental Baking Company, including its ubiquitous National brand of baked goods, the modest businessman can scarcely avoid attention. In October, Hendrickson will be inducted into the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica's Hall of Fame. This is a high honour, one reserved for the most highly accomplished business leaders on the island, and one that has left Hendrickson - his history of success notwithstanding - feeling flattered.

"I'm extremely humbled and honoured," said Hendrickson. "I think about the team I've worked with over the years and all the support and inspiration I've received from other members of the business community and I'm just left feeling really grateful."

Hendrickson, sitting back in his chair in the conference room at his office on Half-Way Tree Road in St Andrew, reflected on his journey in business.

"I don't know life without business. It has been a part of my whole world. It is just a natural extension of who I am at this point," he said.


Unaffected by success


The Hendrickson family is well known in Jamaica. From hotels to poultry and, of course, baked goods, the collectively publicity-shy family have pioneered commercial activity in several areas and have remained, perhaps surprisingly, unaffected by their own success.

"I'm far more comfortable in the bakery than I am in the boardroom," said Hendrickson, gesturing to the imposing table in front of him. "Meetings? I hate meetings. I will spend all day in the bakery and be completely happy. That is more for me. I don't get to stay in the bakery as much as I would like to these days, but believe me, that's where I am happiest."

His grandfather opened a bakery in Maggotty, St Elizabeth, in the 1920s. His father - the celebrated Karl Hendrickson - opened National Bakery at Half-Way Tree Road in 1952. Four months later, he was born.

"I grew up in this bakery. I used to love walking around and looking at the machinery. I have a natural love for engineering. I would watch all the machines and try to learn how they worked," he said.

Throughout the 1950s and '60s, the family business boomed as the elder Hendrickson introduced innovative machinery and techniques that kept National ahead of competitors. The children though, were never allowed to coast on the success of their parents. "We had to work hard. In fact, I saw my father in the bakery; no matter how well things were going, he spent hours, day and night in the bakery working. He taught us by example that the only route to success is hard work and total commitment," said Hendrickson.

He is also quick to credit his teachers at Jamaica College (JC) for building his discipline and willingness to work hard. "I was a troublemaker but the teachers there were very firm. They didn't joke around," he said. After JC, Hendrickson attended military school and college in the United States.

"But I wasted my college days," said Hendrickson. "I was just totally unfocused. I didn't make the best use of that opportunity at all. That is my one regret."


Followed father's lead


In 1994, Hendrickson officially took control of the family's baking company. The example his father set impacted his own leadership style tremendously. He worked long hours alongside his employees in the bakery and, even today, remains on a constant search for new methods and machines to improve the baking process. National bakery is today a modern marvel with the most up-to-date equipment. It's ever-expanding capacity has led to the growing number of baked goods being launched by the company. "Some of the products we are launching now, just last year our bakery would not have been able to produce. We are constantly growing and improving our techniques to stay ahead of the game," said Hendrickson. "The company today is far bigger and better than I could have ever dreamed of when I first started running it. Sometimes I sit and think about it and I am just very thankful."

One of the standout traits of Hendrickson's leadership style has always been his affection for his staff members. He appears to be as dedicated to their success as he is to his own.

"I tell people all the time that when someone works for you, they are placing a huge part of their lives and their family's lives into your hands. That is not something to take lightly. No matter what kind of work someone does - it could be the janitor or the person who sweeps the yard - their hopes and dreams are the same as mine. They want to take care of their family just as much as I want to take care of mine. There is no difference," he said. "If you keep that in mind, you will remember the obligation you have to them."


Business and charity linked


Hendrickson is also well known for his philanthropy, having made hundreds of millions of dollars in donations to several causes, particularly in education. "I tell my executives that they have to keep making money because I am going to keep giving it away," he laughed. "Business and charity are closely linked. Obviously you have to make money in order to be able to give it away, but I believe also that once you are able, you have an obligation to help others in any way you can. Look, the world is not level. As I said, we all have the same dreams but sometimes some people need help. I think it is my obligation to help others and I take that very seriously," said Hendrickson.

When asked what traits he thinks young entrepreneurs need to have in order to make it in business today, he was quick to respond.

"They need to focus on two things - customers and staff. If they stay focused on that, then the rest is easy," he said. "It's our focus on our customers and our staff that has led to us investing heavily in maintaining high standards at National. I don't run my company like a third-world country. Our vehicles must look good on the road. They must be clean and our staff must be proud to wear our logo on their shirts," said Hendrickson.

"Any young entrepreneur must also be prepared to sacrifice time with loved ones. This is tough and I myself have grappled with this. However, to be successful you have to be committed to putting in the work and that takes time - a lot of it."

"Finally, I would tell anyone starting out in business to never become complacent. Keep learning and keep growing, no matter what. That is how you will stay on top. That is how you achieve success," said Hendrickson.