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Ocean Spray’s finance chief explains why his company’s cooperative business model is so, well, fruitful. An interview with Richard Lees, CFO of Ocean Spray Cranberries.
Richard Lees has always been a consumer-products guy, spending much of his career at Pillsbury, Dannon North America (where he was CFO), and Gillette, working in cities like Minneapolis and Boston. Today, as CFO of Ocean Spray Cranberries, the 49-year-old Lees goes to work in the small town of Lakeville, Massachusetts, where his office is located next to a cranberry bog. The bog reminds him daily of what makes his company so different: it’s an agricultural cooperative, owned by more than 700 cranberry growers in the United States and Canada and a few dozen Florida grapefruit growers.
Founded in 1930 by three cranberry growers from Massachusetts and New Jersey, Ocean Spray has become a $2 billion-plus business primarily by selling just about anything that can be derived from cranberries, including a dizzying variety of drinks. But Lees says the cooperative’s members are not just in it for the money. “If you talk to our grower-owners,” he says, “they’ll talk about…”