Clover Sonoma Farms CEO continues natural evolution of family dairy business

By Richard Procter

Published May 27, 2016 – San Francisco Business Times

Marcus Benedetti has three children, two boys and a girl, aged 11, 9, and 7, respectively. He’s never told them that he’s the CEO of Clover Stornetta Farms.

“That’s how we wanted it,” he said.

The kids know he works there; they just don’t know that he’s the third generation of Benedetti to run the dairy processing company, he said. The goal, obviously, is to reduce pressure on the kids to feel obligated to join the family business, which pulled in $210 million in revenue in 2015. Benedetti and his wife want their children to go to college before they even begin to worry about whether or not they’ll join Clover Stornetta as employees.

Founded in 1977 by Gene Benedetti, Clover Stornetta has been a fixture in Petaluma since the late 1950s, when its precursor was known as the Petaluma Cooperative Creamery. Today, the company boasts more than 220 employees and sells a wide variety of dairy products, both organic and not.

The family aspect of Clover Stornetta has long been a strength of the company. The closeness and constant discussion between Gene and Marcus’ father, Dan Benedetti, inspired Marcus to join the business. He worked his way up from driving a milk truck to becoming company president in 2006. In 2010, Marcus became CEO as well, and assumed the title of president this past year when the last second-generation Benedettis fully retired from the company. According to Marcus, a key of the company’s success is to actually avoid special treatment of family members within the business.

“Allow the merits of family members and outsiders to rise as they would in any organization,” he said. “The stakeholders have to decide what the priority is. Is it the family or the business? Otherwise, they become indistinguishable. If the priority is the family… the family can bring the business down.”

While Marcus’ managerial philosophy may be merit-based, those outside the company say working with Clover Stornetta can feel like being part of the family, which has been an asset over the years. John Bucher owns Bucher Farms, one of the many local farms that produces milk for Clover Stornetta. His farm has supplied milk for Clover Stornetta since 1999.

“It’s been a really great experience,” Bucher said. “Working with Clover is like working with an extended family. They treat us that way. Just like any family, there are ups and downs, but when push comes to shove they’re always there for us.”

Neil McIsaac II is a fourth-generation dairy farmer and owner of Neil McIsaac & Son Dairy, another Clover Stornetta farm. Like Bucher, McIsaac’s family has known the Benedettis for decades, since before the company was founded. When several local farms were debating whether or not to leave their current co-op or join Clover Stornetta around the turn of the millennium, the familial relationships played a large role in the McIsaacs choosing Clover, McIsaac said.

“We weren’t going to go to just anybody,” he said. “We’ve been treated, so to speak, as a family. (Clover Stornetta) is locally owned. I don’t know that you’d have the continuity that you have if they weren’t a family-owned business. The same values or the way they look at things.”

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