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Leading People: How President and Chief Growth Officer Casey Richards aims to lead a growth-minded team

Casey Richards, President and Chief Growth Officer

Casey leads our new growth-focused center of excellence called Accelerate, and shares his vision for a collaborative environment where his team can think differently about how to drive growth in Maple Leaf Foods’ future  

Casey Richards joined the Maple Leaf Foods family six years ago as general manager of our pastry business, later becoming Senior Vice President of Marketing and Innovation. In December 2022, Casey was named President and Chief Growth Officer, and leader of our new growth-focused center of excellence called Accelerate.

Accelerate combines four distinct disciplines within our business: data-driven insights and analytics, innovation & new food and packaging technologies, brand marketing, and e-commerce and the digital consumer experience.

Accelerate’s purpose is to support the growth of our base business while also sparking new capabilities and new avenues to accelerate growth. Casey aims to help write Maple Leaf Foods’ next chapter with his food expertise and empowering leadership style. 

You’ve quickly risen to an important leadership position in our company. What has your career at Maple Leaf Foods taught you about leadership? What has your career journey through Maple Leaf Foods been like? 

I’m a huge believer that if you surround yourself with great people and align on clear direction, and really trust those people to do their jobs, then leadership becomes pretty easy, and results follow.

I know Maple Leaf Foods is really blessed to have an immensely talented group of people who are committed to this company and to winning. They hunger to feel empowered to make an impact on a day-to-day basis. Allowing them to do so is what’s helped me be successful so far.

Your new role recognizes your strength as a great leader — how did you develop those leadership characteristics over the course of your career? 

I have a personal philosophy that I want to be the kind of leader who I would want to work for. So, I try to hold myself to that and examine my own behaviours as a leader.

But I’m also a deep believer that from every leader, you should be able to take away both good and bad. I’ve tried to make it a habit throughout my career for each person I’ve reported into, or leaders I’ve been around, to keep notes about the things that I would like to emulate. And I’ve tried to apply those in in my own roles as a leader over time.

Moving onto Accelerate — how did Maple Leaf Foods arrive at the concept for Accelerate? What can you share about the origins of it?

At Maple Leaf Foods, we manage a large complex business to a high degree of detail. Sometimes that makes it challenging for us to focus on the future and our growth. We sometimes get trapped in the challenges of the moment. The idea behind Accelerate was to pull out some disciplines from the business that are particularly important to growth and to create space for them to drive external focus and define new pathways for growth. We want those folks to come in every day and think differently about how we’re going to grow this business in the future.

These disciplines are obviously going to continue to support the core part of the business. But by separating them out, the intent is to create some space for them to be able to focus more on the future and not just on the moment.

You indicated that the idea behind Accelerate is to drive synergies within and across disciplines. Can you explain how it will drive those synergies?

The four distinct disciplines within Accelerate are data-driven insights and analytics, innovation & new food and packaging technologies, brand marketing, and e-commerce and the digital consumer experience. Those are distinct functions led by leaders with expertise in those areas, but they’re also highly interrelated.

For example, effective innovation improves your ability to grow your brands. How you show up in the digital space is dependent on how effective your brand building is. Robust insights and analytics play a huge role in developing successful innovation or effective brand campaigns.

The idea behind Accelerate is they’re all now on the same team. Even though the disciplines and accountabilities are distinct, there’s opportunity for cross-pollination in driving synergies across these ‘growth driving disciplines.’

Five years from now, what impact would you like Accelerate to have on this company? 

We’ve stated that we think we’ve hit a bit of an inflection point in our journey as a company to move from a traditional manufacturing company to a growth-oriented branded CPG company. We’re moving from what we call the transformational period to what we hope now becomes a period where we can leverage a strong foundation to drive sustained growth.

I would like to believe that Accelerate will play a critical role in helping realize that vision.

Can you share a little about your family?

People might be surprised to learn that I’m American. I was born and raised in the U.S., and I moved here with my family in August of last year. I really love it here and hope to be here for some time to come. I brought my wife, our dog, and two of my four kids with me, and the other two are at college in the U.S.

Maple Leaf Foods places a high value on work life balance. Given the scope of your responsibilities, how do you achieve balance?   

There are two items I would identify. First, I try really hard not to do other people’s jobs, which is often a temptation that leaders face. I trust my team to do the jobs that they’re accountable to do and not try to be engaged in everything every moment of every day.

Second, setting personal boundaries is also really important. That includes things like at certain days or times, I’m not going to check my e-mail or I’m not going to respond if it can wait until tomorrow. I think we get into this sense that everything has to be done all the time. Certainly, there are occasions when you need to break some of your own boundaries. But I think it’s really important to define what those are and then do your best to stick to them.

If we walked into your living room right now, what unusual or interesting item would we find?

In our living room, you’d find an Aztec calendar from the experience we had when my family lived in Mexico City. It was just an awesome experience and challenging in many ways, but really rewarding and interesting. Not only did we bring back an Aztec calendar, but we brought back an authentic Mexican Chihuahua – and our youngest child, who was also born there.

What hobby do you have that might surprise the company to learn about?

About a year ago, I started getting into 3D printing. I find that it really scratches an itch that I have for perfection and trying to constantly tweak things. It’s just fun to see these things build up from the ground, basically one layer at a time, and the slightest imperfection can ruin everything that comes after.  I think there’s a business lesson in there somewhere.