iFD People: John Tracy, Dot Foods

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John Tracy is executive chairman of Dot Foods, the industry’s largest redistributor, based in Mount Sterling, Ill. Founded in 1960 by John’s parents, Robert and Dorothy Tracy, Dot Foods today serves distributors across the U.S. and in 25 countries. The company was listed as 65th on the 2016 Forbes list of America’s Largest Private Companies with 2015 sales of more than $6 billion. One of 12 children, John became president in 1997, CEO in 2006 and recently moved to his role as executive chairman. He continues to be involved in industry initiatives and has been a strong leader on the IFDA (International Foodservice Distributors Association) board of directors.

What are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of what our family and our employees have been able to build from the ground up and, while doing that, being responsible for supporting more than 5,000 families with jobs and benefits.

Who are your role models?
My mom is easily my favorite role model for a multitude of reasons, although the list of people I admire is long and diverse.

What books or other reading matter are on your bedside table right now?
I love to read and always try to have a fun book and an educational book going, depending on my mood. Currently, they’re “House of Spies” by Daniel Silva and “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek.

How would you describe your leadership style?
I usually leave that question for others to answer, as I am not sure any of us is the best judge of our own personal style and how that style affects others.

What book has had the greatest impact on your leadership style?
Not one single book and too many to list, although books about leaders that are not autobiographies are generally always impactful. They portray the strengths and imperfections of great leaders and always make me think, as well as being fun to read.

What characteristic(s) do you admire most in others?
Humility, sense of humor, ongoing appetite to learn, curiosity, listening and communication

Which three people, living or dead, would you like to be marooned with on a desert island?
It would always start with my wife and kids, but after that it would include Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. They’d be a fascinating group to listen to and learn from.

How would you describe yourself in one word?
Fortunate (or lucky)

What’s one dramatic change that you predict we’ll see in within the next 10 years?
Distribution companies’ biggest competitors in almost all industries will all be technology companies, and that may happen sooner rather than later.

What keeps you up at night?
Concerns about making the wrong decision and hurting our family, company and employees’ future is always first. Specific to a part of the business, it’s concerns about having the right quality and quantity of talent needed to be prepared for the opportunities available so that we remain relevant long-term.

About iFD People: We designed iFD People as a series of blog posts to introduce foodservice distribution leaders, sales stars and others who have made or are making history in the industry and to share their personal insights. It’s part of our commitment to highlighting heritage, people and progress through iFD’s corporate history writing services.

Amazon in Talks to Buy Sysco?

Now that would be an attention-getting headline! Trouble is, it would also be fake news (at least as far as we know).

Our point is how easy it is to spread “alternative facts.” All it takes is a post on social media, particularly if it has information about famous people or, in this case, an industry leader.

Can this happen to your company? Yes, very easily. Unfortunately, there are people who use social media to spread fake news either as an underhanded competitive tactic or just because they feel like doing it.

How can you preempt being a victim of fake news? Tell the real news first and often. You know the real story of your company: what it stands for, how it has grown, the values on which it was founded, where it is headed. Your brand’s story should play an integral role in how you go to market, how you build relationships with customers, suppliers and the community. It should also be part of your consistent messaging to employees, who can be effective and credible advocates in the event that a fake news story breaks and gains traction.

Developing and communicating your company’s story is not just a feel-good exercise, it’s a critical business strategy. Your story is your promise and your biggest point of difference. Let’s face it: All broadline distributors today have essentially the same products, pricing and services. But you have something no other company has — your own unique, very real story. Don’t wait to start telling it.