Engles, Gregg L.
Gregg L. Engles
Chief Executive Officer of Dean Foods
Addresses: Home—Dallas, TX. Office—Dean Foods Co., 2515 McKinney Ave., Ste. 1200, Dallas, TX 75201.
Clerk for U.S. Court of Appeals judge Anthony Kennedy, early 1980s; worked for Dallas investor, 1983–84; real estate investor, 1985–88; chair and chief executive officer, Reddy Ice, 1988–95; president, Engles Management Corporation, 1993–94; chair and chief executive officer, Suiza Foods Corporation, 1994–2001; Dean Foods, vice chair and chief executive officer, 2001–02, chair and chief executive officer, April 2002–.
Gregg L. Engles serves as chief executive officer and board chair of Dean Foods, the number-one processor and distributor of milk and milk products in the United States. Little known outside of the dairy world, Engles almost single-handedly consolidated that industry in the 1990s as he bought and merged dozens of small regional producers. He credits his law-school background as one of the keys to his success in negotiating deals. "I never wanted to be a lawyer," he told Cathy Sivak, a writer for Dairy Field, "but I thought it was good general training for the business world."
Born in 1957 in Durant, Oklahoma, Engles came from a family with an ardent devotion to educational pursuits. His father, a doctor, was one of four physicians among his five brothers; their mother had once been a teacher, and in her later years ran an informal preschool for her grandchildren out of her home. "She was totally committed to the notion that education would be what would separate people in the future in terms of personal success," Engles recalled in the interview with Sivak for Dairy Field.
Engles moved to the Denver, Colorado, area with his family when he was eight years old, and earned his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He went on to Yale University School of Law, and served a clerkship—an internship of sorts for law school students or new graduates—with Anthony Kennedy, a judge with the United States Court of Appeals' Ninth Circuit in San Francisco; Kennedy would later be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Engles, however, was unsure about his own long-term prospects in the field: He took and passed the bar exams for Colorado and Texas, and practiced briefly, but realized that most of the young attorneys a few years his senior did not seem to derive much satisfaction from their jobs. The entrepreneurs he came to know, by contrast, were enthusiastic and energized by their careers.
Engles took a job in the office of a Dallas investor in order to gain some practical experience. His first idea for a business venture involved a scheme to sell time-shares for corporate aircraft, but he was unable to convince enough potential investors. The plan proved slightly ahead of its time, for similar ventures in the late 1990s catering to the executive class in need of access to a private jet became extremely popular. In 1985, Engles joined with a business partner and began to make investments in Texas real estate. A few years later, the local market fell into a slump and Engles lost a great deal of money. But he and the business partner had better luck with their next scheme: They borrowed nearly all of the $26 million purchase price for a packaged-ice company in Texas that was the original product for the company that became the Southland Corporation, owners and franchisers of 7-11 stores. Southland was heavily in debt at the time and forced to sell off a few subsidiaries, including Reddy Ice.
After acquiring Reddy Ice in 1988, Engles began buying other small regional ice companies and folding them into the business. Within a few years Reddy Ice became the largest packaged-ice company in the United States. A business mentor who had worked in the dairy industry for many years then suggested that the milk business might be a good candidate for the same type of consolidation. Both products needed reliable refrigerated transportation, and had been dominated by local companies for decades. Moreover, the U.S. supermarket industry was undergoing a wave of consolidation, and the larger companies that were coming to dominate the market were interested in dealing with one major dairy supplier, instead of several small regional ones.
Engles followed the advice and bought Suiza Dairy of San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1993, soon merging it with Reddy Ice and folding a newly acquired Florida dairy, Velda Farms, into the operations as well. Over the next few years, Engles began buying more dairies and consolidating operations until the newly renamed Suiza Foods Corporation became a publicly traded company in 1996. It reached the $1 billion sales mark a year later, and Engles decided to sell off the ice business to concentrate solely on the dairy market.
Between 1996 and 2000, Suiza bought 40 more dairy producers in deals that Engles negotiated personally. Then, in December of 2001 he bought Dean Foods, and merged it with Suiza in a $2.5 billion deal. The Chicago-based Dean Foods was the only other dairy company besides Suiza that had a national presence, and Engles decided to keep the Dean brand name for the newly merged company, which cornered almost one-third of the U.S. milk market. It also posts strong sales in the milk-alternative market with its Silk soy milk and Lactaid lactose-reduced milk products, and makes a raft of other grocery-store items as well, such as Horizon organic dairy products, International Delight coffee creamers, and Morningstar Foods frozen products.
Married with one child, Engles presides over a Dallas-based company with 27,000 employees and 2005 revenues of $2.57 billion. Often, the dairies that came under the Suiza or Dean Foods umbrella were family-run businesses, but "many of the next generation wanted to go off and do new things," Engles explained to Rocky Mountain News journalist Janet Forgrieve. "It turned into a great thing all around." He also felt that he was involved in a business with a legacy of strong intergenerational values not unlike the ones with which he was raised. When Sivak, the Dairy Field writer, asked him what the favorite part of his job was, he replied that it was "the wholesomeness of it, and I don't mean just the product. The industry is just chock full of really nice people with outstanding personal and professional values." He did admit, however, that the same factor also presented the most challenging part of his job. Noting that dairy farmers regularly get up long before dawn to start the day's milking, Engles told Sivak that "I hate the feeling that I spend between 8:30 to 11 a.m. catching up with people who have already finished their day."
Dairy Field, October 1999.
Forbes, January 10, 2000, p. 136.
Investor's Business Daily, October 10, 2001, p. A10.
Rocky Mountain News, April 10, 2004, p. 1C.