Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

We Love Our Cows: A Conversation with Jeff Kleinpeter of Kleinpeter Farms Dairy

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

We Love Our Cows: A Conversation with Jeff Kleinpeter of Kleinpeter Farms Dairy

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

The story of Kleinpeter Farms Dairy begins with a simple fact and a resultant need. Cows must be milked every day and dairy farmers need a reliable partner to process that milk. In 1913, Sebastian Kleinpeter and his son, Léon Richard Kleinpeter, opened Kleinpeter Farms Dairy to meet the milk processing needs of dairy farmers in Baton Rouge and southern Louisiana. Like their dairy farming neighbors, the Kleinpeters also had a small herd of "woods" cows. The "creamery" or milk processing operation which started in 1913 is still thriving today nearly 100 years later. Kleinpeter Farms Dairy is the largest independent dairy in Louisiana.

Family History. The Kleinpeter family originally settled in Louisiana in 1774 when Johann George Kleinpeter arrived in Baton Rouge. During the second half of the eighteenth century, Spain, which owned the Louisiana territory at the time, attempted to contain the encroachment of Great Britain and France. The government of Spain issued a call for settlers, especially those of the Roman Catholic persuasion, to come and cultivate the land. In return for this pioneering work, the Spanish government offered generous land grants to settlers. Johann's family and eleven other Catholic families braved the treacherous trip from Maryland, coming by raft down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Often, they traveled at night through dangerous territory. Once they arrived in Louisiana, the Kleinpeters received a large land grant, including much of the acreage currently belonging to Louisiana State University. Developing deep roots, generations of Kleinpeters have remained in Baton Rouge. Some family members owned general stores, while others farmed the land, growing crops such as sugar cane or tending cows for dairy purposes.

The Guernsey Flavor. Learning from LSU agricultural professors that Guernsey cows produce milk of superior taste, Sebastian and Leon Kleinpeter decided to augment their herd of cows in late 1913 by purchasing two boxcars full of Guernsey cows from Wisconsin and bringing them by train to Baton Rouge. The experiment worked and the Kleinpeters began to specialize in milk of the Guernsey flavor. This remains one of the keys to the Kleinpeters' success even today as Kleinpeter milk is well known for its exceptional taste.

The Business Continues. Sebastian Kleinpeter passed away in 1929, but Leon Kleinpeter continued to manage the creamery business. Leon and his wife, Mary Lillian, had eleven children; of these five sons and one daughter worked in the milk processing operation extensively. Mary Lillian worked as a bookkeeper for the company for many years. Leon divided the responsibilities of the business among his children. Leon, Jr. became president, Thomas was in charge of the farm, Vincent was the corporation secretary, Michael was the plant manager, Ben was in charge of sales and delivery, and Betty served as bookkeeper following her mother. This sibling partnership managed the family business from the late 1940's until 1987.

Ben Kleinpeter Consolidates Ownership. Leon passed away in 1984, leaving the business in the hands of his children. At this point, young Ben Kleinpeter, who had spent most of his career in sales, made the bold financial decision to buy out his brothers' interest in Kleinpeter Farms Dairy. In 1987, Ben obtained a bank loan and purchased the business, paying his brothers with the proceeds. In this manner, Ben gained complete leadership of the company and steered it away from possible family entanglements.

Through a combination of hard work to increase sales and belt-tightening on expenses, Ben Kleinpeter was able to pay off the bank loan in four years. Although Ben was successful in retiring the bank loan, the amount of work and complexity of the business was almost overwhelming. Ben's sons Kenny, Ben, Jr., and Steve and daughters Mary Alice and Sue Anne worked with their father in the business. The youngest son, Jeff, entered the family firm in 1987. …

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