SOURCE Magazine Winter 2023 | Page 8

6 SOURCE | Winter 2023

Our focus over the next three years is on people , growth , and operational excellence . In retail , it ’ s all about people and you need to create a culture of value , where happy and engaged employees are supported and understand our mission .
– Steve Becraft , Southern States Cooperative CEO

The acquisitions and other start-up ventures in the late 1990s and early in the new century involved substantial borrowing . These moves , as well as other efforts to boost revenues from existing businesses , weren ’ t as successful as anticipated . Weather problems and a struggling farm economy added still more pressures . As a result , operating losses mounted , bad debt write-offs increased substantially , liquidity problems arose , and the condition of the balance sheet deteriorated , leaving the company in a highly leveraged position .
With a desire to focus on its strengths as a retailer serving its members locally , Southern States implemented a plan to exit the wholesale business . In 2017 , it sold its feed manufacturing business to Cargill Animal Nutrition , along with its retail agronomy outlets in Georgia and Alabama to CPS . In 2020 , GROWMARK acquired its wholesale energy and wholesale agronomy businesses .
“ GROWMARK ’ s cultural impact has been important ,” notes Becraft . “ We had a similar culture in that we were completely geared to serve our farmer owners .”
Steve Becraft was named Chief Executive Officer in 2021 .
Becraft joined Southern States in 2016 as Executive Vice President of Agronomy and then was promoted to Chief Operational Officer in 2019 . By 2021 , he would be named CEO of Southern States .
“ Southern States has always had the customer at the center , but we needed to have the discipline to serve our customers in a sustainable way ,” adds Becraft . “ We ’ ve done a lot of restructuring and have built our own leadership team – some external hires and some internal promotions . We are blessed to have some younger leaders , so we are developing talent while at the same time having the courage to establish expectations and adapt as we go .”
One of those expectations is developing a growth strategy for the future , working in conjunction with key contacts at GROWMARK such as Shelly Kruse , Executive Director of Strategic Relationships .