At the beginning of 2011, to say that our staff was spread too thin would have been one of the world’s all-time understatements. My production supervisor had recently quit. I was working long hours, sometimes through the night. We were still adjusting to bringing our own freeze drying operation in-house. We were growing like a weed and having a hard time keeping up with demand. I was putting out fires left and right, all while hosting a perpetual knot in my stomach. After owning Sojos for 15 years, I was running on fumes.
My wife and I decided that we needed to hire an Operations Manager and that led us to meet Frank Sud. From the moment we shook hands, I knew what a special person we had found in Frank. We offered him the job immediately and had to wait four long weeks before his start date. Bringing in someone from the outside to run our operations put Frank in a difficult position to win over our staff – but everyone quickly fell in love with him. He had a calmness and confidence about him that was infectious. His management style was firm, yet empowering. He inspired people to be their best. Frank quickly helped Sojos through over a hundred process improvements as the quality and consistency of our products went up while we became more efficient at making them. Seeing what Frank did with our operations, Maggie and I decided to hand over the keys to the business and have Frank take over as General Manager. My team grew even closer together, now with all departments rallying around Frank’s enthusiasm for Sojos.
Frank continued to attract and develop great people, and unleash their potential. In Frank we had more than a great employee – we had a partner. No matter the challenge, he put a smile on my face and helped me trust my team to tackle it. Not only did he ensure that I never again worked through the night – I actually got to take time off! (And that knot in my stomach gradually subsided.)
When I received a call late in the evening, on October 8 from one of my supervisors, I feared a colossal machinery breakdown. I wish that had been the case. Instead, he was calling me with news that Frank had passed away suddenly from a rare heart disorder. I felt like a rug had literally been pulled out from under me. It wasn’t until the next day, looking around a room full of my employees mourning the sudden loss of their friend, mentor, and father-figure that I realized the impact that Frank had had on everyone at Sojos – not just me.
In the days since, my staff and I have cried, mourned, and wondered how we could move on without Frank. But ultimately we have discovered that Frank had been training us all along to survive without him. People that Frank took under his wing have blossomed to become the leaders that he always believed they could be. Make no mistake, none of us can replace Frank. But each of us is carrying a piece of him with us, every day, in everything we do. Frank’s motto at Sojos was “We Got This”. Those words are now permanently etched into a stained-glass memorial to Frank hanging in our building. They are a constant reminder to us to bring Frank's message into our daily lives and make him proud.
Ward Johnson, Owner/President