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Well-Being at the Business of the Year

Henny Penny Corporation, Eaton, Ohio, was recently named Dayton Business Journal’s 2021 Business of the Year. It’s a terrific honor and we take a certain amount of pride in being recognized for the effort our employee-owners put in every day and the accomplishments that result. But it goes deeper than that. We see this as a validation of what we have, for decades, simply called the Henny Penny Culture. 

What is that difference? Is there something unique about this 900+ employee-owner manufacturing company that was founded in small-town Ohio and never budged? In this 5-part blog series, we’ll hear from some of the individuals who understand best the hows and the whys behind the things Henny Penny does and believes in that have made our company not only a Midwestern success story, but a highly regarded global brand in the commercial foodservice equipment industry.

When someone says “Henny Penny has a people-first culture” they aren’t kidding. After all, the Dayton Business Journal’s 2021 Business of the Year is owned by the people who work there. That happened in 2015 when the Cobb family—sole owners of the company since 1975—initiated an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), essentially selling Henny Penny to its employees.

ESOPs are still relatively uncommon in the corporate world, but they offer a sound exit strategy for private owners of a well-capitalized business while providing exceptional financial benefits to long-term employees. According to Cindy Simpson, Senior Business Analyst, it’s also a great recruiting tool.

“It really fits our culture. We all literally have a vested interest in each other’s success. People care about Henny Penny. They take pride in their work, in shaping the future of the community.”

The community is Eaton, Ohio, a small town 50 miles west of Dayton, and the surrounding Preble County area. The “culture” is a little harder to define, although employee well-being is at the center of things. The Cobb family believed without reservation that the strength of a company lay in the talent, dedication, and well-being of those who worked there. As Henny Penny grew well beyond the point where everyone knew everyone else, the need became even greater to properly manage the things that would sustain an employee-centric culture and continue to attract people who would thrive in and drive it. Today, that effort is led by Jennifer Leen, Henny Penny Director of Well Being.

“I’ve seen firsthand that when an employee is fulfilled at work, they naturally produce amazing results.” According to Leen, it’s not just about being happy or energetic but also about being resilient enough to overcome inevitable obstacles, to see beyond your own efforts to a larger, collective purpose.

Well-being at Henny Penny encompasses employee benefits but is not limited to them. Leen makes sure opportunities for engagement are part of a holistic approach that considers physical, mental, financial, and social health.

Like many companies, Henny Penny encourages physical fitness by offering employees discounted gym memberships, in our case, to the local YMCA. But in 2020, we took physical well-being a step further by partnering with Kettering Health to open the Henny Penny Cares Clinic. The Cares Clinic provides onsite access to quality healthcare and is open to employees free of charge three days a week during all shifts. A simple move, but a huge hit with employees. And why not? Making healthcare—especially preventative healthcare—convenient goes a long way to making it happen.

A separate mental health initiative soon followed. An Employee Assistance Councilor employed by Curalinc is available onsite twice a week for employees to talk about anything on their minds in complete confidentiality. “Those who take advantage of this will find welcome help in managing stress, building resilience and improving focus in their work life and in their relationships with others,” says Leen.

The same goes for financial health. “Finances are a major source of stress. Working toward a secure financial future is a goal of Well Being, and building wealth is something that we all want but aren’t always sure how to achieve. Just having a professional available free of charge to point out a few things about the ESOP, HSAs, 401Ks, or other finance-related benefits can be tremendously helpful.”

Social health is really about service to others, whether within the company or out in the community. “Giving is good for you,” says Leen with a smile. “To be grateful for something and in turn provide service is to hold what you and those around you do in higher regard.”

In fact, philanthropy may be the bedrock of Henny Penny culture. The Cobb family believed in giving back to the community. It was where they lived, where their company’s employees lived. It’s where our global headquarters remains to this day and where it will stay.

“The Cobbs led by example,” says Tina O’Neal. “The old timers saw that. As new people come in, they hear about it. It is impressed upon them that this is what we do. We give back.”

O’Neal is a Global Account Manager, responsible for customer relationships with key strategic accounts. She’s been with the company for about five years. She’s also the outgoing chair of the Henny Penny Employee Foundation (HPEF) board. The HPEF is funded exclusively by employee contributions and is comprised of a cross functional group of 10-12 employees. It is completely separate from the much larger philanthropic projects undertaken by the Henny Penny corporate foundation.

Each year a small group of employees called The Giving Team volunteers to raise funds within the organization for the HPEF to award to community grant applications. O’Neal says the awards are anywhere from a few hundred dollars to support a local Boy Scout banquet to ongoing gifts of $10,000 to organizations engaged in unduplicated service like Gigi’s Kitchen that focuses on cooking, food safety, shared meals and social activities for those with Down Syndrome.

“The Giving Team’s efforts are vital, particularly with the healthcare and financial challenges facing the community from Covid.” Each year, Henny Penny gives out the Making A Difference Award to an employee in recognition of efforts that go above and beyond. In 2021, that award went to every member of the Giving Team.

Leen feels like the Henny Penny Employee Foundation is a unique piece. “Seeing how it works, I would say it is a good example of the outward expression of Henny Penny’s internal culture.”

Thinking and acting like owners, participating in cross-functional decision-making and having so many opportunities and resources available, is how the Henny Penny culture thrives. “It’s somewhat intangible and invisible,” says Leen, “but it is woven into the fabric of what it means to work here.”

The Henny Penny culture extends beyond the well-being of our employees to how we approach business relationships with our customers and industry, a topic we’ll explore in Part 2.