Well Done: Company’s Best Interests at Stake for Omaha Steaks CEOAug 01, 2022 11:54AM ● By Joel Stevens
Photo by Sarah Lemke
Todd Simon doesn’t quite recall his first job at Omaha Steaks, which is understandable. He spent his first years bouncing between a dozen of what he called “mini apprenticeships,” throughout the family-owned company Todd’s great-great-grandfather (B.A. Simon) and great-granduncle (J.J. Simon) started as a small butcher shop in downtown Omaha 100 years ago. The Simon family has since expanded Omaha Steaks into a world-famous brand.
Todd worked in the plant and in food service. He punched the clock in retail stores. He worked in the marketing, distribution, and procurement departments. He even learned to cut steaks.
“I think the thing my dad and my uncles were really conscious and thoughtful about was that you couldn’t just bring this new kid from the family into the business to displace somebody,” Todd said. “That would send the wrong message. So, they had me wait patiently for a natural opportunity to present itself.”
Todd’s first shot at management came when a spot opened to run the company’s then-chain of 14 retail stores.
“I had already spent some time working in the stores,” he said. “It felt like a natural evolution.”
Similar words might chart Todd’s path to chairman and CEO of Omaha Steaks International, Inc. At age 57, he took over the company following the unexpected death of his cousin, longtime chairman and CEO Bruce Simon, in February 2021. For more than three decades, Bruce and Todd worked side-by-side—along with their fathers, Alan and Fred—to grow Omaha Steaks into the largest direct shipper of gourmet foods in the U.S.
Today, the company has 2,000 team members, 85 retail stores in 29 states, and millions of active customers globally shopping a 400-item
“I like to say we’re a family-owned, professionally operated business,” Todd said. “As long as I’ve been with the business, which is close to 40 years, we’ve always had an extremely strong professional management team that has been participating with, and supporting, the family leadership in the business. You can’t run a business that has close to 2,000 team members without having a really strong professional team.”
For all of Todd Simon’s career, management of Omaha Steaks has been a family effort. As the fourth generation of the Simon family passed the operational leadership torch to the fifth generation, which included Todd and Bruce, the pair divvied up leadership responsibilities.
“While we had clear areas of responsibility, we both knew enough about what each was doing,”
Bruce’s death was sudden and shocking for the Simon family. His passing also sent ripples through the company he headed for nearly two decades.
“He was seven years older than me,” Todd said. “I think one of the things that’s important in a family business is that you really have this clear line of command, so to speak. He was the CEO. He was the final decision-maker, he was the leader of the business. And everyone was comfortable with that, including me. There has to be someone who is in that role.”
Simon stepping into the CEO role wasn’t by accident.
In 2019, Todd and Bruce began discussing a management succession plan to ensure the Simon family business would remain in good hands.
In June 2020, they promoted Nate Rempe, the company’s first nonfamily president and chief operating officer. They charged him with developing the next level of company leadership.
Todd became the company’s CEO-in-waiting.
“If we had been in a situation where every major decision had to start and stop with the CEO, it might have been daunting, and probably pretty difficult,” Todd said.
He feels that early planning fostered an environment for him to thrive as what he called “a new kind of CEO” at the company.
“Rather than feel isolated at that moment, I felt incredibly supported by a team that could step in and handle the operation, operate independently, and make decisions that could put me, as the CEO, to [manage] the overall strategy of the business without all of the sudden having 100 decisions to make,” Todd said.
He also said ultimately what’s made the Omaha Steaks brand so successful is its dedication to being “where the customers are.” Innovation, technology, and good old-fashioned listening to customers spurred the company’s growth from mail orders to retail stores to e-commerce and their own app. When the pandemic hit in 2020, forcing lockdowns and disrupting traditional brick-and-mortar retail and restaurant options, that versatility positioned the company well, and it showed in their market gains.
“We’re channel agnostic,” Todd said. “We want to be where our customers want us to be. For many years, we sold just direct. And then the market told us as good as our direct [business] is, most people aren’t buying their steaks direct, so we opened retail stores so we can be where our customers are.”
Getting to where customers are and staying there are, admittedly, two very different propositions. Todd said Omaha Steaks has a 93% brand recognition among adults—a number far exceeding any other beef brand or “virtual butcher shop” out there.
“We’re staying focused and doing what we’ve always done with the idea of continuously improving that,” Todd said. “We’ve been selling steak and other foods directly to consumers since the mid-’50s. We have a pretty large knowledge base on how to do that and how to do that well. We’ve developed all the systems and processes that are required to do that and deliver an amazing experience to our customers every time.”
But that dominant market share didn’t happen on its own. It’s a result, Todd said, of significant investments in quality, and advertising and marketing a brand that humbly started in 1917 with two Latvian immigrant brothers and their big dreams for the meat business.
“People have ordered it, people’s parents have ordered it, people have received them as gifts, their companies have gifted them, they’ve seen it on restaurant menus,” Todd said. “I like to say we’re an overnight success that took 100 years.”
Visit omahasteaks.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2022 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.