When Greg Kurr accepted a route salesman position with Kemps in 1985, the thought never crossed his mind that he would one day be running the company as chief executive officer. But guidance from leaders throughout Kemps, coupled with Kurr’s passion for the industry and his appetite for challenge, earned him the title in 2013.
Now, Kurr says he continues to find rewarding challenges in managing a 100-year-old company — a milestone he says only a fraction of a percent of companies ever achieve, according to a customer with whom he worked.
“Being CEO of a company that’s celebrating 100 years and has a strong heritage is such an honor,” he says. “There’s a responsibility knowing you’re leading an organization that’s in the top 99.99 percent of all companies relative to longevity.”
Kurr’s nearly 30-year career with Kemps began as a truck driver working out of the Brainerd, Minn., distribution warehouse. He spent two years as a route salesman and loved the job, but he says he couldn’t pass up an opportunity in retail sales in 1987.
Since then, Kurr has held a number of sales and distribution positions, including 16 years as corporate vice president of sales.
“I have appreciated every position I was ever given, and I’ve enjoyed working with my peers and building relationships along the way,” Kurr says. “I was fortunate to have a 30-year education working for great leaders.”
One of those leaders was former Kemps CEO Jim Green, whom Kurr worked with for 21 years and provided valuable coaching and mentorship. Without the guidance of Green and other colleagues at Kemps, Kurr says he wouldn’t be where he is today.
But Kurr’s motivation and love for the industry predates his involvement with Kemps. His father owned a dairy distributorship in northern Minnesota when Kurr was growing up. The family had about 10 retail and home delivery routes selling milk and ice cream, and Kurr worked for his dad during the summer months while he was going to school.
“One of my first jobs was driving a home delivery truck, where I had over 100 home accounts around Gull Lake,” Kurr says.
The business had him officially hooked on the dairy industry, so when his father sold the distributorship, Kurr applied for the route salesman job at Kemps.
“I loved trying to win at retail, to try to out-merchandise our competitors,” he says. “All these things motivated me at a young age. It was all about the challenge of competing in the dairy business.”
That competitive nature still drives Kurr today, and he is always pushing to challenge himself, his employees and Kemps as a company.
Kemps, which was purchased by Dairy Farmers of Americain 2011, has been a staple throughout the region since 1914, but Kurr says the business changes rapidly, and one of his primary responsibilities is to always question the company’s focus and priorities relative to what’s happening in the marketplace. Part of ensuring that Kemps continues to be competitive in the marketplace is challenging the status quo.
“We are always challenging ourselves on how we can do things better,” Kurr says. “Kemps has a great culture and established values. I see one of my other greatest responsibilities as making sure, simply put, that Kemps is a place people want to work and a company they’re proud to work for.”
The defining value for Kemps’ culture is the emphasis the company places on family.
“Our purpose statement is ‘we nourish families,’” Kurr says. “We nourish families in a number of different ways: through the wholesome dairy products we provide, through treating each other with respect at Kemps in a family environment, and through supporting the communities we serve.”
Kurr says his wife, Dawn, has been extremely supportive throughout his career and helped to build great relationships with customers as well.
Kurr and Dawn recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary and the arrival of their first grandchild, daughter Ashley’s son, Rocco. Their son Kyle was married last fall, so Kurr says family life has been exciting and has kept him busy.
Even when Kerr is not in the office, his family life includes a taste of Kemps. Specifically, it’s a container of Top the Tater.
“It’s a staple for our family,” Kurr says. “We buy the family size, and can go through a couple each weekend.”
Top the Tater is a sour cream-based product for use with potatoes or to accompany snacks. Kurr says the product is something the family sets out with a bag of chips to munch on while they’re spending quality time together. For the Kurrs, it’s a family tradition.
“I think the fact that family resonates from our farmer-owners in DFA, in our purpose statement and in our personal lives is a neat thing,” Kurr says. “Family is woven throughout Kemps and DFA, and it’s something that defines Kemps and our employees.”