B.L. Frew died Sept. 25. His force of will and determination were legendary
To fully appreciate Bud Frew and his accomplishments, pause to reflect on the unique point in history during which he came to MFA: 1970. The Vietnam War raged against a backdrop of social unrest.
DDT had just been banned. Pesticides were under attack. Six percent yearly inflation was rearing its ugly head. Talk centered on recession. Interest costs were approaching historic highs, the money supply was tight and consumer prices were climbing rapidly.
Unfortunately, at MFA, politics were beginning to trump business decisions. Long-time MFA President Fred Heinkel had just turned 73 and was a strong presence on the national stage.
Simultaneously, MFA’s retail and wholesale divisions were showing signs of wear. Morale, in the United States and at MFA, was on a downward course. There had been a years-long void on updating and replacing facilities and equipment.
When Frew was hired as the No. 2 man in retail, he brought the beginnings of stability to the retail division. He began to encourage employee training. He focused laser-like on updating, modernizing and building new facilities.
Appearance mattered to Bud Frew. He began a campaign to add standardized signage and to clean up facilities. He began upgrading personnel. At the time, MFA had a number of very independent MFA managers who were hard to direct, much less manage. At the same time, MFA had a large cadre of very talented managers who needed support, cohesion and direction. Frew provided it.
He took control and noticeably improved the division. He instilled pride and financial responsibility. He was a strong supporter of management development. MFA had people who wanted to increase market share, who wanted to grow the business. Frew supported and encouraged their efforts.
There was always a fire in Bud Frew. At his funeral, one of his former colleagues called Bud a force of nature. He was a leader, he was determined, and he commanded respect and admiration. He brought that attitude to retail. It began to bleed over into other divisions. By 1985 when MFA’s corporate board named him president and CEO, Bud Frew had set in motion programs and efforts to mold MFA into a successful, financially stable agribusiness.
Frew started an aggressive expansion program. He rekindled relationships with local cooperatives. In some cases, he simply better coordinated MFA’s response to these important parts of the business. In others, he purchased locations from those wanting to sell. And he made those locations responsive to the membership.
People wanted to be on Frew’s team. He had that leadership quality. Individuals, strong-willed in their own right, knew he would be successful, and any project he led would be successful also. He made certain people knew their efforts would be rewarded with recognition and praise.
He was a great believer in surrounding himself with well-trained individuals who were leaders themselves. He pushed me on employee training—to provide it and to build teams with it. Employee training is still a subject near and dear to my heart.
One of the first times Frew and I came into professional contact was on a sales effort in which I was trying to introduce a new marketing program to the country. I spoke to Frew, head of retail, concerning my efforts.
His response? “Are you trying to load me up on inventory? What happens if farmers don’t want it?” It was typical Frew. Straight-forward, practical concerns. No beating around the bush.
“If they don’t want it,” I said, “I’ll take it back into my inventory at the warehouse, no cost to you.” He nodded his head in approval. Problem solved, as far as Frew was concerned. His approach was not confrontational. It was practical and hardnosed.
I learned early on how to best approach Bud Frew. I’d approach him and say, “Here is the issue or situation. Here are the options—a, b and c. Here are the pluses. Here are the minuses. Here’s the course I recommend and here’s why.” Frew, educated as an engineer, wanted statements of fact, and he wanted analysis.
Here’s another fact he would have downplayed. Just as his presence made a large impact, so too will his absence. I’ll miss him. So will MFA’s employees and customers who knew him. All of us owe him a debt of thanks for his legacy of success, for his accountability and for his integrity.
Bill Streeter is President and CEO of MFA Incorporated.