What is your official title?
President and Chief Operating Officer at Kalsec.
What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?
Two thirds of the time, my average day is in Kalamazoo; one third of the time its traveling for Kalsec somewhere around the world. If I’m in town, my day is filled with meetings with different functions and contributors to the company. We are a manufacturing company; we source our own products in a majority of the cases, and then we make finished goods as a business to business model, working on food ingredients and hop extracts. If I’m traveling international, I’m usually visiting a customer or one of our foreign offices where we have sales and marketing, applications, and research activities.
What is Kalsec and who are some of your customers?
The company is 57 years old, and we are basic extractors; we take products from nature and create natural colors, natural flavors and natural antioxidants and sell them to businesses. We also take hops and make different formulas from the bitterness and flavor components found in them and sell them to major breweries worldwide. We sell our food ingredients to customers that could be anyone from McDonald’s to Whole Foods and everyone in between. The four biggest brewers in the world use our products. We also recently launched a line of hop ingredients to be used for bittering and flavoring beer that is available on Amazon.
Kalsec stands for Kalamazoo Spice Extraction Company and is owned by the Todd family.
What community projects are you involved with? How is Kalsec involved?
The emphasis and desire to work in the beer business started in the company over 30 years ago. A lot of brewers then used whole hops and leaf hops to flavor and bitter their beer; it’s a pretty raw product that goes into a kettle, and through the fermentation process, the bittering and flavoring comes through. Kalsec started working on extracts made from hop cones and we identified and isolated the bittering compounds, then identified the different flavoring components in the hop oil. We pulled those apart from the raw material, then we add those together to make different formulas to make a beer taste like an IPA or a lager, or other types of beers.
Before Kalsec made one of their big inventions, beer that would be put in a clear bottle would become skunky; it would taste bad because it would be light struck, and a light struck beer before these hop products tasted bad. Kalsec designed a product that was unique, and through that process you could actually flavor a beer and prevent the light struck impact on the flavor, which is what really started the clear glass bottles. We worked a lot with Miller Brewing Company on Genuine Miller Draft, which was the first one served in a clear bottle; we have a patent for that invention. From there we were able to expand our beer business.
In the United States, the craft brewing business has really exploded; 8% of the beer sold is from the craft beer industry, and there are 3000 brewers doing that. The other 92% goes through the big brewing industries, like Budweiser. Half of the hops in this country go into 92% by the big guys, and the other half of the hops go into the 8%. There’s such a revolution in the flavorful beers that we have gotten interested in promoting that and nurturing the growth of this industry.. Kalsec worked with KVCC, who started the Sustainable Brewing Program, which took people who were interested in working in the brewing industry, and gave them the opportunity to get a two-year degree, working on how to make beer. Those individuals who graduate from KVCC, if they wanted to go on for two more years, they could go onto a program at Western and get a four year brewing degree. It’s a great partnership between the KVCC, Western and Kalsec. With Kalsec’s involvement and donation of funds and resources, we were able to get the program at KVCC named after Kalsec. It’ll start in the fall with classes. Marilyn Schlack at KVCC has been very instrumental in making all of this happen and providing educational opportunities for students interested in working in this industry.
Can you tell us about your background/passion?
I came to town in 1993 to work for Upjohn and did that for five years. It went through quite a few changes and transformations, and about the time I was finishing up there and facing another transition, the position at Kalsec opened up. I have two daughters that I raised in town, so based on that I’ve been here about 23 years. They went to Portage Northern, and then both went on to Michigan. Along the way, I got my MBA at Michigan State, so I haven’t talked to them since then (laughs). I also really like gardening; we have a beautiful garden that gets a lot of sunlight. We have blueberries and lots of nice vegetables. It’s been hot this summer, but lots of rain, which is good. I love to travel with my family and I ran in a few marathons along the way.
What do you love most about Kalamazoo?
I’ve traveled a lot and lived in a lot of different places, and from those experiences, I can see all of the things I really appreciate about this community. First off, you see a lot of great generosity and charity in the community from the Promise, to supporters Big Brothers, Big Sisters and many other examples The investment that people make in the community has great traction for people who live here. It’s sometimes hard to get people to move here when you recruit them, but once they get here it’s hard for them to leave. The college atmosphere is great. This community brings in great entertainment. It’s very diversified from the automobile industry, so there’s a lot of entrepreneurs here and different industries represented. There’s a nice mix of recreational and sporting options – golfing, biking – and I love that Lake Michigan is nearby.
What do you think can be improved about Kalamazoo?
Probably there are some investments in infrastructure that could help. I think some of the roads are getting improved, but because of the Michigan winters, that’s always a factor. I think improving the amount of funding that goes to the school system could improve. The Promise is a great avenue to get kids to college, but along the way to getting to high school, there still have to be educational programs and facilities to improve the grade schools. We probably also need a five-star quarterback recruit for Western; have you seen their schedule? Also, public transportation could also be a great investment.
What have you been jammin’ to recently?
Well I have Sirius radio, and I liked when they had Billy Joel radio station. I try to get off of the Bridge and the Blend and try to get into some of the other wild ones, but always come back to those. I like the NFL channel; I’m a Green Bay Packers fan.
How do you take your coffee?…or do you?
If my wife is buying the milk it’s 0%, if she’s out of town it’s half and half.
Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?
I really like the bike trail to Lake Michigan; it’s a challenging ride for a whole group of friends. If I go one or two times a year, that’s usually pretty good. I enjoy biking along there, and the development of the biking path throughout the community is also really nice. I like the downtown area and Art Hop, but mainly I like to see the development of the downtown area and how it’s becoming a cool place for everyone to hang out.
Do you use downtown to help you when you’re recruiting people to Kalsec?
There are some really nice restaurants downtown, and we like to show potential employees or visitors some of the recreational spots around town. Then we take them to the little lake I live on, Lake Hill and Brook, and tell them it’s Lake Michigan.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Fireman. Well, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but then I discovered that it’s a lot of work and you don’t just put cats to sleep, so I moved on. I have a rescue dog – there’s a great rescue dog community here in town. I wanted to be an attorney, and I wanted to go to the University of Wisconsin to study law, but about two years before I went to college, the math building was blown up by the group of students that followed ( SDS) and people like Abbie Hoffman; one of the groups that splintered off from that. Anyway, they blew up the math building, and my father said it would be like going to the Berkeley of the Midwest, so he wouldn’t help support me going to school there. I got involved in agriculture, which is near the word attorney in the alphabet. For undergrad, I got a track scholarship to go to the University of Arkansas, so I started there. The coach that coached the track and cross country teams at the University of Arkansas has won more individual NCAA championships than all but three schools’ sports programs combined. I ran the mile – my best time was 4:13. He was a pretty inspirational, amazing coach. He was from Ireland, so he’d give us these fiery speeches. His first year there was also my first year. He made quite an impression on me as did my major professor when I got my PhD in Plant Genetics.
Who would play you in a movie?
I do get compared to Bill Murray a lot, but I see more of Steve Martin in me.
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
I would say, I feel pretty good about where I’m at in my life and what I’ve accomplished and the relationships I have, but I’ve had to make some sacrifices along the way. I would say that I probably could have spent more time on quality of life and family balance along the way and that’s important to remember.
Favorite spot you’ve traveled to?
I think I’ve been to 100 different countries, which is quite a bit. I’ve always found great things in the places I’ve traveled, and I’ve met wonderful people. It’s funny, once you get to talking to people from all over the world, you realize that at some level, everyone has the same needs and desires in life, regardless of what country they’re from. One time, I was sitting at table in a restaurant in Western China with about 15 people, and we went around the table and said “If you had one wish for the world, it would be…” And it was fascinating. The woman next to me said that she hoped the Communist party would approve her having another child. That leaves you with quite a pit in your stomach. The guy next to her says, “My one wish is that my children will have as good of a life or better life than I had.” When you go around the table and meet people from a different culture, you find out they really want the same things you want. It’s not typically about money or power, it’s about truly genuine human needs and desires that can be simple and honest.
The best place I go to is the last place I traveled, which for me, was Portugal. I had never been before; it’s so amazing. Walking around the country, it’s about the size of California, and it’s a pretty big party atmosphere and friendly and very interesting. My wife and I went to celebrate our anniversary and that was special as well.. We ate barbecued sardines, which usually you think you open up in a can, but they were so delicious and not anything like a canned sardine.
How do you think bringing new programs like the Sustainable Brewing Program makes an impact on the community?
I think a lot of the programs are really aimed at improving the lives of people who don’t have the same opportunities or haven’t had the same benefits that some of us have had. You see in the U.S. that most everyone is in the upper 10% of the world with all of the energy we consume, the jobs we have, the health, the affordable food, the safety, all of that. What really happens in a lot of the programs is that they generate the same opportunities for less fortunate people that live in the community. I was up on the campus dropping off some donations for the Seita Scholars Program. This community has a reputation for a renowned Seita Scholars. These are kids that were in foster homes, then turn 18 and their foster program is over, and some of them go to college. In college they don’t have a connection to a home, so this program takes these kids in and pairs them up with people in the community. They were finding that there were situations like the dorms closing for the winter and the kids didn’t have a home to go to, so they were sleeping under bridges or in their cars. This program has helped a lot of kids.
The point is, a lot of the programs – Sustainable Brewing, Healthy Living Campus, Big Brothers Big Sisters – brings out the best in people and helps to give opportunities to the less fortunate, which is a really big magnet as to why people want to live here.
Do you have any travel hacks?
Ok, getting bumped up to business class. Sometimes you have to go up to the counter and tell them you’re donating a kidney and you’re not feeling well, and that if you get sick you won’t be able to donate that kidney. That works well…sometimes. I do find that if you fly somewhere outside of the country, when you try to buy a business class ticket in those cities coming back, it’s so much cheaper. It’s always a fraction of the cost. I don’t take anything to help me sleep, so I say sleep when you can and eat when you can.
What’s something new you want to try within the next year?
I’m really serious about this. I have a daughter that lives in New Orleans. I’m thinking of going out of town and writing about 30 minutes of comedy material, and getting up on stage and seeing what I can do. Change my name, get outta town, and try something in comedy.