At TreeHouse Foods, Mr. Holland strives to streamline operations for employees.

Navigating the zig-zag

Until 2013, Mr. Holland knew all about acquisitions … from one side of the sale. From an operational standpoint, it had become his point of differentiation. 

So when ConAgra purchased Ralcorp that year, Mr. Holland had a very distinct skillset that helped him navigate the transition. After all, Ralcorp was, as he put it, “a pretty big fish.” At the time of the highly publicized $6.8 billion purchase, Ralcorp had around $4 billion in sales, all of which came from private brands.

“[ConAgra] was going to need someone to help them run it, so I proved to them I was a person they needed to keep,” he said.

After the sale, the company moved Mr. Holland into commercialization as senior director.

“My job was to oversee project management,” he said. “If there was a new product, if we were changing packaging on anything — if it had to do with innovation or renovation or the projects associated with that — my team and I would shepherd those projects to get them through the system on time.” 

After a few years, through the guidance of Otis Thaxton, vice-president of operations at the time and one of Mr. Holland’s most memorable mentors, ConAgra named Mr. Holland senior director of manufacturing, the position he has held through the 2016 sale to TreeHouse Foods and still holds today.

Some might say that the short period of ConAgra ownership was simply the bridge that guided Ralcorp to TreeHouse … or perhaps it was just a blip on Mr. Holland’s zig-zagged career path.

“Like I said, my career has been about being in the wrong place at the right time,” he said. “It all just kind of falls in line.” 

In two decades, three iterations of ownership and 18 acquisitions, Mr. Holland has seen it all. He became the guy you send into an acquired plant, and that made him invaluable when being acquired. 

“Acquisitions can be like playing five-card stud and not having two cards the same color,” Mr. Holland explained. “It was my job to baseline the operations.”