A 3rd Generation Company Built on Family Values
Now on its 71st year, Server Products continues to grow and innovate under the decade-long leadership of President and CEO Kristin Falkner, granddaughter of Server’s founder, Alfred Wickesberg, and daughter of the previous president, Paul Wickesberg.
“Our family values come to life here at Server Products,” Falkner said. “Service. Integrity. Respect. Quality. Determination. Responsibility. Those are all things that my family, specifically, truly values, and when I think about it, Server embodies a lot of that. Brings those values to life.”
Falkner started working part-time on the production floor in the early 1990s during high school and college and became full-time in 1997. She said while working in various positions side-by-side with people of different talents, personalities, and backgrounds was priceless, taking on the role of operating systems administrator for the implementation of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is what taught her about every aspect of the company.
“It helped me understand where improvements could be made within the company, and eventually provided me the opportunity to automate some of our company’s end-to-end business processes,” Falkner said. “Some of the order entry – because I was working in customer service also at the time –was very manual. Hand-writing things on pieces of paper, remember to tell somebody this, put a sticky-note on that, and it was like, we have a system that can help us do this stuff and not have to try to remember to tell somebody to do it. So I helped kind of make those efficiencies happen.”
These improvements would not only aid Server’s personnel, but the improved accuracy would ensure when customers interacted with the company, they would have the best experience possible.
Appliance Repair Technician Roger Peters, who has been with Server for 36 years, worked for all three generations of Wickesbergs and also worked alongside many of the Wickesberg kids, like Falkner’s brothers and cousin.
“Kris spent most of her time working in shipping, so I didn’t work with her directly,” Peters said. “But they loved her because she was a hard worker and smart. None of the kids minded getting their hands dirty. None of them ever played the, ‘I’m the owner’s kid,’ card. In fact, you wouldn’t have ever guessed that is who they were.”
He said while each generation of ownership has used different methods to run the business, they’ve all been hands-on people, particularly Al and Paul.
“I think they enjoyed seeing the machines run and enjoyed hearing Servers ‘heartbeat,’” Peters said, jokingly adding the heartbeat was the sound of the machinery pounding out pump lids.
Before Chief Operating Officer Al Corona came aboard in 2019, he said he was already impressed with Falkner’s leadership.
“Her passion for the company, its history and her obvious concern for how the company will prosper in the future is directly linked with her overarching concern for the people who work at Server,” Corona said. “Her drive to make the company successful is not only impressive but genuine. Her passion is not driven by headlines or talking points or to benefit the ownership, but to benefit all the employees that are committed to the success of the company and who ultimately win as a result of the success this enterprise called Server Products achieves.”
Falkner’s favorite part of her job is recognizing and showing appreciation for Server’s people and being able to give back the company’s profits to those she cares about.
“To me, and I say this all the time, this is not a one man show,” she said. “I want everybody to know how much I appreciate that they come in to work every day and they provide, whatever it is, whatever their talents are, to help us be successful.”
Peters attributes the family vibe felt at Server Products to the Wickesberg family’s ownership.
“They are very genuine and honest people who are proud of Server and care about the people that work here,” Peters said. “They are proud but humble and don’t put themselves above anyone.”
Along with creating quality products for the foodservice industry, Server strives to be a safe and welcoming environment for its employees.
Peters explains the biggest difference between Server and the last place he worked is how clean and safe Server’s facility is.
“I worked at a foundry for about a year,” Peters said. “In that year of employment, there were three small fires. The only time we evacuated was when the fire department responded to one of them. The other two, we were told, ‘It’s pretty smoky in here but it will clear up. Just keep working.’ Something like that would never happen here.”
One of Falkner’s biggest obstacles upon becoming president in 2009 was the previous year’s recession, but she was determined to keep all of the people that made Server a success.
“We did rolling layoffs so there was no one group of people that was permanently out of work,” she said, adding employees were split into two groups and alternated between two weeks working and two weeks off. “I think our employees could see that we valued them, and we were doing what we could to keep them employed, and we cared about them and their livelihoods.”
Another hurdle she faces is convincing the organization to stop accepting the status quo. After being profitable for the past 70 years, everyone is happy with how Server is steadily growing, but Falkner, on the other hand, lives by the words of a mentor: if it’s not broken, improve it anyway.
“We always have to keep working on changing and growing otherwise the company starts to just fall off and fade away,” she said. “Getting the leaders to be inspired to make Server something better than it is today, even though by all measure we’re still successful, that’s really hard to do. But I do believe it’s my duty to challenge the status quo, always, and try to make us better every step of the way.”
The evolution of Server’s equipment to be kinder to the environment – for example, the conversion to pouched products with Express™ dispensers and EZ-Toppers™ and, newer to the line, the water-saving ConserveWell™ – is just one way the company is trying to help lessen the foodservice industry’s footprint and be a steward of responsibility.
“We also recognize that our community is a big part of who we serve and we provide opportunities for people to give back to the community,” Falkner said. “We donate to various free local clinics and things like that. We recognize we’re not just here to make money, we’re here to serve our employees, our customers, our community, and the greater good.”
A nod to the past
While Falkner was helping out in the pumps department, she wondered how one of the long-time assemblers, who spent every day at Server doing the same process, wasn’t bored by the seemingly monotonous job. When she asked her coworker, she received some inspirational advice.
“She says, ‘No, I love my job,’” Falkner said. “She would try to always beat her old records, and that was exciting to her. She would build in her own mentality of, okay how do I take this task that seems boring and turn it into something fun.”
Through that, Falkner said, she realized attitude is everything.
“You can choose your attitude and you can choose to have fun with something that doesn’t even seem like fun at all.”
As her father was preparing for retirement, Falkner began getting anxious she wasn’t ready to become president.
“I said, ‘I can’t do this, I’m not ready and I’m freaking out, Dad, help me out,’” Falkner said. “He said, ‘don’t worry you got this. No one leader does it alone. What I did, I surrounded myself with great people and that’s what you need to do too and you’ll be fine.’”
She followed his advice and surrounded herself with great talent knowing everyone’s abilities would become synergistic.
“My dad’s words reminded me that being a leader is about ‘we,’” she said. “We work together to get things done. We bring individual talents together to make this happen. He showed me that when people are not micromanaged, trust grows within a team and individual growth and progression is encouraged.”
Gearing up for the future
Falkner said after 70 years of success, Server is choosing to renew itself so it can flourish for the next 70 years.
“That whole renewal, reboot phase happened in 2019 and we’re still working through that a little bit,” she said. “It’s terrifying yet exciting at the same time kind of like a roller coaster. To know that we have put in place different things to help us survive the next 70 years.”
One way the company hopes to achieve that success is by incorporating technology into equipment to help solve operational challenges in foodservice.
“We’re moving away from the 1970s stainless steel square box that has a manual pump, and we’re starting to make something that looks cool and is easy to use while still helping the operations be successful.”
Corona also looks forward to Server’s aggressive move toward technology.
He said, “We have an opportunity to redefine small wares in the marketplace and are well on the path to doing exactly that.”