There are many keys to success, but for longtime Enid business icon and philanthropist Paul Allen, two main ingredients in his success have been good parenting and a trust in God.
The 86-year-old Allen, who started Advance Food Co. in the early 1970s in Enid, said there have been a lot of “God interventions” in his life. He spoke to Enid Rotary Club on Monday about the his humble beginnings and how he created a multi-million-dollar successful business during what fellow Rotarian Doug Frantz designated as Paul Allen Day at Rotary.
“If you know Paul, he is a modest man, but I twisted his arm and told him the people of Rotary and people of Enid need to hear your story,” Frantz said. “Paul will tell us his success has a lot to do with timing, good luck and serendipity, if you will … Paul worked harder, he worked longer and he was smarter than his competition and was able to corner the market for his products.”
Frantz lauded Allen for living modestly, but giving greatly to the community. The Allen family are benefactors of David Allen Memorial Ballpark, named after his late son David, who died in 1995 from injuries sustained a car accident many years ago. He also is benefactor of the new Advance Soccer Complex being constructed in Enid. Frantz also talked about how Paul and Joan Allen have supported many things in Enid, including Enid Symphony Orchestra and United Way.
“I think it’s fair to say that Paul and Joan Allen are the best friend Enid, OK has had or ever will have,” Frantz said.
Allen started his remarks by making a joke of coming to Rotary wearing both a brown shoe and a black shoe, which happened from changing his mind about which nice pair of pants to wear to speak to the club.
“Two things I want everyone to keep in mind,” he said. “First, there are all kinds of things that happened in my life time I didn’t have any control over and turned out to be pretty good. Second thing is I had the best parents anybody could possibly have. Put those two things together, it gets you off to a good start.”
Allen talked about his humble beginnings growing up the son of a farm family in northeast Nebraska, along with a brother and two sisters. He said the family had no money and lived in a farmhouse similar of the day — no running water and heat from a stove. He also talked about earning pennies for collecting eggs and a whole dime for every rat he found and killed on the farm. His parents lived in the same modest home until they were in their 60s.
He also talked about the importance of education stressed by his mother. He praised his parents for making sure he and his siblings all went to college.
When he went to college, he supported his education by taking several jobs, including working in the library at the state Capitol, working at a cleaning business and working as a busboy at a sorority, where he met his wife Joan.
After college, Allen went on to work for Hormel Food Co. He was working in Minnesota when he was set to be transferred to Los Angeles, but the company decided to send him to Oklahoma City instead, and that is when he met his partner David McLaughlin. The two eventually founded Advance Food Co. in Enid.
“It was another God intervention,” he said, of the change in career direction.
When they first started, supply disruptions caused meat prices to increase; however, Allen had fortunately purchased meat at a lower price before supply disruptions. Market conditions and other connections helped the brand new company start strong with seven to eight months of “unbelievable (profit) margins, which we really didn’t have anything to do with.”
The business expanded rapidly over the years, growing into new facilities and expanding product lines. Allen praised the help of the city of Enid and Enid Regional Development Alliance for their assistance in helping the business grow and acquire new plants, all the while staying in Enid.
“All we really had to do was hire more people, which is what the city was interested in,” he said.
“It enabled us to put bigger equipment in and add more products,” he said. “All of a sudden we were adding sales people. Another thing we were lucky on is, eventually, we were selling products across the United States and had our own trucks going everywhere, every week. The advantage to us was being in Oklahoma, in the middle of the country. If you were on the edge of the country, you couldn’t do that.”
Through the years, Advance Food Co. went from 15-20 employees and annual sales of $1 million, and when the company merged with Pierre Foods in 2010, it had $800 million sales and 2,400 employees. Advance Food Co. also became the No. 1 supplier to Cisco Foods. AvancePierre Foods sold to Tyson Foods in 2017.
Allen spoke lovingly of his wife, Joan, who passed away in 2019. She became an accomplished pilot and would fly the corporate plane all across the country for sales presentations. He also spoke of her devotion to their son, David. Even though David was not expected to survive his injuries, he did, and Joan devoted the next 17 years to helping him rehabilitate and eventually earn an associate in arts degree from Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs. David eventually would go on to work in the family business. David died in 1995, and that is when the Allens decided to build the iconic ballpark that is considered one of the premier amateur ballparks in the country.
Allen praised the people of Enid and all the employees who worked for his companies, saying that was another fortunate thing about locating his company in Enid.
“The big thing is that we all have a life to live,” he said. “Stuff happens that’s God-related.”
Article by: Cindy Allen, Enid News & Eagle
Photo by: Billy Hefton