John Fornazor Sr., chief executive officer of Fornazor International Inc., has found that benefits of the export business most surely transcend the idiomatic definition of chicken feed.

With 2015 sales of $170 million and shipping more than 18,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units of product throughout the world, Fornazor has propelled the family-oriented company he founded nearly four decades ago to a position among the 70 biggest U.S. exporters.

Based in a former church building in Hillsdale, New Jersey, the Fornazor firm puts an emphasis on quality and face-to-face relationships in sustaining a leadership role in exports of animal feed ingredients and related goods.

In an interview last month with the American Journal of Transportation, the company’s founder discusses Fornazor International’s award-winning success and shares how his mother’s Russian Orthodox background not only led him to playing the bass balalaika but also helped inspire him to get into the global business arena.

John Fornazor Sr., CEO of Fornazor International Inc., keeps track of feed exports at his company’s headquarters in a former church building in New Jersey.
John Fornazor Sr., CEO of Fornazor International Inc., keeps track of feed exports at his company’s headquarters in a former church building in New Jersey.

Congratulations on your company’s recent receipt of a President’s “E” Award for Exports. What significance does this honor have for you? To be honest with you, I was a little surprised about how big the award is and its notoriety. I had people domestically and internationally coming to me to congratulate me, and I was surprised they’d even heard about it. It was kind of neat that it was more widespread than I thought.

Speaking of winners, what makes the feeds provided by Fornazor International a formula for success for such horses as 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah?

It’s kind of like in real estate, where it’s location, location, location. In our business, it’s quality, quality, quality.

The producer of that feed is in Kentucky. Its name is Hallway [Feeds], and Lee Hall is the owner. He goes out and visits every single supplier and gets in their plants and approves everybody, right on down to their quality control.

From his plant in Kentucky, we take over the feed and bring it all the way to Hong Kong, we bring it to Dubai, and then it’s up to us to keep that quality intact during shipment, storage overseas and delivery to the stables. So it’s all about quality and keeping that quality intact.

Would it be correct to say you’ve got horse sense, and is this why your company’s business has so dramatically increased the amount of product it exports throughout the world?

I don’t know about that. The American Pharoah feed is a smaller part of our business. But poultry, pigs and dairy and aquaculture are the major part of our business.

I would say, even more than horse sense, it’s a matter of getting overseas and seeing the whites of the buyer’s eyes and just fully knowing their needs and their concerns, what’s going good, what’s going bad, what’s in their future, what expansion and what changes are in their plans.

The whole thing is overseas travel [having been to such far-flung places as South Africa, Sri Lanka and Abu Dhabi already this year], and getting to see these people and getting to know them is a real key.

What is the greatest logistics challenge Fornazor International has faced over the 37 years you’ve been with the company, and how have you responded?

The greatest challenge over those years and still today is matching up empty containers around the country with our supply base. And I see that going into the future.

What we’ve done is build our own stationary plants in the ports for bagging and transloading. There’s also one in Kansas. But we also have portable loaders that we move around to take advantage of pockets of business, where we can load for maybe a couple of months and then pull the equipment back.

So we try and stay a little mobile while we still have our stationary plants. We have our stationary plants in the ports of Norfolk and Savannah, but we do ship from just about everywhere in the country, including through independent plants.

What role does offering of multiple packaging options play in Fornazor’s global shipping operations?

The secretary of commerce [Penny Pritzker, in announcing the “E” Award selection] mentioned that we’re in 40 countries. Because we can offer 25kg bags up to jumbo bags up to bulk containers, we utilize all those options in these 40 countries, so we can really tailor-make to what’s needed by some little feed mill in the outskirts of Bangladesh or a first-class dairy in Saudi Arabia.

We can pack exactly how they need it, which helps them in their warehouse, how they handle it. A huge dairy in Saudi can handle a 1-ton jumbo bag very easily, and you might have a small farm in Bangladesh that needs a 25kg bag because someone’s got to carry it.

It all depends on their needs over there. And it’s all about being out there and seeing them face to face and seeing what they need.

Do the joys outweigh the pressures in terms of working beside a number of family members?

They really do. I feel like we’re blessed, because one of the reasons I’ve had all this energy all these years was for my kids to come in and have something. And I’m really lucky that both of them are in the business.

At any given time, whether we’re home or out at a barbecue or a restaurant, we can really break out into a discussion about business – and it’s fun. The kids are really into it, and I’m just really lucky that that’s developed the way we kind of planned all these years.

I have a son, John Jr., who is in the business as vice president, and I have a daughter, Lauren, who is in charge of human resources. My wife, Peggy, is the treasurer.

If you want to go further than that, I have a nephew, two nieces and a brother-in-law who work here also.

How does it add to the atmosphere that you work in what used to be a church – the former site of St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church?

It’s great. Ironically, my wife had her first Holy Communion in this church as a child. It just feels like it’s all family here, and we try and promote that.

What outside interests occupy your nonwork hours?

I love to golf. I love to cook. I love Italian food, peasant foods. I like to cook a chicken country style. I love to barbecue. I just don’t like to clean up. My wife is also a great cook, so I learned a lot from her.

Up in Northwest Jersey here, there’s a resort area called Crystal Springs with a bunch of golf courses and the big Grand Cascades Hotel. We built our dream kind-of-weekend home up there – a little miniresort – and we love to go up there with friends and family.

This weekend, we have people from the Port of Virginia and NYK [Line] and a couple of our employees going up, and then we’re all going to Coldplay on Saturday night [at MetLife Stadium]. I love going up into the mountains there and relaxing by the pools or in the theater. It’s really a relaxing place, and that really is my favorite thing to do.

Are you a musician yourself?

Not today. I grew up in the Russian Orthodox Church, and my mother made an orchestra of all us kids. We ended up with about 36 people in the orchestra, and we actually had an album out back then. I played the bass balalaika.

I was a little kid, maybe 7 or 8, and I wanted to play the drums. So my mother, who was musically inclined, brought down some hat boxes and took the perch out of the birdcage to use as drumsticks, and I played Jimi Hendrix on reel-to-reel. I’m banging on the hat boxes, saying I’d like to play the drums. So she says, “Oh, that’s very good.”

A week later, she comes home with an accordion and says, “You’re going to play the accordion.” So I’m there like, “Oh man, I wanted to play the drums all these years and I’m playing the accordion.”

But today I have nothing. I don’t play anything.

Did that international exposure with the music and all inspire you in any way to get into global business?

I’ll tell you, through the years, my mother studied in Russia, and there were always people coming in from Europe and spending time with us and musical exchanges and things like that.

So I always had this European-Russian flair in the household. It always intrigued me, the thoughts of being overseas, and hearing my mother’s stories when she came home. It was pretty cool stuff.