When Joe Francis’ father passed away eight years ago, the 21-year-old had worked at the family company, Central McGowan, for a few years, and he was interested in manufacturing and operating his own business, eventually. But everything got put on fast-forward.
“Suddenly, I was on a leadership track,” he recalled. “I began learning everything I could, because I wanted to make an impact and to have the company continue to be innovative and successful in a way that kept driving growth.”
By age 26, he was CEO, and fulfilling that early goal.
Over the past eight years, the company — which provides gases for welding, manufacturing, medical and restaurants, as well as equipment for custom automation and robotics — has doubled its revenue and employee count. Francis said growth drivers have included expanded capabilities, particularly related to carbonation and robotics, while staying true to the core values of teamwork, trustworthiness, innovation and collaboration that have kept Central McGowan in business for 72 years.
More recently, Central McGowan acquired St. Paul-based Jasons Beverage Carbonation Co., more than doubling its CO2 solutions business.
Francis has managed all this growth while also dealing with the passing of his grandfather — another central figure in the company’s legacy — and starting his own family.
“I don’t know many people who would have the level of leadership and maturity at age 30 that Joe has,” said Dean Kiffmeyer, executive vice president and general manager for distribution at Central McGowan, who joined the company when Francis was just 4 years old.
“He’s wise beyond his years, and maybe part of that is a result of having to take on responsibility at a young age,” Kiffmeyer added. “But another big part of it is his ability to really listen and take action on what he hears. Joe is a compassionate leader, and he’s gained incredible respect for that.”
In terms of what he feels sets him apart as a leader, Francis believes that ability to listen and build trust in people is crucial, because it helps him create a team that can drive the mission of the business. He also feels that his ability to take risks — demonstrated by jumping into a leadership role at a young age and building his expertise from there — is also an attribute that has assisted the company.
“We have some lofty financial goals, but more importantly, we want to positively impact as many people as possible, which means employees, customers and stakeholders,” Francis said. “I’m focusing on building a sustainable company that can outlive even myself.”