CEO claims slice of success in dough business

Alumnus Randy CharlesNote: An abbreviated version of this story was published in the May 2015 print edition of the Inside UW-Green Bay magazine.

The recipe for pizza dough is relatively simple… flour, sugar, yeast, salt, water and a little olive oil.

The recipe for a successful and growing wholesale pizza-crust company is a bit more complicated. Randy Charles, a 1987 UW-Green Bay Business Administration grad, keeps that recipe close to the vest.

Charles is the CEO of Alive and Kickin’ (A & K) Pizza Crust, a company that achieved significant growth since 1989, when Charles started the business with his father and two other partners. Randy became president in 1991 and then took over as CEO in 2011. The company now employs a workforce of 300-plus and has expanded its sales throughout North America.

“Like every business, it is a challenge to stay competitive and viable in the marketplace,” Charles said.

It is the continual development of product lines that keep the company growing and relevant… Charles calls it “customized manufacturing.” Expanding and diversifying, particularly in products such as frozen self-rising, par-baked and deli take-and-bake crusts, have helped Alive and Kickin’ to thrive.

Charles had envisioned his career cutting a different path when he graduated three decades ago. His marketing emphasis and classes with Prof. Robert Obenberger and Don McCartney inspired him to move to Milwaukee for grad school and work in brand management.

But in 1989, his father made Randy an offer he couldn’t refuse… return to Green Bay and help him build the company (then called Port City Bakery) from the bottom up. Now Charles only peripherally deals with marketing of the company, as his days are filled with walking the balancing act of a CEO — maintaining credibility with customers though diversity and quality of product, demonstrating company growth to his shareholders, ensuring a positive corporate culture, and securing the future of the company.

“What I continue to carry with me day-to-day are the courses that challenged me to view problems from multiple perspectives and across disciplines,” Charles said. “Even though I was a business student, I found other areas of study, such as the science requirement, both challenging and rewarding. The one-on-one attention of professors and the small class sizes allowed for great discussion and problem-solving. I believe that continues to be a strength of UW-Green Bay — an incredibly well-rounded education.”

Ironically, the Phoenix alumnus had to literally “rise from the flames” to lead his company through its toughest challenge — a major fire in 2005.

“What happened to us could have been a game-ender,” Charles says.

Alive and Kickin’ did indeed rise to the challenge, adding a third facility in 2010 located in the Green Bay I-43 Business Park. And in 2012, the pizza-crust maker added two additional production lines to expand its capacity to reach customers across North America, demonstrating that Charles’ business model is a recipe worth repeating.