JJ McDonnell’s now-CEO George McManus aims to bring company to next level

Published on
January 18, 2022
JJ McDonnell CEO George McManus

Since 1986, George McManus served as the president of Elkridge, Maryland-based JJ McDonnell. Now, 36 years later, he’s taking on a new role as CEO as he aims to grow the company beyond its current scope.

McManus started at JJ McDonnell in 1978 as a truck driver, and stepped into the role of president thanks to being in the “right place at the right time,” he told SeafoodSource.

When he first started as the president, JJ McDonnell was a fraction of what it ended up becoming, and specialized mainly in frozen seafood products.   

“We were a much smaller company, I think we had 10 employees and we were about 80 percent frozen, 20 percent fresh,” McManus said.  

The company has grown to 170 employees, and mainly focuses on the fresh side of the seafood business. It also recently moved to a new 60,000-square-foot facility in 2016.

“The prior facility, we were there since 1984,” he said. “It was 23,000 square feet, and it was a hodgepodge of growth – you know, ‘add this space, add that space.’”

The new facility has allowed the company to have more space and continue the holistic approach to growth that has led it to greater success, according to McManus.

“The growth has really been partnering with the right people, whether it’s our vendors or our customers. We like to have relationships with people who are like-minded, who do the right thing,” McManus said. “That’s allowed us to grow, it’s attracted employees as well as customers, and we have been able to grow with the customers who have grown.”

That growth has taken the company from delivering locally to having products shipped nationwide.

“When I took over the business, we were just delivering to the Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington D.C. metropolitan areas, and that was it,” McManus said. “Now we’re in all of Maryland, all of Virginia, some of Pennsylvania, and we’re doing some national sales via a common carriers.”

The company has also started moving more into the retail ready side of the seafood business, and has started packaging its own products.

“Five or six years ago, retail started asking for retail-ready packaged products. As a result, our business has added a new avenue, and from a basic whole raw product in, processed, and back out in a bag and ice, we now process those same things and put the end-product into retail-ready packaging,” McManus said. “That’s a big learning curve, and it’s been a great opportunity for us.”

All that growth and opportunity is exactly why McManus said he wanted to bring other people in to help take the company to the next level. As JJ McDonnell has grown, the complexity of operating it has increased – not just through sheer size, but also through the increased traceability standards the company has committed to.

“I’m not really ashamed to say this, but it’s gotten bigger than me,” he said. “I need people that are strong, that have that depth, that have that talent. I started seeking help – not just in the president role, but in other roles to allow us to be successful in the new avenues that we take.”

McManus said the company has welcomed people with different viewpoints and backgrounds, which he said improves the company's opportunities.

“My analogy is, I’m always trying to bring people in that have a toolbox that have tools that are going to make our lives easier, or help us grow, or do things more efficiently or more creatively,” he said.

With the added help of people like recently-hired JJ McDonnell President Brett Black, McManus said he hopes to be able to spend more time focusing on the future of the company.

“A lot of people that know me throughout the country will say ‘George is a really good operator,’ and I do it well, so now I’m eager to take on a new and different role of really looking over the trees and growing the business,” McManus said.

Part of that growth relates to aspects beyond increasing sales volumes or the employee count – it’s furthering relationships with the company’s customers as well, McManus said.

“You’re going to grow with those customers,” McManus said. “Certainly we want to be bigger, but I also want to make sure that we’re entrenched in the customers that we have now and take care of them.”

McManus said he also hopes to find efficiencies for the company’s processes – whether it be through new machinery or new systems. Merger-and-acquisition opportunities are also on the table, he said. 

“If there was some sort of merger or acquisition opportunity, it would certainly be only with like-minded people, and with focus on regional growth – along the East Coast,” he said.  

Photo courtesy of JJ McDonnell

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