New COO: Phillips more than crab
As of 1 January, Paul Opitz will be the new COO for Baltimore-based Phillips Foods, a family-owned seafood supplier and restaurant company approaching its 100th year in business.
Opitz, who has been president of Phillips Foods Asia for the past several years, told SeaFood Business on Tuesday that the company has a clear focus for the future: He wants Phillips to be known as more than just the “black can crabmeat company.”
“The message I’m giving my team now is don’t walk in the door with only a can of crabmeat,” Opitz said. “Phillips used to be known as the crab guys and we still are. But we have a tremendous footprint here in Asia and we need to better utilize that as we move forward. There’s so much more that we offer.”
Diversification has been a driving force for Phillips. For instance, the company has built a barramundi-farming operation off the coast of Bali over the past four years and has also developed new albacore tuna products. The main market for its barramundi is Australia, he said, and the albacore is being positioned as a substitute for what he says is a “global shortage” of yellowfin tuna.
Phillips operates 17 Phillips Seafood restaurants throughout the United States, including nine in airports, but retail sales — both branded and private label — hold great growth potential, Opitz said.
“Positioning in retail is a big plus for the company. No. 1 is our label, the most-recognized brand of crabmeat in America. But we’re more than a crabmeat company, more than a crab cake company; we’re a seafood company. There’s a reason we were named Phillips Foods. We want to be a more well-rounded seafood supplier.”
Opitz has worked for Phillips for more than 20 years. He first joined the company in the mid-1970s, opening the flagship restaurant as executive chef. He returned as corporate chef in 1994, and soon thereafter joined the operations team in Asia as a quality-control specialist.
As president of Phillips Foods Asia, his responsibilities included overseeing the operations at 13 processing facilities and the regional headquarters in Bangkok. Phillips has processing facilities in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.
About 95 percent of his time has been spent overseas. In his new role as COO, a position that’s been vacant for a few years, Opitz estimates he’ll be in the United States for about 75 percent of his time. “It’ll be nice to go back,” he said.
Phillips underwent a major reorganization recently in regards to its sales and marketing teams. Opitz said the changes went beyond personnel.
“We changed our approach and our attitude; how we want to be viewed by the customer,” said Opitz, who’s encouraged by three new hires to its retail sales team. “They have a combined 50 years of experience in the retail industry. I have a lot of faith in their abilities.”
Opitz also quieted any speculation that CEO Steve Phillips, the fourth-generation leader of the family-owned company, will be taking a step back.
“Not at all,” Opitz said when asked if Phillips might soon retire. “Steve just left Asia last Sunday, he was here for our quarterly meeting. He’s an extremely good motivator. He’s happy to stay involved in the business. He’s one of the most innovative people I’ve ever met, especially in operations. He has enough vision to carry our company forward into the next millennium. It’s my job to work with him and carry that out. We’re really poised to move forward.”