Family values: fertile ground for a $100m success story

With the call to entry for the 2016 Ethnic Business Awards now open, it’s the perfect time to celebrate some of last year’s finalists, including Sebastian Galipo, founder and Managing Director of Galipo Foods in South Australia.

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For a company now turning over $100 million per year, Galipo Foods had humble beginnings. Sebastian Galipo, founder and Managing Director, started the business with a $5000 personal loan distributing products from chest freezers in his home garage. A finalist in the 2015 Ethnic Business Awards, he now employs 132 staff and sells 6500 diverse products in a highly competitive industry.

Sebastian Galipo arrived in Australia at the age of four. As a 12-year-old, his father sent him out to sell the excess family produce from the home veggie patch. It’s where Sebastian discovered his gift for selling. Little did he know that these skills and the hard work ethic his father ingrained in him would play a major role later in life when starting Galipo Foods.

However, the path to running a successful company wasn’t smooth sailing. Fitting in at high school was difficult for the kid with homemade patched up clothes and what the other children called “smelly rabbit food”.  Nor did schoolwork come easy for Sebastian, who was placed in the remedial class.

However, kind teachers and fierce determination saw Sebastian move out of the remedial class, finish high school and get into university.

After a few years studying, Sebastian returned to what he knew best – selling. A couple of businesses selling orange juice were quickly built up and sold. When another business failed, they nearly had to sell the family home.

However, after starting Galipo Foods in 1983, Sebastian found his footing when he offered additional products to his customers.

“I would ask if I could sell them their sauce or cheese and when they eventually said ‘yes’, I would find a way to get it,” he says. “This grew my business into a ‘One Stop Shop’. This was a new concept at the time as most distributors specialised in a specific category of products. By supplying lots of different types of products and offering excellent service, my existing customers started buying more of their goods from me.”

Forging a business philosophy based on immigrant priorities

Like many Italian immigrants, his father, Santo, instilled a belief in hard work and ethical behaviour in his son, factors that were crucial in the early years of the company’s growth.

“I started with second-hand equipment in my parents’ garage and an old van,” says Sebastian. “I never went for the flashy things – I worked by my dad’s maxim of paying cash. It took me 10 to 15 years to upgrade to new trucks. But that attitude led to low overheads which enabled me to grow.”

Another lesson he learnt from his father was to “always pay your debts”. He says this ‘old fashioned’ philosophy saved Galipo Foods on a number of occasions developing loyalty from his suppliers.

Now employing 132 people, Galipo has a fleet of 38 trucks and delivers more than 6500 different products throughout South Australia. Galipo’s clients range from independent outlets such as cafes, hotels, school canteens, aged care facilities, takeaway and pizza bars through to contract customers such as Barnacle Bill, Domino’s, Spotless and Subway.

Embedding the family culture at work

The discrimination that characterised his family’s first years in Australia left an enduring impression. “My experiences at school and listening to my dad talking about life at work gave me an understanding of inequality,” says Sebastian. “But, I also had a happy family culture – with uncles coming around at night for a glass of vino and playing cards or singing.

“So, I put those two elements together to form the culture we have at Galipo Foods. Some people believe success gives them special rights. I think everyone has the right to a good life, so all our staff are well looked after. We treat everyone equally by providing regular staff lunches, generous fortnightly family food hampers and paying commuting petrol costs. But, I believe you also have to help yourself by caring about what you do and working to high standards.”

Galipo Foods became even more of a family company in 1988 when his brother Bill joined as a partner – he’s now the Joint Managing Director with Sebastian.

Supporting people has always given Sebastian a great deal of satisfaction. Galipo Foods donates to 55 charities. They have supported the Make A Wish Foundation for more than 30 years and Sebastian also hosts an annual Christmas lunch at his Adelaide Hills home for 150 elderly residents from IBF, the aged care facility his father attended.

Galipo Foods currently has 26 staff who have been with the company for more than 10 years. Sebastian enjoys developing loyal and exceptional staff, and his pride in their achievements is palpable.

“My general manager came to Australia from India to study and started working in the warehouse when he was a student,” says Sebastian. “He joined us full-time job when he graduated and now he’s an exceptional GM. I mentored my Sales Director in the same way – he started as a truck driver. My Business Manager started loading trucks part-time while he was at university and has worked his way up through the company too.”

Sebastian has always been open to learning what was necessary for the business. In 1996, he became a member and shareholder of Countrywide Australasia, Australia’s largest national buying group for independent foodservice distributors. He served on the board before becoming chairman from 2003 to 2009.

His time on the Countrywide boards taught him the planning processes needed in larger organisations while his NAB Business Banker Paul Fisher helped with understanding funding for growth.

“One of the first things Paul did was an audit as part of a loan application,” he says. “He was so thorough; he found us a $50,000 tax saving while he was at it,” says Sebastian.

Being a finalist in the Ethnic Business Awards

Sebastian’s success saw him become a finalist in the Medium to Large Business Category at the 2015 Ethnic Business Awards.

He shares his parents’ sense of humility and didn’t see himself as a success story. The awards highlighted that it was okay to see himself as other people already saw him – as a success.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful journey, and part of that has been succeeding in business, but more importantly it gives me great satisfaction to be successful in life with strong ethics, compassion, determination and great relationships with friends and family.”

Do you or someone you know have a story that rivals Galipo’s? Visit the Ethnic Business Awards website to nominate for the 2016 awards.

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