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Former longtime Mountaire CEO Pogge dies at 72

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SELBYVILLE – David “Dave” Pogge, the former president and CEO of Mountaire who helped turn the southern Delaware poultry producer into a major industry player, died on Aug. 26. He was 72.

Mountaire President CEO David Pogge

David Pogge | PHOTO COURTESY OF MOUNTAIRE

Born to an Iowa cattle farmer, Pogge graduated from Iowa State University in 1973. He joined Mountaire in June 1989 after rising through the ranks of agribusiness giant Cargill over a 16-year career in its poultry division. At the time, the decades-old, family-owned Mountaire had a single plant in Selbyville that struggled to find consistent leadership and was teetering on dire financial straits, according to colleagues.

Hired as the company’s president and CEO, Pogge brought a new commitment to excellence and an organizational model that featured a lean corporate suite. Combined with a market expansion backed by owner and chairman Ronnie Cameron, Pogge oversaw a 23-year tenure that has turned Mountaire into a Top 20 meat producer in the U.S. and a Top 10 poultry producer.

Today, the company has significant operations in Selbyville and Millsboro, employing more than 5,000 people, making it the ninth largest employer in the state, according to Delaware Business Times records.

“He left an amazing legacy in Mountaire with everyone who knew and worked with him. We will miss him as a leader, coworker and friend but will remember him always,” Cameron said in a statement along with Vice Chair Dee Ann English announcing Pogge’s passing.

Paul Downes, a Mountaire leader for 40 years who succeeded Pogge as president and CEO beginning in 2012, credited much of the company’s success to the leadership of his predecessor and friend. Pogge set high standards out of the gate, and Downes, who served as vice president of live operations during his tenure, recalled a meeting where the new chief executive laid out the plan known as TQS, or total quality service, that emphasized a comprehensive approach to reducing errors that led to poor service.

“One of our sales leaders went up to Dave and said, ‘Dave, this all sounds nice, but I’ve seen it before and it’s not going to work.’ And Dave said, ‘I will take that as your resignation. Goodbye,’” Downes said. “Dave just had a vision and a strategy of where we wanted to be in five years. So, we wrote a five-year plan, and we updated that plan every year.”

Roger Marino, the former longtime director of public relations at Mountaire, recalled that dedication when Pogge hired him to help rehabilitate the company’s image in 1990. Marino was then hosting radio station programs in southern Delaware when he hosted Pogge soon after joining Mountaire to discuss an odor dispute with a neighboring school.

Shortly thereafter, Pogge asked to meet with him and pitched him on joining his team – but Marino was distracted by the dilapidated windows in Pogge’s Selbyville office that allowed snowflakes to fall on his desk.

“I said, ‘Dave, do you know there is snow blowing in here?’ He said, ‘I’ll be honest with you, Roger. I don’t give a damn if my desk is covered with snow. I was hired to get this company in the black and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

Pogge’s contemporaries remember him as someone who set high goals and then supported operations from the ground up to meet them. After working in Cargill’s large corporate world, he wanted to be more hands-on with the action, Downes said.

“Dave said the one thing we will never do is build corporate staff … he felt like that slowed down decisions,” he remembered. “He told me one time, ‘Paul, I work hard and I want people to like me. But I really want them to respect me. That’s the No. 1 goal, so you have to treat people fair.’”

Mountaire

Mountaire has a number of small and large presences across Delaware today, like the grain facility in Harrington. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

During Pogge’s tenure, Mountaire acquired the Central Grain Facilities from the Townsend company in Millsboro in 2000 and the former Piedmont Poultry company in Lumber Bridge, N.C., in 1996, expanding processing plants at both along with Selbyville. He also participated in the growth and development of the breeder operation in North Carolina, and the expansion of feed mills in the Tar Heel State and the Delmarva Peninsula.

Mountaire continues to be the primary employer in Selbyville, a town of just a few thousand people at the Delaware-Maryland southern border. Former Mayor Clifton Murray, who led the town for 30 years including during Pogge’s tenure, said that he appreciated the leadership the chief executive officer brought to the company and town.

“Dave was a good person to work with. He was the kind of person who said something, and you could pretty well count on it happening,” Murray said. “He was careful in what he said. He didn’t lock himself into anything he thought he couldn’t honor.”

Despite Selbyville being tied economically to Mountaire in many ways, Murray said that Pogge respected the relationship with the local community.

“There’s no question that Dave was good for the growth of the company, and it was good for Selbyville. It was a kind of growth that was managed. We put a lot of thought into it, they listened to what we had to say and somewhere along the way we’d come out with agreements,” he added.

Pogge was particularly supportive of charitable efforts put on by Mountaire, including hosting the Gospel Talent Search and awarding scholarships to high school athletes. When the company started hosting food drives, he became particularly involved with The Joseph House, a nonprofit charitable organization that provides direct assistance to people with low income in Salisbury, Md.

Mountaire would donate a warehouse that was developed into the Joseph House Workshop, which gives homeless men a place to live for up to two years as they acquire the skills needed for employment and other personal goals.

When Sister Mary Elizabeth Gintling, the founder of The Joseph House, died in 2004, Pogge built her ornate coffin by hand to her desired specifications, Marino recalled.

“That was just the kind of man that Dave was. If you called him in need at 8 p.m. after he just got home from work, he’d drop what he was doing to come help,” he said.

In his spare time, Pogge was a builder, and he developed three exquisite homes over the years, including a Montana ranch on 500 acres near the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Downes said.

Information on services and a family obituary were not available Friday.

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