Father, son getting it done

Friday, June 18, 2010
John Cook Sr. and Jr. are, respectively, the chairman of the board and president of Dole Refrigeration, a Lewisburg-based factory that makes cold cell plates used in a variety of ways, but perhaps best understood as what surrounds the box for an ice cream truck.

In a couple of months, John Cook Jr. will have been president of Dole Refrigeration for a year.

Technically, he's now the man in charge of the plant that makes refrigeration plates in Lewisburg's Industrial Park.

However, the man who promoted him, John Cook Sr., is his closest advisor and chairman of the board of directors for the business he bought 18 years ago.

It's an "extremely satisfying" relationship, the younger Cook said when asked about working so closely with his father.

"We talk a lot," he says. "Most mornings, I'll call on the way and it is uninterrupted talk."

Sometimes, they carpool to Lewisburg from their homes in different parts of Franklin.

"I've only been doing this for 18 years," the father says quietly in his office at the factory.

His previous career was with General Electric and he based his training program for his son on what he went through with GE.

Now, the only things he wants to consult on are: hiring and firing; and any expense over $25,000.

"We don't fire many people around here," John Sr. says.

They bring their lunches to work and eat together in the conference room.

And, together they have brought Dole Refrigeration through a new project that's been noticed nationally.

A cooperative effort among Dole refrigeration, Brown Cargo Van in Lawrence, Kan., and Smith Electric Vehicles in Kansas City, Mo., has resulted in the production of a prototype of an electric delivery truck that's making seafood deliveries in New York City.

Dole Refrigeration turns raw materials of metal plates, tubing and what looks like honeycombed metal into self-contained cooling units that keeps ice frozen, fish cold and ice cream solid. The easy way to understand how it works is comparing it to a smaller commercial product that mixes chemicals that react to each other and create a temperature change.

Metal is stamped into mirror image shells to hold the tubes, which, after they're placed in the welded shells, are filled with liquid.

An electrical connection to the refrigeration plates results in an overnight refreezing of the contents and therefore the plates. They aren't as complicated as a traditional cooling unit that includes a compressor to refrigerate a truck's cargo box.

"No fossil fuels are used," says Ron Thompson, sales director for Brown Cargo. "It's just plugged in at night. The energy savings and maintenance cost savings are pretty substantial."

Down East Seafood in New York approached Brown Cargo Van in fall 2009 and wanted an efficient refrigeration system.

Dole was the answer.

Years ago, the plant made the refrigeration plates in stock sizes. John Cook Sr. saw advantages to making the plates to fit the customers' needs.

That flexibility attracted Brown Cargo and Smith Electric to Lewisburg because of Dole.

John Cook Jr. says the electric truck project hasn't made a financial profit, but doing it has brought on different work practices that economized production. Overcoming challenges brought on a learning experience at the factory.

Purity Ice Cream trucks, Schwann Foods, Italian ice sales push carts and a variety of ice cream trucks that troll neighborhoods during the summer are customers for Dole's units.

John Sr. kept the name of the company he bought, and he had his son clean it up.

"My first job here was cleaning a wall and painting it," John Jr. said.

His expression while remembering the task reflects its difficulty. He shakes his head slowly.

"After college, he put me through a two-year training program," John Jr. said. "He sent me back to school in 1998 and I got my MBA.

Then the son was informed that he'd be running the fiberglass plant. The business makes insulated buildings.

Since then, he's received more and more responsibility.

Still, John Jr. says, "This is his company. He doesn't owe me anything, and when you get to that point, it's fun."

John Cook Sr. is 70. John Cook Jr. is 40. Both have birthdays in August. Both are enjoying Father's Day this weekend.