Born and raised in Johannesburg South Africa, West Central Food Service, Luxury Brands LLC and FHI Heat President and CEO Michael Dodo, studied at the University of South Africa where he earned his Bachelor of Commerce degree. From 1993 to 1996, he worked for the Mercantile National Bank of South Africa, holding various positions from Credit Manager to Corporate Finance Director, before he immigrated to the United States with merely $300 in his pocket and the hope of achieving the American dream.
Soon after his arrival in the U.S., Michael was hired by Tag-It Pacific, a hang tag and garment label production company, as their Vice President of Finance and Administration. the company’s annual sales grew from $6 million to over $60 million.
In 2001, Mr. Dodo became President of TLD Distribution Company, the second largest re-distributor of dry grocery and equipment supplies to the food service industry in the Western United States. Michael was responsible for growing TLD’s sales from $16 million to $128 million, while managing a transportation fleet of 70 tractor trailers, and five warehouses facilities west of the Mississippi.
In April of 2011, Mr. Dodo became CEO of FHI Heat, a world-renowned provider of professional hair styling tools and products. He was recruited by outside investors to replace the former company CEO, and restructure FHI Heat for future expansion.
In 2013, Michael purchased West Central Produce. Founded in 1969, and renamed West Central Food Service under his administration, the company has become one of the largest privately owned premium wholesale food, beverage and restaurant supply distributors on the West Coast. With sales tracking in excess of $300M, a fleet of more than 150 trucks, and multiple distribution warehouses.
In 2017, Mr. Dodo expanded his business interests to form Luxury Brands LLC, which owns multiple beauty brands including FHI Heat, STYLUS, NEO BOND, Hair Veil and Daily Beauty. In addition, Michael has acquired Inside Foods, Deep Sea Wholesale Fish, District Market, Om Nom Organics, West Central Las Vegas, Bella Dodo Juice and Bellaganics to expand his ever growing business portfolio.
Destination Luxury: You are a serial entrepreneur and you came to the USA with $300 in your pocket. What did do with the $300 and how did you make it grow?
Dodo: When I landed in LAX, I found a Travel Lodge for $17 a night. My Dad had a friend in LA, so I went to his house to see him. He introduced me to a bunch of people, and through an introduction, I landed a job as the controller of a garment hang tag and label company, later becoming their VP of Finance and Operations. I worked there for 5 years.
He was the only person I knew. But, he introduced me to someone, who introduced me to someone, who introduced me to a few more people. I just kept smiling and I guess that people are happy to see a smiling face. It happened pretty quickly for me…
After my time at Tag-it, I bought a company with a partner in the food industry. It delivered food to other distributors– nuts, cherries, anything for the bar. In ten years, I sold the business to my partner, as I wanted to move on.
And, shortly afterward, a friend called to ask if I would run his company in the beauty industry, which I did for a year. It was FHI Heat.
Destination Luxury: What did you do to change the company?
Dodo: I restructured FHI, moved it to Los Angeles, changed it’s brand focus and positioning, and when I was done, I recruited a CEO from the beauty industry to run it. And side note, flash forward to just last year, FHI Heat became available for acquisition, so I bought it.
After FHI Heat, I purchased a produce company named West Central Produce. I restructured it and brought in my people from my last food business to help it grow. In a little more than five years, we have made West Central Foodservice a one stop shop, specializing in the best quality produce, proteins, beverages, dairy, organic, dry groceries, specialty items, and paper goods. We now service hotels, restaurants, casinos, schools, cruise lines and catering companies in six states. It’s a big operation, and a lot of the people I have employed have been with me for 20 years. We’ve grown this company together.
Destination Luxury: What are three words of advice to give to entrepreneurs
Dodo: Stay Focused
Stick to your mission.
Surround yourself with loyal people
Destination Luxury: How did you come up with the mission for your company?
Dodo: I believe strongly in respect, integrity and a safe working environment. Those are my core corporate values. Respect the people around you, respect your customers and respect what you do. It’s all about integrity. It’s my employees’ job to represent the company with the same level of honor as they would treat themselves. I believe in a safe working environment, and I believe that people like working for me because they feel safe.
Destination Luxury: How did you make over the company?
Dodo: When I bought West Central, it was run by an old school, 75 year old produce guy. He ran the company for 45 years and was all about quality and never about customer service. Wholesale produce distribution was a man’s world. Seriously chauvinistic. The whole industry was chauvinistic. I wanted to break that mold. I had been there for about 3 or 4 months prior to taking it over in order to observe the day to day operations and absorb the company’s energy. After spending some time there, I knew that it had to seriously change if we were to expand to the level that I predicted taking this company. One of the first things I did when I took over as President and CEO was hire a painting crew. The walls were originally painted brown, so I closed it on a Wednesday, brought in a crew, and had the walls painted purple and green. The next day, all the employees walked in and thought, this guy (me) must be completely nuts. It was pretty easy to identify who wanted change and who didn’t, so I fired 30% of the business, and brought in 50 plus people in from my previous company to flip the script.
Destination Luxury: Why did you choose to have women run your company?
Dodo: I honestly didn’t. It happened organically as I tend to hire extremely powerful and driven women for certain positions and they just end up taking control. I’m really lucky to have the women on my team that I do. They are incredibly focused and smart, extremely loyal and completely committed to the company and their jobs. What else could I possibly ask for?
Destination Luxury: Having Women running a typically male-dominated industry is not the norm. What are the advantages?
Dodo: I think the world is headed in that direction. I think the world is demanding equality, and men are now being held accountable for their choices and their actions. As I said, I never made a definitive decision to choose women over men to run divisions of my company. It just happened that way as the women who interviewed with me were simply more qualified and better for the job, period.
I strongly believe in equal pay for equal work and I reward my employees for their performance, and not because of their sex. I think that a lot of men in positions of power fear bringing aboard strong willed and dominant women due to some subconscious angst about feeling emasculated. If you look closely at my industry, I can’t think of a single company that employs women in C-Level Executive positions. There are ton of female chefs in business, and a lot of male chefs who only want to do business with companies that they know treat people equally. I believe the tide is turning, this is what the world is demanding and It’s my pleasure to have West Central set the example for the rest in my industry.
Destination Luxury: What’s the secret to scaling your business?
Dodo: It’s all about the power of your work force, identifying your employees’ strengths and then maximizing them. It’s just about manpower and consistent hard work.
Destination Luxury: What inspires you?
Dodo: Watching people grow to become the very best that they can be. I love mentoring young and ambitious kids, and helping them get their start.
Destination Luxury: Who are some people that you look up to?
Dodo: My grandfather was probably my biggest mentor. He had an incredible work ethic and a tremendous amount of integrity. Although he worked incredibly hard, he always made time for his family and his grandchildren. He lost a lot of money because he always stuck to his integrity; that’s just who he was.
Destination Luxury: What’s next after produce?
Dodo: The food service world is changing so there is still a lot for me to do at West Central. And my business interests are consistently expanding as I continue to find investments and companies to add to my growing portfolio. Luxury Brands LLC, my beauty company, is growing beautifully. It’s all moving in a very positive direction.
Destination Luxury: What are some trends in the food industry that you are noticing?
Dodo: The average diner wants to be educated about what he or she is eating. They want to know more about the ingredients that are going into their food, what farm did it come from, how was it grown, how do they processing plant treat their employees. Is the juice I’m drinking cold-pressed, non-GMO and certified organic? Do the eggs I’m eating come from vegetarian fed chickens, are they free range and are they treated humanely? The consumer of food cares about what they are ingesting, and so providing that knowledge to fulfill the demand is a trend that has now become standard practice.
Destination Luxury: If you had one piece of advice for a young entrepreneur, what would it be?
Dodo: Surround yourself with honest people with good integrity.
Visit Michael’s company at West Central Food Service.