For millions across the Midwest of the United States, the big yellow truck meant one thing: Schwan’s was on the way. The Minnesota-born-and-based food company initially began as a means for founder Marvin Schwan to distribute his family’s homemade ice cream to rural western Minnesota.
Today, Schwan’s Shared Services, a CJ Foods affiliate, offers popular brands such as Red Baron, Freschetta, Tony’s, Mrs. Smith’s, Edwards, and Pagoda to retail stores and food service venues, while Cygnus Home Service offers its nearly 400 products through its home delivery business, with 4,500 trucks in the field. Those trucks got an aesthetic makeover in 2010, but that overhaul wasn’t the only addition to the food delivery fleet.
Vice President and Assistant General Counsel Randy Sharbono oversees safety for the companies and says the new Drivecam initiative is just finishing up a pilot program. The initiative includes both front- and rear-facing cameras that record and save the eight seconds before—and four seconds after—any force that is exerted outside of vehicle norms.
“This isn’t Big Brother,” Sharbono says. “It’s a tool that helps us identify and correct unsafe behaviors.” The VP says some drivers may not even be aware of certain unsafe behaviors, and in many instances, simply recognizing the behavior is all that is necessary to make a correction.
The Drivecam initiative is just one example in a series of progressive moves Schwan’s and Cygnus are making to protect their drivers, their customers, and the communities in which the companies operate. Twenty years into a career at Schwan’s that includes safety, Sharbono continues to keep the companies operating at their best but always prepares for the worst.
Trying to Do It All
Sharbono spent ten years in a firm dedicated to insurance defense work before going in-house at Schwan’s in 2000 in a litigation management role that was crafted specifically for him. Prior to his joining, the company had passed off its litigation to its insurance company and had little involvement with its legal function from then on. Serendipitously, that’s how Sharbono eventually got the in-house role—an odd opportunity for the lawyer, who had done so much work on behalf of Schwan’s but interacted minimally with anyone from the organization.
Upon going in-house, Sharbono was determined to stay as close to the pure lawyering part of his job as possible. “When the general counsel asked me what my vision would be, I said I would not only manage the litigation but do the litigation,” the VP says. “I loved the strategy of it and trying to figure out how to position the case to put the client in the best possible situation.” There was only one problem. It wasn’t remotely possible.
“The demands of the in-house role started to consume me,” Sharbono says. “Litigation is just one small part of the other responsibilities and business objectives of the role.” The lawyer now had internal clients who needed his help, often daily, for matters running a wide gamut. Stepping back to purely manage litigation was a tough transition but would prove the right move for the rising lawyer.
Zero Dollars Spent
The Drivecam initiative may be the latest in Schwan’s efforts to stay at the forefront of safety technology, but Sharbono has helped maintain rigid safety standards for close to two decades. “We carry large deductibles in each of our programs, and our view is that nobody can effectively manage that risk better than we can,” Sharbono says.
The in-house legal team takes a hands-on approach because outside counsel can’t be expected to understand the complicated inner workings of their business. “When we engage outside counsel, we’re looking for true partners that we’re able to work hand in hand with to create the most effective strategy,” Sharbono says.
Strategy remains a passion point for the VP, and he says working to craft it at a more advisory level is the perfect role for him. He takes the relationships he’s cultivated with select outside counsel very seriously. “We’ve switched insurance carriers from time to time, and we’ve always made it a priority that the carrier has to agree that panel counsel is our list, not theirs,” Sharbono says. “We want experienced lawyers in that space.”
While he knows it may not be entirely realistic, Sharbono maintains the same hope for all of Schwan’s fleet employees, rain or shine. “I want everyone to always go home in the same shape as they came,” Sharbono says. “Real success is zero injuries and dollars spent on vehicle accidents.”