Entrusted with an iconic Baton Rouge brand, Bobby Yarborough is focused on furthering his family’s legacy
Photography by Marie Constantin
2017 Baton Rouge Business Awards and Hall of Fame
HALL OF FAME • BOBBY YARBOROUGH
When Bobby Yarborough was elected CEO of Manda Fine Meats in 1997 after the untimely passing of his predecessor and cousin, John Manda, he turned to a passage from the Bible to quell any uneasiness in the company over the unexpected transition—including his own.
“I spoke from my heart about a passage from the Bible that says, ‘To whom much is given, much is required,’” he says. “I think that spread throughout the personnel ranks. Shortly after, it just seemed like there was an ease, and it was like a natural process, and we never looked back.”
To this day, Yarborough works tirelessly to give back more than he has been given. At 63, he is a devoted leader and servant, both in his professional and personal life. But he doesn’t like to take credit for it and says he inherited his philanthropic spirit from his family, who established the tradition at Manda long before he took over operations.
“One of the things they taught us was that spirit of giving. For me, it came a little easier because it’s one of the passions I have in life,” Yarborough says. “I enjoy working with and helping others get to a place they’re trying to get to.”
For the last 20 years, Yarborough has been at the helm of Manda, which he co-owns with his two brothers, Tommy and Steve Yarborough. Manda has been in the business of producing Louisiana-style meats and sausages since it was founded in 1947 by their grandfather, Vincent Manda, and his two brothers.
Under Yarborough’s leadership, the Manda family business has expanded and thrived. Today, the company has 175 employees and its products are sold in 15 states. In 2015, the company saw its revenue rise by 6% to about $45.7 million, which boosted its ranking in Business Report’s Top 100 private companies to No. 84, up five spots from the year previous. Revenue rose another 5.5% last year.
As the company has continued to expand, Yarborough has steadily embraced innovations such as new easy-peel packaging and a longer product shelf life to keep up with market trends, while still holding fast to the values instilled by Manda’s founders: Quality, community and family.
“You can never compromise on quality,” Yarborough says. “You must understand who put you where you are, and that’s the community. And I’m most proud of the family aspect.”
Some of Yarborough’s proudest moments at Manda came when he helped take the company beyond Louisiana state lines from the late 1980s to early 2000s. In those moments, he often thought about his family and, most particularly, his grandfather.
“I can remember so many times being on an airplane about to land in what I hoped was going to be a new market,” he recalls. “Thoughts of my grandfather filled my mind as we would land, and I’d say, ‘Paw, I’m going to bring another one home. We’re going to be here, too.’”
In the near future, Yarborough is confident the company is positioned for more growth. He says Manda is looking at key markets to the east and west of its core market, the Gulf Coast. Because its products now have a longer shelf life, Manda will be able to extend its reach to more distant locations and larger markets.
None of it would be possible, Yarborough says, without those who came before him and those who work alongside him, especially his two brothers. Tommy is Manda’s president, and Steve is the executive vice president of sales and marketing. He says they’re his partners, his left and right arms, and they should be sitting right beside him as Hall of Fame laureates.
Yarborough is modest, as evidenced when asked about his greatest accomplishment.
“I haven’t screwed it up,” he says without hesitation.
He recalls a recent vacation to Napa Valley, where he and his wife chatted with a young man working at a winery they toured. The young man turned out to be the great-grandson of the winery’s founder, and Yarborough says he’ll never forget what he said as they parted ways.
“We congratulated him and said we knew he would do a great job in his family’s business, and he said, ‘I just hope I don’t screw it up,’” Yarborough recalls. “That resonated with me.”
As the third-generation CEO and co-owner of Manda, Yarborough knows the great responsibility that comes with taking control of a family business, especially one with such a longstanding tradition of quality products and commitment to the community. Just like the young man at the winery, Yarborough has a deep desire to uphold the traditions of the company and its reputation.
But Yarborough has, in reality, accomplished far more than just that. In fact, he may be best known for his philanthropic work in the Baton Rouge community. Yarborough has participated in countless nonprofits, charitable organizations, events and campaigns. He has a particular soft spot for helping others, whether it be through education, health care or a hot meal. And his efforts have been recognized time and time again.
Among his most notable achievements is the $12.1 million capital campaign Yarborough chaired for the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank to secure a new facility. He was on the Food Bank board at the time and was asked to take the lead on the campaign. He says at first he wasn’t sure he had the stature to raise that kind of money, but he agreed anyway.
“I helped the Food Bank by saying, ‘Yes,’” Yarborough says. “With a willing heart, we can do anything we put our minds to. We got after it. I learned that this community is extremely generous if the need is proper and you can show where it will be transformative.”
He has served on several other organizations as well, including the Boys & Girls Club of Baton Rouge, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, the Academic Distinction Fund and the YMCA of the Capital Area, to name a few. His awards include the Boys & Girls Club of America National Service to Youth Award, the Emerge Center’s Volunteer Activist Award and the Arthritis Association’s Tribute to Excellence Award. In 2015, Yarborough was also presented with the “Mama Marino” Award from the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society for his service to the community.
Yarborough’s passion for giving back is matched by his dedication to further his own education. He says the more he has become involved with nonprofits, the more he learns about people, their needs and what it takes to operate such organizations. He compares it to graduate school.
“If you want a great education, join a lot of nonprofits,” he says. “You will love it. It’s something almost addictive to me.”
Between his job and community involvement, Yarborough works quite a lot but also loves to relax, says his daughter Melissa Yarborough, who works alongside her father as special projects director at Manda. He enjoys reading, traveling with his wife and, of course, playing with his grandkids. What people may not know about Yarborough, though, is his taste for a wide variety of music, Melissa adds.
“When I was a kid, he introduced me to music by artists like Nirvana, Cat Stevens, Smashing Pumpkins, The Beatles, Thelonious Monk and the Baton Rouge Symphony,” she says. “He really liked Coldplay when they got started, and even has a Lady Gaga album.”
Melissa also says she inherited her father’s wanderlust. He loves traveling and meeting new people, and when he would return home from business trips, he would always tell stories of the places he visited along with the life story of the taxi driver, a lady at the store or man he met on the plane.
Whether at home or in his office, Yarborough’s daughter says his best quality is that he is so caring and supportive of his family, employees and community. It’s what makes him a good dad, but also a successful businessman.
“It’s one thing to have business savvy, but my dad also has heart and grit,” she says. “He taught me by example to value honesty, to give my best to any job or project, to appreciate people from all walks of life and to be compassionate.”