business wisdom, which can be summed up ple and asked if he could make it.
in four simple principles. Today the company produces more than
500 products. Among the most popular items
“Be happy for the things you have.” are sausage and pepperoni sticks, along with
“Art, you’d better go back to when you beef and turkey jerky, which come in sev-were 16,” advises Dorothy Oberto, 70, Art’s eral flavors, including original, peppered
wife of 50 years. In telling the company his- and teriyaki. These products are made at one
tory, her husband has just skipped from his of three processing plants—two in Seattle and
high-school work schedule to how one of his one in Albany, Oregon—plus at the company’s
sons spent his seventh summer to how he still Kent, Washington, headquarters.
loves to explore anything that interests him. Art summarizes the company’s success
After the verbal nudge, Art returns to the this way: “We were lucky enough to have
beginning. Hisfather, Constantino Oberto, an more problems than anyone else, and we
immigrant from Italy, started the business in were too stubborn to quit.”
Seattle with an uncle in 1918. In 1943, when Problems, Art tells The Connection, are
Art was only 16 years old, Constantino opportunities in disguise. As the company
passed away, leaving Art in charge. He got grew, so did the overhead. To pay the bills,
serious about the sausage business—and fast. they had to make and sell more products.
With just one and a half employees on the More products meant the need for larger
payroll, Art and his mother, Antoinette, keptthe facilities. The cycle created a tidy 10 to 20
business going. Art got permission from his percent growth rate for several years.
high school to arrive late and leave early so he
could start the production process in the morn- “Hire people smarter than you,
ing and make deliveries in the afternoon. yet be smart enough to see and
Art approached the business single-mind- manage the big picture.”
edly until he met Dorothy, whom he married in Art’s path has led him to be the “carny”
1954. The couple lived in an apartment below for the business, attracting crowds while
Antoinette’s house for seven years; they had a advertising Oberto Sausage Company with
16-foot walk to the plant next door. stickers, pens and paper hats—or while dri-The early years weren’t easy, but Art ving around in the “jerkymobile.” He gave up
learned to give his customers the products they day-to-day involvement more than 20 years
wanted. For example, he made rulle pulsa— ago. At the age of 55 he stepped down from
a specialty lamb sausage—for the local the position of president, telling himself, “If I
Scandinavian community and beef jerky for a gotta keep doing this for the rest of my life,
company in Seattle that showed Art a sam- I’ve been a failure.”
Art wasn’t looking for any financial support from his first board of directors; rather, he
wanted to pick their brains for ideas. Before Art
reliquished his role as president, he and
Dorothy assembled a group whose expertise
complemented all aspects of the business.
“We really are a board-driven company,”
adds Dorothy. “It’s not a family board. They’re
not our golfing partners or dinner partners.”
Another goal in handpicking the board
was to set up a “perpetual-motion business.”
The intent is to get the right people in place so
that, regardless of what happens or who is at
the helm, the company will keep on running.
Naturally, the Obertos also carefully
selected all of the higher management, including current president Tom Campanile. He
started out as the vice president of operations
and has been with the company for 12 years.
Campanile oversaw the buyout of the
Pacific Gold jerky brand, one of Oberto’s
biggest competitors. The brand is a familiar
sight to many Costco members outside the
Pacific Northwest. The new brand has also
been a way to appeal and cater to different
markets—such as creating a steakhouse flavor for the East Coast and Midwest.
Constantino Oberto and his uncle John
start Oberto Sausage Company in
unexpectedly, leaving the business in
the hands of his
and their son, Art.
Art marries Dorothy. The
couple buys out Antoinette’s
interest in 1957.
Oberto Sausage Company
introduces beef jerky—
at the suggestion of one of their distributors.
Art and Dorothy carefully select a board of
directors, and Art moves from company president to chairman of the board.
Oberto Sausage Company begins its relationship with Costco. Wearing his red, white and
green “monkey suit,” Art demos products at
the first Costco in Seattle.
Name: Oberto Sausage Company
Employees: 900 to 1,200
Burns Meat Snacks, which consists
of the brands Smokecraft, Denver Dan’s
and Lowrey’s. The acquisition doubles the
company’s sales and production capacity.
Address: 7060 S. 238th St.
Kent, WA 98032-2914
Products at Costco: Oberto pepperoni
and teriyaki sticks; Oberto beef and
turkey jerky and Pacific Gold beef and
Laura Oberto becomes a board member;
Tom Campanile is named president.
Company acquires the
Pacific Gold label.
Comments about Costco: “The nice part
is that Costco pushes us. When you
think you've developed the greatest
product in the world and you present it
to Costco they have the ability, in a
wonderful way, to make you go back to
the research facility and work on it
again.”—Tom Campanile, president,
Oberto Sausage Company