A Delicious Legacy
“I was first involved with working at Utz when I was 11 years old,” Mike Rice, COB of Utz Quality Foods, recalls.
It was September of 1953, during potato storage season. One evening after family dinner, Mike said that his father asked him if he wanted to go along to the factory.
“I said yes, and he lifted me into a farmer’s truck loaded with fresh-dug potatoes and told me to start dumping the burlap sacks of potatoes into the chute,” he remembered.
From that time on, Mike spent every summer working at the manufacturing facility on the “utility crew,” where he did nearly every job available.
“It gave me a tremendous working knowledge of basic operations,” he said.
Mike and his wife, Jane, both grew up in the Hanover area. He graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University in 1963 and from George Washington University Law Center in 1965, where he received a juris doctor degree in 1968.
Jane Rice attended York Junior College, and when Mike moved to Washington to attend law school, she moved there with him. While in Washington, Jane handled FHA and VA mortgage loans where, according to Mike, her “ability to cultivate relationships with people, learn to know about them, and show personal interest,” made her quite successful.
They were married in 1966 and have two children and nine grandchildren to whom they are totally devoted.
It was in 1968, upon the death of Mike’s grandfather, that he and Jane returned to Hanover to join the family business full time, “which was my long-term ambition,” Mike said.
Although Grandpa Utz, the founder of the company, had only an eighth-grade education, Mike said that “his education was grounded on very basic things that were directed more to an agrarian society in those days.”
In 1937, Mike’s father had married Arlene Utz and joined the Utz family business, where he “basically developed the accounting and business systems to manage the business as it grew.”
Jane’s first experience as an Utz employee was when she was asked to give input into “creating a celebratory event relating to an anniversary of our company,” she said. “That began my involvement with the family business.”
She admits that marrying into such a close-knit family company was intimidating at first.
“Having worked in [Washington, D.C.] in a mortgage loan company, I learned early on to become a team player whose input was requested and respected,” she said.
As a woman she felt she was able to “give a different perspective from my male counterparts. I do feel women give an intellectual contribution as well as a more emotional, sensitive viewpoint.”
Although Jane is no longer employed on a daily basis with the Utz Company, she recalls how much she enjoyed having opportunities to get to know her co-workers and learn about their personal lives and said how much she misses it.
“My being married to the boss didn’t mean I could solve my co-workers’ problems. My best memories during my years of employment are of the daily conversations I had with many individuals … I wanted to be liked for who I am and not for whom I was married to or the daughter-in-law of … I think I achieved that.”
As for Mike, his favorite part of the business world is the challenge it presents.
“I love the competition and going against the biggest in the industry and many smaller ones … a good competitor may annoy you at times in different ways, but the challenge can make you better than you otherwise might be.”
He credits the Utz management team for driving the success the company has enjoyed.
“I realized early on that if you wanted to set goals for growth, you had to have a group of capable individuals who have the drive and also the responsibility to do things.”
One particular success story Mike shared was when Sam’s Club came to the Utz Company and said “they had tested every pretzel they could find in North America, including Mexico and Canada, and our sourdough hard pretzels were the best tasting they had found,” he said.
“They wanted a higher-volume, higher-dollar sale item for all their stores. We had a large plastic barrel that could hold 4 pounds that could sell for $4.99, which was perfect … we then got Costco to do the same and became the largest-selling pretzel nationwide in both chains. We achieved the second ‘category killer’ item, as they call it in the industry.”
These days, Jane works tirelessly with many local charities, with a particular focus on organizations that help and encourage women facing female cancers.
In 1992, Jane underwent a double mastectomy, during which she discovered there was not a lot of support available locally. She formed a group for her local community that grew to have over 100 members.
Jane also created an event she called “Pink Out,” which takes place at the Rice family home. The three-day event raises more than $200,000 a year now to help women with various types of female cancer with living expenses and to help pay for testing and treatments they may not otherwise be able to afford.
She is also heavily involved with a group of women called Sweet Charities, where money is raised to help other nonprofit service groups provide nonprofit needs or services.
“My day-to-day commitments are overwhelming at times because there are so many great causes that I find it difficult to say no,” Jane said. But she also credits those she works with in helping get the job done.
“My current team is comprised of committee members (philanthropic) that share my passion and vision. We come together, each with our own talents.”
While she no longer has a daily work schedule at the Utz Company, Jane still works with Mike on company projects. They, and the rest of the Utz team, work hard to adapt and change as technology, food trends, and consumer preferences change.
Jane said “working as a couple has been easy because we don’t have any conflicts — we respect each other’s roles.”
Mike has been active on the Hanover Hospital Holding Company board as chairman for more than 20 years and has also served on the Hanover Area YMCA board of trustees.
“Our family has always believed that we have been blessed to be so successful … and always felt it was important to give back a meaningful part of that success to the community and the people who helped to achieve it.”
As for what the future holds for Mike Rice, he plans to “continue being involved in the business activities from primarily a strategic oversight/input position, as compared to day-to-day operating detail,” he said.
And for Jane? She will keep working hard on the community-service projects she has been doing because the need is great and because, as she said, “we are blessed to have opportunities to give back and to pay it forward.”