It took Andrew Duda nearly 20 years to make any money in his new hometown, present-day Oviedo.
There were times when his children didn’t have shoes to wear, and the schoolteachers set up a collection for them. They really had it “made” when they owned a barrel of flour and a cow, Joseph Duda said.
But Andrew, who emigrated from Austria-Hungry in 1909, wanted more for his family. His dream was to be a successful farmer, and the family struggled for years to farm the 40 acres they claimed in the small Central Florida town.
“They were dirt-poor immigrants,” Joseph said. “He came for freedom and land.”
In 1926, the family had their first cash crop, and they haven’t looked back since.
Today, A. Duda & Sons has about 1,000 employees throughout the organization, which includes Duda Farm Fresh Foods and Duda Ranches — both agricultural companies — and The Viera Company, a commercial and residential development company that includes the master planned community of Viera in Brevard County. The company owns or leases 87,000 acres in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California; and generates in excess of $500 million in sales.
Headquartered in Oviedo, the company is still family owned and operated, and in its fifth generation. There are 18 family members employed at Duda and about 100 family members are shareholders in the company. But the outgoing CEO said that while their success is great, they don’t forget their modest roots.
“We understand what having nothing means,” Joseph said. “If we stay humble, we stay successful.”
And Joseph, 68, knows what it means to be humble. Although he’s a third-generation Duda, he didn’t just get handed the CEO position. He said he’s worked pretty much every rookie job in the company, and was taught a big lesson when he flunked out of junior college and came home to work for the family business. His worst job — cleaning up after the family’s herd cows, and yes, that meant shoveling manure too. Joseph quickly went back to college at the University of Florida. He went on to lead the cattle and real estate divisions of the company.
“I went from cowboy to CEO,” said Joseph, who, in high school, used to ride his horse to see his girlfriend in a very rural Oviedo.
And the proof of that is in the shoes. He still wears cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, every day.
“He doesn’t wear those boots by accident,” said fourth-generation family member David Duda, 48.
David, who took over Joseph’s position of CEO when he retired on Monday, got his start in the company with manual work too.
“I got very acquainted with using a shovel,” he said.
His first job was walking behind a tractor that was preparing land for planting and gathering the big roots it didn’t pick up.
“It taught me that there’s dignity in any job you do,” he said.
Joseph and David feel that their experience getting to know all aspects of the business and employees builds integrity, which is what Duda is all about.
“We do business with Christian principles and integrity,” David said. “We believe you don’t have to compromise values to do business.”
Joseph said he thinks that’s played a role in the company’s successful 85 years. They strive to do business fairly and treat their employees well, even if they aren’t family, while providing a trustworthy product. And both concede that family businesses aren’t easy, but sharing those strong values have helped them stay the course of their motto.
“One family, growing together, making an eternal difference,” said Donna Duda, Joseph’s daughter and communications specialist for the company.
And making an eternal difference is where the company comes in, Joseph said.
“The company is the resource to accomplish that family mission.”
For more information about the Duda family and their company, visit www.duda.com