Case Studies

Morning Star

“The apparent complexity of the human brain’s neural network somehow results in smooth human action. The brain has a way of effectively organizing itself. The principles of Self-Management bring that same effectiveness to organizations.” –Chris Rufer

In a dusty construction trailer prior to opening its first factory, Morning Star’s founder Chris Rufer proposed a system of governance centered around core principles of human interaction. The system was called Organizational Self-Management.

The first loads of tomatoes arrived at Morning Star’s first new state-of-the-art facility in mid-July of 1990 and kicked off a successful season, producing over ninety million pounds of bulk tomato paste for the world market.

The Morning Star Packing Company built its second advanced facility in 1995, and a third in 2002. Its combined facilities produce bulk tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and canned products while operating custom harvesting, trucking, transplanting and farming operations to optimize the supply chain.

Morning Star has never pursued growth for the sake of growth; the focus has always been on technical innovation combined with very good execution. Morning Star has grown, however, in response to world market demand for low-cost, high-quality bulk tomato products. At home and around the world, people enjoy the flavor of tomatoes in their food. The three California Morning Star processing facilities are the largest individual plants in the industry. Together, they comprise the largest tomato processing company in the world. Virtually everyone in North America has eaten Morning Star products, which remanufacturers use in myriad consumer goods found on grocery store shelves.

While Morning Star owes much of its success to its low-cost strategy, culture of innovation and process execution, a good measure of its success is also attributable to a unique organizational philosophy: self-management.

Position power and titles don’t exist at Morning Star. Everyone has an equal voice with respect to matters that affect them. There is no unilateral authority to promote, discipline or fire. Acquiring or concluding the services of other colleagues must be accomplished according to a clear set of established principles incorporating due process.

In the absence of position power, leadership responsibility must be earned. There is as much need for leadership in a self-managed organization as in a hierarchical one, it’s just that self-managed leadership is dynamic rather than static—it depends on the issue and the individuals. Leadership in such an ecosystem can rotate and evolve naturally, depending on the circumstances. No particular leadership style is required, and many leadership styles can work well.

Ultimately, the foundation of shared bedrock values creates an environment where successful colleagues can mentor others and help them navigate successfully.

According to Chris Rufer, business is a dynamic adventure of balancing the needs of customers, suppliers, employees, and society at large, and using resources appropriately and efficiently. That philosophy is the essence of the Morning Star Mission. In the absence of human bosses, the Morning Star Mission is, in effect, the boss.

As business process authority Roger T. Burlton wrote in his book Business Process Management: Profiting from Process, “Morning Star is the best example I’ve seen of a mature process-managed company. Nowhere else have I witnessed or even heard of a company that’s so driven to manage its relationships in such a natural way—totally process-empowered and a great place to work.” [Burlton, Roger T. Business Process Management: Profiting from Process. Sams Publishing, 2001. 105.]

Methodologies and Tools used:

  • Personal Commercial Missions
  • Colleague Letters of Understanding
  • Process Accountabilities
  • Decision Rights
  • Individually-Managed KPIs (Steppingstones)
  • Structured Commitments
  • Affinity Councils


  • Grew from zero to become the largest tomato processor in the world
  • Approaching $1B in sales worldwide
  • Over 4000 colleagues (including seasonal personnel)
  • Operates the three largest tomato processing factories in the world
  • Subject of the Harvard Business Review cover (“Inside the World’s Most Creatively Managed Company”) story, Gary Hamel, December 2011

A Story
Of Partnership

Our Case Studies are more about our clients than about us. If we have done our jobs well, the role we played in helping them institute organizational change or navigate complex business issues will be apparent in their pride and success.