A Sugarcane Family
Economy of scale has always played a role in Louisiana’s raw
sugar industry and sugar mills have consolidated over time to maximize
production and profit.
Lula-Westfield is one success story. The Lula Sugar Factory
in Belle Rose and the Westfield Sugar Factory in Paincourtville were destined
to merge as the families who owned them were already connected by marriage and
PHOTO: Tom Cancienne, Chris Mattingly, Stephen Savoie, Daniel Mattingly
Chris Mattingly, chief executive officer of the
Lula-Westfield group explains.
"Our families (the Savoies, Dugas and LeBlancs) owned and
operated the mills individually,” he said. "On my mother’s side, the Savoies
owned the Lula factory. My great-grandfather married into the Dugas family,
which is the Dugas/LeBlanc families who owned the Westfield factory. Over time,
the Savoie family became owners in both operations. They operated separately
until 1997 when we merged. The two mills are now operated under one company.”
Both mills have been in operation for more than a century.
Lula was built in the late 1800s and was acquired by the Savoie family in the
1920s. The Dugas and LeBlanc families built the Westfield operation in the
1870s. Today, the Lula-Westfield group owns almost 40,000 acres with about
24,000 planted in sugarcane.
Mattingly said the company is a family operation.
"We have nine family members directly working in the
business today,” he said. My brother, Daniel, and I are sixth generation, as
well as my cousin, Stephen Savoie, who is the chief engineer/factory manager of
the Lula mill. One cousin is fifth generation, a couple more are sixth and two
are seventh generation. We have family members who are engineers, work in management,work
in agricultural and mill operations.”
PHOTO: (above) Lula Sugar Factory
The mill is a kind of proving ground for the newer family
members involved in the work of the mill.
"Some of the younger ones are learning and doing all the
dirty jobs that we all did when we were learning to operate our business,”
Mattingly said. "My first job here at the mill was in the summer of my
sophomore year in high school. We had to tear the scale apart, clean it and
rebuild it. We did all the dirty work and it involved a lot of creosote timbers
so I had creosote burns on me every day when I got home from work.”
Mattingly earned his agronomy degree from Louisiana State
University in 1976. His first "real” job was at the Dugas & LeBlanc
Westfield mill in agricultural operations in 1977.
"When I was in high school and college we worked every summer
and during breaks,” he said. "We painted, we cleaned, worked in the field a
little, and even learned to operate some of the equipment, but the worst job
was that scale job. When I went to work full time in ‘77 I was an assistant to
the overseer, so I was learning the ropes. Later I was the manager of farm and
field operations. In 1993, I became the field man who worked with the Westfield
Mattingly succeeded cousin Mike Daigle as CEO in 2017.
PHOTO: (above) Westfield Sugar Factory
It’s a positive experience to work in a family operation,
"There’s a lot of good things that go along with working
with your family,” he said. "You stay close. You work with them every day.
You’re working for a common cause. You have people involved in management and
through the ranks and they’re all working for the family business. They’re not
there just to get a paycheck.”
There are a few drawbacks.
"Being close and working for years with family members, you find
you don’t always think alike, or get along” he said. "So you have to keep the
focus in mind on what’s best for the family business.”
Of course those are minor issues; the main thing is
Lula-Westfield’s tradition of being a sugarcane family goes back more than a
hundred years. Like Louisiana’s 223- year-old sugarcane industry, it’s built to