As applications for the 2011 Inc. 500 | 5000 are being processed, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. One that caught our eyes was Chicago-based Flying Food Group.
Early morning flights from Chicago to Washington, D.C., don't often change lives. But in the case of a Chinese-American restaurateur and bakery owner who was served a frozen pastry and a tar-black cup of coffee by the airline attendants, it was kismet. That's when Sue Ling Gin had her "aha" moment aboard a plane to start Flying Food Group in 1983.
Many hundreds of people were likely served the burnt coffee that morning in 1983. Gin was likely the only one to write the airline a complaint, say she could do better, and be offered a bid. Now, some 28 years later, Flying Food Group employs 3,200 workers and has plans to hire 300 more. Gin's biggest clients in the airline business include AirFrance, Singapore Air, and SwissAir International.
Over those years, Gin has decided to keep the company private for a variety of reasons. Some of the considerations are anti-bureaucratic: "You don't necessarily have all the red tape of being a public company."
Another clue to why Flying Food Group has remained private may be heard in the way Gin talks about her employees. With easy familiarity she tells of the woman who immigrated to Cicero, Illinois, and went to work for Flying Food Group. She raised a son who just graduated from Northwestern, Gin is happy to report. Or her first employee, a man who came to the fledgling Flying Food Group through a recruiter. "I didn't have an office, I didn't have trucks," Gin said. "And he helped us put it together, worked with us for eight or nine years, and when we went to China he went and opened up China."
When Gin's asked about the future of her company, she doesn't respond in the cadenced, message-forward tone one might expect. She speaks a little wistfully, "We're going into something bigger and more exciting, but I miss the status quo a little, too."