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franklin county times

The man who loved stainless steel

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
July 21, 2004
No Mississippian has impacted the culinary world more than Fred Carl. Carl, a Greenwood native, is president and chief executive officer of the Viking Range Corp. and a true pioneer in the food industry.
Viking is the initiator of the "commercial-type" segment of the major appliance market in the United States, and Carl is the initiator of Viking.
In the early 1980s Carl, a fourth-generation Delta building contractor, had an idea: Produce a commercial-type stove for residential use. That ground-breaking, light-bulb moment occurred in Greenwood, and soon pilot lights were ignited all over the world.
Carl is the American dream personified, an entrepreneur in the purest sense of the word. In the Mississippi Delta, where inheritance has often been the No. 1 industry, Carl started with only an idea and built an international company from the kitchen floor up.
Using his wife's grandmother's stove as inspiration, an idea was hatched in the early 1980s, the company was incorporated in 1984, and the first stove was produced in 1987.
Today, Viking owns a lion's share of the commercial-type appliance market in the United States. Viking is also manufacturing some of the world's finest refrigerators, dishwashers, outdoor appliances, mixers, blenders, cookware and cutlery.
In these troubled times of arrogant, fat-cat CEOs with overblown egos and out-of-control companies, Carl is a down-to-earth, hands-on and unassuming breath of fresh air, a hard-working, highly driven, and design-oriented visionary who has never forgotten his roots.
Many hit the big time and move their companies, and themselves, away from the town where it began often sending the manufacturing duties overseas and locating the corporate offices in a large, land-locked metropolitan area.
Carl has done the exact opposite. In addition to growing the corporation in his hometown of Greenwood Viking has three separate factories and is one of the largest employers in the area he has brought the entire town along for the ride.
After single-handedly reviving Greenwood's Cotton Row District with the sprawling Viking corporate office complex, Carl turned his attention to a run-down hotel the Hotel Irving on Howard Street with one goal in mind: turning it into a world-class boutique hotel.
Mission accomplished. The Alluvian Hotel is one of the finest hotel properties in the country and worthy of a weekend visit to Greenwood whether you have business there or not.
In 1999, Carl had another ground-breaking idea and the Viking Culinary Arts Centers with locations in Atlanta, St. Louis, Cleveland, Memphis, Nashville, Dallas, San Francisco, San Jose, Greenwood and other cities were born.
The centers' objectives were to once more raise the bar, this time in the home kitchen. Again, mission accomplished.
At Viking Culinary Arts Centers, customers can buy gourmet food products, cooking utensils, small wares and kitchen supplies while signing up for a wide array of hands-on and instructive cooking classes that teach professionals and novice home cooks everything from basic knife skills to sushi preparation.
He and his company have won more awards and recognition than space and column inches allow.
But to put the full impact of Carl's vision into perspective, look at the National Kitchen and Bath Association the 40-year-old nonprofit organization that serves the firms and individuals involved in the kitchen and bath industry.
In 1994, the NKBA inducted Carl into its Hall of Fame only seven years after he manufactured his first oven.
With the help of his wife and partner, Margaret, Carl has created a vision-driven company while fostering a close-knit corporate culture where teams are allowed, encouraged even, to dream big.
All of the Viking employees and corporate officers I have met are, to a person, fanatically devoted to their company and its founder. That, more than anything, sums up the impact of Carl's hands-on and visionary leadership in his company, his industry, his home town and the state of Mississippi.
In Pascagoula they're building ships. In Canton they're building cars. But in Greenwood, they're building stoves. And, thanks to Fred Carl, the world is eating a lot better.
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of the Purple Parrot Caf and Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg and Meridian. www.nsrg.com www.robertstjohn.com .

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