Alumnus Transitions from Underwear to Chicken Pies

11.16.2020

By Stacy Poindexter Owen

Marine Cody Hoyt (MBA ’14) plans to take Mrs. Pumpkin’s, a local business known for scratch-made goods and chicken pies, to the next level.

Underwear and chicken pies are words typically not used in the same sentence, but Cody’s path to success hasn’t been typical. Growing up in Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marines out of high school and served five years with the Corps, including time in Okinawa, Japan. His exemplary leadership was recognized by a Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal. After completing a tour in the Marines, followed by a year working on an oil rig in North Dakota – a lucrative, but dangerous, position – Cody was motivated to finish his degree. Studying finance at UNC Wilmington piqued his interest in business and ultimately led him to Wake Forest for his MBA.

An active and engaged Full-time MBA student, Cody took advantage of a consulting project opportunity in Nicaragua and founded the Student Veterans Association. His can-do attitude and work ethic made a lasting impression on faculty, staff and students alike. Kevin Bender (MBA ’98), Executive Director of the Evening MBA program, recalls meeting Cody as a prospective student. “Cody stood out in the application process. I could tell immediately that he would be a leader in the MBA program and gain the respect and admiration of his classmates. He exceeded our expectations and continues to do so as an alum. Cody’s professional success and continued involvement with the School of Business is exemplary.”

After graduation, Cody accepted a position at Hanesbrands, where over the next six years, he worked in finance, strategy, and marketing positions. He was a senior marketing manager for men’s underwear when he decided to take his career in a new direction. “Throughout my life, I’ve moved forward and sideways, reinventing myself and what I’m doing every three to five years,” Cody said. He cites a “listening tour” and conversations with his mentor as key in helping him determine next steps. “In thinking about the areas in which I excelled – networking, doing good work, building both relationships and my reputation – I had the crazy idea of applying what I’d been doing in business to my own business.”

A Dynamic Duo: Friendship and Co-ownership
A friendship and shared vision with McFall Pearce (’09, MBA ’16), coupled with extensive research and support from their families, led them to co-ownership of Mrs. Pumpkin’s, a beloved small business in Winston-Salem. “We’d talked about doing this in five years, which turned into one year, then into six months,” Cody said when they learned that the owners of Mrs. Pumpkin’s – who founded the business 35 years ago – were ready to sell and retire. “It was a fantastic business model and market, and we were young and hungry.”

Going into business with a friend can be daunting. Cody emphasized the goal of maintaining the friendship. “Respect and understanding the other’s perspective are important. Both of us took StrengthsFinder and learned that we have complementary strengths, which has defined how we work together. My strength is the day-to-day operations; McFall’s is strategy. When we talk about a one, three and five year plan, we are able to connect the dots.”

Making the Transition
Recognizing they had one shot to get it right with their new team of 23 members, Cody said that he and McFall delivered this message at their first meeting as the new owners: “We want you here. Your jobs are secure. You’re the experts. We want to learn how to grow Mrs. Pumpkin’s, not disrupt what has made it successful.”

“We came in with an awareness that to make informed long-term decisions, we needed to first work in the business, before working on the business. We want to grow it in a thoughtful and methodical way. Right now, we’re doing fundraising deliveries ourselves and stocking the freezers at the 16 Lowes Foods stores that sell our chicken pies and chicken pot pies. I’m learning to make chicken pies shoulder to shoulder with those who have been doing it for years.”

Cody is especially excited about the opportunity to focus on what he views as the biggest value on the table: the people. He always wants those around him to feel like he has their back. Putting resources in his team’s hands is his top priority.

In the time of COVID-19, when people are choosing to stay home vs. eat out, Mrs. Pumpkin’s made from scratch food products are a great option. The retail store on Reynolda Road has freezers full of take-away entrees, sides and cream cheese brownies – all of which have been made on site. “We have a USDA-certified kitchen with a commercial capacity that allows us to cook 1,000 pounds of chicken at a time.” Just last week, Mrs. Pumpkins made 5,000 apple pies. “When I got a call asking if we could make that many pies in a week, I had to ask our bakery manager – I had no idea!”

Positive Influencers
Cody gives credit to his MBA coursework for helping to prepare him for this new venture. “The practical application of case studies from both Ajay Patel’s and Scott Shafer’s classes has been instrumental, specifically pricing optimization and distribution models, as well as other frameworks that can be applied to real life. Seeing supply chain management first-hand, plus managing cash flow and inventory – those courses have been so helpful in working through these challenges.”

There are key takeaways from Cody’s Quantitative Methods and Organizational Behavior classes, as well. “Jon Pinder helped me to understand the value of taking a more analytical approach to business situations, large and small. Understanding some of the organizational behavior frameworks that Sherry Moss illustrated has given me a more sophisticated approach to leadership, which is critical right now.”

His training in the Marines has also played a big role. “As a Marine, I had to be scrappy and learn to solve problems as soon as they presented themselves. There was pressure to make decisions all around me – there was a lot on the line, and I had to be resourceful while leading a sizable team. The role is different, but the application is the same.”

The Road Ahead
One chicken pie at a time, Cody is learning the ropes of being a small business owner and having others look to him for leadership. “As the new guy, I have learned that it’s OK not to have all the answers, as long as you stand in humility and focus on building credibility with the team.”

Steve Reinemund, former School of Business Dean and current Executive in Residence, is optimistic about Cody’s future. “Cody’s strong and principled character, his long established servant leadership reputation and his excellent Wake Forest academic grounding will no doubt prove to be the magic that drives accelerated growth and success for Mrs. Pumpkin’s. I have no doubt that Cody will be successful with this business. It was a real privilege to get to know Cody, a fellow Marine, during my tenure as Dean. Semper Fi, Cody.”