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Golden State's Chief Executive Retires

Foods: Williams leaves Irvine firm--a McDonald's supplier--after 38 years, and one year after sale to Yucaipa-led group.

May 28, 1999|GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Golden State Foods Corp., the giant Irvine restaurant-supply company whose sole customer is McDonald's Corp., said Thursday that longtime Chief Executive James E. Williams will retire today.

Williams' departure comes a little more than a year after he engineered the sale of the company to a group led by Los Angeles-based Yucaipa Cos., the investment vehicle for supermarket dealmaker Ronald Burkle, for about $400 million.

At the time the deal was announced, Burkle said that Williams, now 60, had agreed to stay on for a year. Williams was in meetings Thursday and unavailable for comment.

Williams, who described last year's sale of Golden State as "part of an orderly succession," spent 38 years with the company. Golden State is the second-largest supplier to and distributor of McDonald's food products, providing beef patties and more than 130 products including catsup, mayonnaise, jelly and salad dressing.

"His contributions to our company and to McDonald's have been absolutely enormous," said Joe Soran, Golden State's office manager. "He was the innovator of one-stop shopping. Prior to that, McDonald's would get up to 30 deliveries a week to each store. He developed the concept of buying everything a McDonald's store would need and distributing that in three deliveries a week."

This was accomplished by establishing a central warehouse that stocked every product used by a McDonald's restaurant, Soran said.

When Williams began work with the company in 1961, Golden State was a small meat vendor to Southern California restaurants, including McDonald's. By 1972, Williams had been promoted to vice president of sales and was responsible for more than 100 McDonald's restaurants in Southern California. At that point, the company dropped all of its other customers and decided to serve McDonald's exclusively.

Williams, a Newport Beach resident, became president and chief executive in 1978 and annual sales had reached $272 million. In 1980, a Williams-led management group bought the company for $29 million.

Golden State now employs more than 1,800 people and operates in 31 states. Its annual sales are in excess of $1.6 billion. The company does not disclose its profits.

Williams "has left us with four guiding values: treat others like you want to be treated; make the best product; give the customer a fair deal; and how you look is how you are," Soran said.

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