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A Family Affair

Cosmos CEO Landon Hobson leads his third-generation family business with a focus on culture, stewardship and faith
Landon Hobson, photo courtesy of Cosmos Corporation

Navigating a relationship with your in-laws can be challenging. Now imagine they’re your board of directors.

That’s where Vistage member Landon Hobson found himself after becoming CEO of Cosmos Corporation in 2017. A pet products business based in St. Peters, Missouri, the company had grown from the founder’s one-person operation in 1980 to 100 employees with several global brands.

The founder’s four sons — Hobson’s father- and uncles-in-law — ran the company, but knew they needed to streamline executive leadership and update their processes if they wanted to continue growing.

“Their task to me was scaling this into a corporation,” says Hobson, who started as the company’s director of operations in 2016 before taking over as CEO, “without losing the culture, the family business aspect.”

And what’s the culture at Cosmos? “Our vision is to be an uncommon business for the common good,” Hobson adds. “The company’s mission is to enrich the lives of people and pets, support and invest in our employees, and provide for the poor around the globe — all to the glory of God. We always want to keep that vision in mind as we grow the top and bottom line.”

Hobson was well suited to the task. He holds two graduate degrees, one from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and another in international economics from Columbia University. As he began building a new executive team and scaling operations, Hobson saw the opportunity to take the Cosmos culture a step further.

From its beginning, the company’s honored its mission by supporting a nonprofit its founder established to provide food, shelter and education to underserved communities abroad.

Hobson has expanded that altruism, offering five paid “mission days” annually so employees can take time off to volunteer abroad or within the local community.

Under Hobson’s leadership, Cosmos also started a program providing financial assistance to employees pursuing the adoption of a child, and introduced an educational scholarship program in honor of two employees who tragically died in a traffic accident. That program is open to employees interested in advancing their education — even if it means they will eventually leave the company.

“If Susie Q. wants to be a nurse, then we’ll help pay for her nursing degree,” Hobson says. “When she’s done, there’s no commitment to us. We’ll celebrate you and off you go.”

Care of both employees and customers is not only the backbone of the Cosmos culture but also an essential element in hiring and retaining talent, Hobson says. Since Hobson became CEO, the company has grown to 270 employees, with more than 120 joining since COVID hit in March 2020.

Care of both employees and customers is not only the backbone of the Cosmos culture but also an essential element in hiring and retaining talent.

Hobson admits those first few months of the pandemic led to some sleepless nights. At the time, Cosmos was overexposed, both in the market and operationally; the company was finishing construction on a new 200,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in the neighboring O’Fallon and St. Peters business community.

Hobson got his executive team together and came up with a plan. First, take care of their employees and philanthropic commitments. Next, pivot in terms of product. Leveraging its manufacturing capabilities and relationships with several national retailers, Cosmos, like many companies, started making hand sanitizer.

Then, a funny thing happened about two months into the pandemic. People started getting pets. “All of a sudden, huge pet orders started coming in,” Hobson says. “So we had to hire more people.”

Through it all, Hobson says he couldn’t have grown Cosmos without the full support of his board/family.

“I can walk upstairs, have a conversation and say, ‘Here’s why I think this is the best decision,’” he says of his family. “And more often than not, they’re going to be super supportive in the decision that I make.”

As for the company’s culture? “Our culture blossomed” during the pandemic, says Hobson. He’s implemented quarterly town hall meetings, and a daily “Cosmos Minute” where leaders share insights to foster team alignment and employees thank each other for helping out without being asked — a practice Hobson calls “being willing to make the coffee.” He even instituted a quarterly book club that pays employees for reading certain titles. One of their most recent: “The Ideal Team Player” by Patrick Lencioni.

“When you get 150 people reading the same book together, the alignment you get across the organization is nuts,” Hobson says. “Sure, we pay out a few thousand dollars each quarter, but the synergies that come from that are insane.”

His next task? Preparing the company for the next generation as Cosmos continues to expand its business. Currently, seven family members work at Cosmos. And Hobson sees himself as a steward for both his relatives and the Cosmos employee base.

“I didn’t create what’s happening at Cosmos … our people created that,” Hobson says. “I hopefully created a framework and helped cast the vision for the kind of company we want to be, and it actually wasn’t my vision. It’s the founder’s. I’ve just been put in a place to make sure that we keep doing it.”

from Allen Hauge, Hobson's Vistage Chair:
Opportunity is Job No. 1

A CEO is ultimately accountable for identifying, selecting, pursuing and realizing opportunities. He or she cannot do all these things, but must see that they get done. Landon understands the importance of attending to all four of these activities.

Learn to align

Companies are also communities. In Landon’s case, there are the family members who are owners, and there are employees, customers and vendors. The CEO’s job is to align these into an effective organization that produces results.

Be selective with your time

The CEO has to choose what to do; equally important is a clear process for understanding what not to do.

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