Economy of scale has always played a role in Louisiana’s raw sugar industry and sugar mills have consolidated over time to maximize production and profit.
Lula-Westfield is one success story. The Lula Sugar Factory in Belle Rose and the Westfield Sugar Factory in Paincourtville were destined to merge as the families who owned them were already connected by marriage and blood.
PHOTO: Tom Cancienne, Chris Mattingly, Stephen Savoie, Daniel Mattingly
Chris Mattingly, chief executive officer of the Lula-Westfield group explains.
“Our families (the Savoies, Dugas and LeBlancs) owned and operated the mills individually,” he said. “On my mother’s side, the Savoies owned the Lula factory. My great-grandfather married into the Dugas family, which is the Dugas/LeBlanc families who owned the Westfield factory. Over time, the Savoie family became owners in both operations. They operated separately until 1997 when we merged. The two mills are now operated under one company.”
Both mills have been in operation for more than a century. Lula was built in the late 1800s and was acquired by the Savoie family in the 1920s. The Dugas and LeBlanc families built the Westfield operation in the 1870s. Today, the Lula-Westfield group owns almost 40,000 acres with about 24,000 planted in sugarcane.
Mattingly said the company is a family operation.
“We have nine family members directly working in the business today,” he said. My brother, Daniel, and I are sixth generation, as well as my cousin, Stephen Savoie, who is the chief engineer/factory manager of the Lula mill. One cousin is fifth generation, a couple more are sixth and two are seventh generation. We have family members who are engineers, work in management,work in agricultural and mill operations.”
PHOTO: (above) Lula Sugar Factory
The mill is a kind of proving ground for the newer family members involved in the work of the mill.
“Some of the younger ones are learning and doing all the dirty jobs that we all did when we were learning to operate our business,” Mattingly said. “My first job here at the mill was in the summer of my sophomore year in high school. We had to tear the scale apart, clean it and rebuild it. We did all the dirty work and it involved a lot of creosote timbers so I had creosote burns on me every day when I got home from work.”
Mattingly earned his agronomy degree from Louisiana State University in 1976. His first “real” job was at the Dugas & LeBlanc Westfield mill in agricultural operations in 1977.
“When I was in high school and college we worked every summer and during breaks,” he said. “We painted, we cleaned, worked in the field a little, and even learned to operate some of the equipment, but the worst job was that scale job. When I went to work full time in ‘77 I was an assistant to the overseer, so I was learning the ropes. Later I was the manager of farm and field operations. In 1993, I became the field man who worked with the Westfield Mill growers.”
Mattingly succeeded cousin Mike Daigle as CEO in 2017.
PHOTO: (above) Westfield Sugar Factory
It’s a positive experience to work in a family operation, Mattingly said.
“There’s a lot of good things that go along with working with your family,” he said. “You stay close. You work with them every day. You’re working for a common cause. You have people involved in management and through the ranks and they’re all working for the family business. They’re not there just to get a paycheck.”
There are a few drawbacks.
“Being close and working for years with family members, you find you don’t always think alike, or get along” he said. “So you have to keep the focus in mind on what’s best for the family business.”
Of course those are minor issues; the main thing is Lula-Westfield’s tradition of being a sugarcane family goes back more than a hundred years. Like Louisiana’s 223- year-old sugarcane industry, it’s built to last.
Inside the Lula Raw Sugar Factory