Investor Spotlight with Menaka Abel

Posted in News on January 05, 2022

Investor Spotlight with Menaka Abel
Menaka Abel serves as the Chief Financial Officer for Request Foods. She has earned experience in International Finance, Sales, and Strategy across the consumer goods and furniture industry through roles of increasing responsibility at respected global companies such as Price Waterhouse, Steelcase, and Amway.
Throughout her career, Menaka has been recognized across organizations for driving transformational results through strong leadership skills, business acumen, and cross-functional collaboration. Providing financial and strategic leadership at Request Foods Inc., her most recent accomplishment has been securing significant State incentives to fund the Company’s growth plans.  
Menaka operates under the principle that everyone deserves the opportunity to be successful and achieve their career goals. She was previously active in Amway’s Women’s Inclusion Network, mentors many young professionals, and is an active advocate for women in leadership.  Additionally, Menaka serves on the Board of the West Coast Chamber and Kids Food Basket and is passionate about causes that combat childhood hunger and promote health and development in children. 
Menaka is originally from Sri Lanka and came over to the US during a time of civil war, earned a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Hillsdale College, Michigan, and holds a CPA license.
Menaka enjoys traveling, running/hiking, and watching football with her husband and their son who are avid Pittsburgh Steeler fans.
Menaka, you have years of Senior Executive leadership experience. Who are the people who have had a profound influence on you and your leadership style?
Throughout the years, I continue to grow and refine my leadership style based on learnings, experiences (both local and international), and great coaches. I have been blessed to work with some talented leaders who have had a tremendous impact on me. At Amway, I had the wonderful privilege of observing outstanding leadership in action from 2 great leaders: Rich and Doug DeVos, whose servant leadership tenants are based on faith, family, and freedom, which I deeply admire. While I did not have the honor of meeting Jack DeWitt, Founder of Request Foods, his leadership philosophy – now carried on by his son Steve (President of Request Foods) – reinforce these same principles while honoring God in all we do, with integrity and people at the core. My style seeks to incorporate these learnings while contributing to the growth of the organizations and people I serve.
Talk to us about company culture. What are some values that you and your team live by? 

God and Family are at the center of the Request Foods’ culture. As a family-owned and operated company, we believe conservative principles and family values, rooted in the Christian faith, define our culture and how we interact with our customers and team members. We walk the talk here, and it has led to a culture of strong teamwork, collaboration, and trust. Culture is such an important element of recruiting and retention; a true differentiator when competing for talent. Our mission: To honor God in all we do, to help people develop, pursue excellence and grow profitably is our compass as we navigate through daily decisions and longer-term strategic initiatives.  
We know you are someone who gives back to the community in many meaningful ways. Tell us about a cause that is near to your heart. 

My husband and I like to support organizations that are local – primarily focused on the development of kids, health, and education. One such organization that I am passionate about is Kids Food Basket – a grassroots, community solution to childhood hunger. Healthy food is a right, not a privilege. Through education and providing access to healthy food, KFB seeks to provide food equity and pursue a future where all children have access to the nourishment that fosters lifelong health and limitless potential. My husband and I have been active volunteers and supporters of KFB for many years and I am proud to currently serve on the Board of Directors to further this important cause.
What is a book that you’ve read or an influencer that you watch that has made you a better leader?

There are many books that I have garnered nuggets of wisdom based on the situation at hand – “Playing to Win”, “First 90 Days”, “Developing the Leaders Around You” etc. I enjoy John Maxwell and Rich DeVos’s books on leadership and also enjoy listening to various TED talks, but have found that these learnings need to be balanced with the Company culture for successful execution.    
Can you share why it is a priority for you to invest in economic development?  

Private enterprise is the hallmark of our economy and nation, and it begins at the community level. True growth comes from private investment that create jobs and in turn leads to vibrant communities. At Request Foods, we have consistently invested in the Company in multiple expansion activities to fuel our growth. Request Foods roots go back to Bilmar Corp., a Zeeland based Turkey Processor founded in 1938. The DeWitt family who owns Request Foods, are deeply committed to its hometown of Holland, and have continued to invest and expand locally to support the growth of Holland and Ottawa County. In addition to job creation, these investments also entail growth in local suppliers and vendors that are tied to the investment initiatives. While we were presented with many options out of state for our expansion efforts, the deep commitment to Holland and the strong local partnerships that Request values, precipitated our decision to stay local and contribute to the growth of our local economy here in Holland.  
What do you see as challenges to achieving the desired outcome of these investments and how can Lakeshore Advantage help?  

Consistent with the experience of employers nationwide, the labor shortage is significantly impacting our ability to fully optimize our investments. Attracting a sufficient employment base to the State and local community is imperative to realize the development that is required.  Efforts in the areas of housing, taxes, and training are a few that will need legislative change to entice workers to the area and State.  
Growth at the local level also requires the expansion of infrastructure and services to support the development of existing and new businesses. Our growth has been constrained by limitations in local infrastructure needs and looks to partner with Lakeshore Advantage and the local authorities to promote solutions that will benefit the broader business community as we continue to grow in Holland.  
About Request Foods

Based in Holland MI for the past 31+ years, Request Foods, Inc. is a leading co-manufacturer of frozen soup, entrees, sides, and skillet meals for national wholesalers and retailers. Consistently ranked as a tier 1 co-packer, Request is privately owned and operated and employs over 1,000 employees.