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"It's only right that you should give back to the place that gave you the opportunity."
Reinhard Otto Mühlenfeld is an inspiring entrepreneur and philanthropist. After building a world-class pet food company, he has honoured his commitment to give back to the community by supporting healthcare, culture and education in Alberta.
Reinhard Mühlenfeld was born in Berlin, Germany in February 1931. He remembers a happy childhood of playing soccer with friends in the streets of Berlin. The Second World War brought tragedy to his life, first by orphaning him and his siblings, and then by separating them as each was sent to live with a different family member. Reinhard was 14 years old when he decided to go to England and work as a labourer on a farm, saving his hard-earned wages to send himself to agricultural school. It was difficult keeping in touch with his family when they were so far away from each other.
Following his agricultural education, Reinhard went on to take another course to become an industrial engineer. He was offered the opportunity to come to Alberta in 1975 on a two-year contract to build a feed plant in the northern town of Sexsmith. As the contract came to a close, another prospect came to him in the form of a small mill located in Barrhead, northwest of Edmonton, which he purchased with a partner. They sold the business and split the proceeds. Reinhard continued on this path of success, building businesses and selling them twice more before delving into the pet food industry.
During this time, Reinhard and his wife, Elisabeth, whom he had met and married whilst in England, sold their Gloucestershire house, bringing their three children to Alberta. At that point, they were keeping their options open, with the possibility of going back to Europe in mind. However, in 2004, after 29 years in Alberta, having enjoyed the opportunities and possibilities that the province had given them, they made the conscious choice to take their oath to become Canadian citizens.
During a visit to one of his feed mills, Reinhard spotted a bag of pet food from the United States. After some investigation, he concluded that there was an opportunity for him to become the first manufacturer of pet food in Alberta, and he put a plan into action to achieve his goal. In 1985, Champion Feed Services began operation in a small factory in Barrhead with minimal equipment. Reinhard approached local farmers and businesses and implemented a simple, straight-forward and highly successful concept. Thirty years later, Champion Pet Foods has grown to become Canada’s largest independent pet food manufacturer, exporting its brands to over 70 countries worldwide, as well as investing in and extensively growing the local economy.
The company’s success has been credited to Reinhard’s leadership style. His approach is to treat people fairly, honestly and with integrity. His employees, business partners, and the community have great respect for him and he is often described as a rare and generous individual.
His hiring practices are an excellent example of how he treats people. He has welcomed first-generation Canadians with open arms, hiring them based on merit, and a core sense of responsibility for offering assistance and opening up potential for them in this new land. Seeing Reinhard reach into his own pocket when they were in need of help, his employees quickly learned to appreciate and trust this caring and compassionate man. They, in turn, have felt a sense of belonging in Reinhard’s inclusive, accessible and barrier-free work place, often becoming long-term employees. Throughout his career, Reinhard has displayed exemplary leadership based on extreme kindness and compassion.
Reinhard’s generosity extends far beyond his business practices. His rare sentiment has always been “if you have enough money, you share it.” With Elisabeth at his side, Reinhard has made numerous generous donations to benefit health, arts and educational institutions in Alberta.
Aided by the generous contributions of the Mühlenfelds, the University of Alberta Hospital Foundation has been able to improve its neurosurgical care with the purchase of advanced, high-quality diagnostic and surgical equipment, which has enhanced work in the treatment of strokes, brain tumours, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. The Stollery Children’s Hospital continues to be a national leader in the delivery of pediatric health care thanks to Reinhard’s generous donations for equipment and technology. An endowment fund established at Calgary’s Alberta Children’s Hospital has provided the opportunity to further research projects on vasculitic and autoimmune disorders. Reinhard’s view of this type of assistance is simply that “people in hospitals always need help.”
Students attending the University of Alberta have also benefitted through a number of initiatives that Reinhard has been involved in. He has endowed a bursary for students demonstrating financial need. It is now the largest donated bursary at the university. He also supports programs to encourage student development in the not-for-profit sector and international studies.
The community at large can also appreciate the bigheartedness of Reinhard and his wife. Reinhard began a food donation program early on in his career for pet rescue programs in Edmonton. Alberta’s arts have not been left out either. After attending and enjoying an autumn concert, Reinhard decided he would offer his help to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. This organization has been proud to name him as a leading sponsor for many years now.
Reinhard, a quiet entrepreneur, has been honoured for his business acumen and philanthropy over the years. In 2008, he was awarded both the Entrepreneur of the Year, Western Canada and Manufacturer of the Year Western Canada, by Ernst & Young. In 2007, he was honoured with the Premier’s Award of Excellence as well as Growing Alberta’s Leadership Award. He also received Canada’s Export Award in 1994.
In every aspect of his thoughtful philanthropy, Reinhard’s generous and humble spirit shines through. Countless lives have been improved and saved because he has always felt that it is important to do something good. Giving back to the community that has offered him so many possibilities makes him feel good and he likes doing it.