Chef executive

Hitting the brakes

This dynamic growth came with its share of problems. Christopher had long since left her basement office where she started the business and moved to larger and larger buildings to accommodate the rapidly expanding inventory and staff.

So she put on the brakes. In 1991, she called for a hiring freeze of all kitchen consultants. The back end of the business needed to catch up with the front end before the company careened out of control.

"That was a very trying time," Christopher says. "First of all, from our standpoint, it sort of stopped the momentum. Secondly, there were people out there in the field who viewed this as a real wedge in the momentum of their business as well, so some chose not to stay."

Most consultants, however, did stay, and during the seven months of the hiring freeze, The Pampered Chef started a waiting list for consultants. By the end of the freeze, it reached into the hundreds.

"We got through that time," Christopher says. "These things do have a way of working themselves out, but they’re challenging as you go through them."

With the rapid growth under control, by the late 1990s, Christopher and her husband started to plan for their future with the company and to make sure it continued to thrive after they retired.

Although one of their daughters worked for the company, she was not ready, and not yet willing, to take the reigns. Christopher decided to look for a buyer for The Pampered Chef, but one that would maintain the same vision and enthusiasm with which she started the business.

"We had financial people over a five-year period who said to us that this is a business that has all the earmarks of something Berkshire Hathaway would be interested in," says Christopher. "The more we looked at it, the more we thought that it, indeed, would be a world-class place for this company to reside."