Raymond V. Haysbert paused to savor the spiciness of the sausage pattie, frowned slightly and resumed his conversation with a visitor.
The pattie was one of several, made with a secret recipe, to which he would apply the expert's taste test during the hour that followed.
"That's a little dry," he informed an employe at one point before being assured, "we'll add more moisture to the next batch."
As president and chief executive officer of Baltimore's H.G. Parks Inc., Haysbert leaves little to chance in his determination to rebuild what he calls a "born-again company."
Dogged determination and some imaginative creative financing by Haysbert and a handful of employes a year ago prevented the death of what was once one of the top-10 minority-owned firms in the nation.
Three years earlier, H.G. Parks, the sausage manufacturer's founder and chairman for more than a quarter century, abruptly sold the business for $5 million to Norin Corp. of Miami.
In the years that followed, Parks' sales and earnings skidded sharply, culminating in its first loss a year ago.
In fact, Haysbert, who stayed on as president under Parks' ownership by Norin, was forced to implement several cost-cutting measures, including personnel reductions.
Norin eventually was acquired by a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Railroad, a development that led to a decision to sell Parks.
"It was a classic American tale," Haysbert said. "You had a big fish and then a big minority fish eaten by that fish.
"Then, Canadian Pacific, a whale, swallowed up a big fish and literally spit out a little $17-million fish Parks ."
Sausage manufacturing, Parks officials were told, didn't fit in with Canadian Pacific's long-range corporate plans.
"It was a good little company but too little for them," Haysbert said.
Parks employes were given first refusal rights to buy the company but were given only 45 days to come up with the financing.
"If you were a salaried person all your life and somebody offered you the chance to buy a $4.6-million company, where the hell would you get the capital?" Haysbert asked.
"But we were positive thinkers," Haysbert said of himself and five other Parks executives.
To gain control of the company, the group borrowed $2 million, obtained a $100,000 business loan and covered the balance through the use of industrial revenue bonds.
With their deadline rapidly approaching, Haysbert and his partners persuaded the Baltimore City Council -- but not without stiff opposition from two councilmen -- to approve $2.4 million in industrial revenue bonds to help finance the purchase.
Equitable Trust Co. purchased $1.4 million of the bonds and Commercial Credit Corp. added another $600,000, with reduced interest set to float with the prime rate.
The bonds would cover the assets of the company but the equity portion remained unsettled. The group turned to the company's founder, Parks, for assistance, believing that he would come to the rescue of the enterprise he had built. Although Parks realized $5 million from the sale of the company, he contributed only $6,000 to the repurchase effort, sources close to the transaction reported.
Parks was away last week and could not be reached for comment. Haysbert declined comment on Parks' reluctance to invest more heavily in the venture.
Parks had devoted his life to building the company and had felt it was time to turn the reins over to someone younger when he decided to sell, Haysbert offered as an explanation.
After adding second mortgages on their homes, the investors were still short of their goal. With little hope of raising the additional capital, Haysbert came up with some creative financing in the form of loans from relatives and "would you believe Master Card and VISA?"
"I had a $5,000 line of credit on my MasterCard, $5,000 on my VISA and $2,000 on my American Express card.
"It was quite hectic, but in 90 days the sale was consummated and we were born again. The second birth was Nov. 17, 1980. It was jubilation.
"I made four trips in 24 hours to our distribution centers in Philadelphia; Somerset, N.J.; New York City and West Haven, Conn. There was dancing in the streets."
In the interim, business has "turned around," according to Haysbert.
"We think as a result of the change in ownership and some reorganization we have turned it around."
After a four-year slide, sales have risen 12 percent in the last quarter, Haysbert said, referring to a chart behind his desk.
"We will hit an annualized rate of $17 million in sales this year, so the recovery will have been complete," he said.
Perhaps of greater importance is the fact that "we saved 234 jobs," Haysbert emphasized. "Returning control of a Maryland enterprise back to Maryland is the important thing. No longer is the company owned by a foreign operation."
Last week, Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes presented the Bill Pate award to Parks officials for economic achievement in showing "outstanding initiative and aggressiveness" in preserving jobs and a $2 million payroll.
With a solid management team that includes nonminorities, Haysbert is confident that Parks can complete the turnaround in a relatively short period.
"The born-again company has a combination of morale and a rebirth of the Parks management style," he said.
As a means of reinforcing "the Parks style," Haysbert has adopted some of the well-publicized management techniques used by the Japanese to increase productivity.
He said Parks uses the team-building method and quality circles in developing commitment through involvement rather than by coercion.
"Our thrust at Parks is to get commitment from the preople who are involved in the work," Haysbert explained. Part of that effort, he added, will be supported by a profit-sharing plan that eventually will be rolled over into an employe ownership plan.
Meanwhile, he has made it a requirement that all company officers enroll in courses or seminars designed to upgrade their management training. Haysbert himself completed a management course for presidents in June.
"Eight years as president doesn't mean that I know everything I need to know," he said.
Haysbert is very much aware that a decline in meat consumption has hurt his industry and that larger competitors who serve the markets in which Parks distributes its products will make rebuilding tougher.
Nonetheless, Parks has devised a three-year plan that calls for the company to do $34 million in sales by the end of 1984.
With only 60 percent of the company's plant capacity being used, Haysbert wants to expand Parks distribution substantially during the next few years.
Market research has begun in Richmond, Miami, Atlanta and New Orleans, where minority entrepreneurs are being sought as distributors. Based on preliminary studies, expansion to the Richmond market will probably begin within a year.
Although small when compared with its principal competitors, Parks produces about 15.5 million pounds of meat products each year.
Expanding will be a "tough decision," Parks admits. "But we hope our flexibility and size will allow us to do it," he said.