Had Murphy Brown worked at Hormel Foods instead of the fictional “FYI,” the show would surely have lost one of its funniest storylines.
The sitcom of the same name featured a television journalist who was constantly trying out administrative professionals. From 1988 until the late ‘90s, plots came and went, but Murphy’s inability to find and keep a good assistant was a running joke.
That doesn’t happen at Hormel Foods, where more than 100 men and women fill the role of administrative professional (admin), supporting functional areas and various leaders, and making it look easy. Forget everything you’ve ever seen on “Mad Men.” Today’s admins are not about getting coffee and taking dictation. They are bona fide professionals – many with college degrees – who do everything from establishing processes and procedures, to streamlining systems, to making sure everything runs efficiently.
Say hello to four of them. Men and women who differ in their backgrounds and career paths while sharing an unwavering commitment to excellence and a strong connection to their company.
Beloit Plant HR David Long
Misfortune in Dave Long’s early career turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“I was working as a machinist/mechanic in the 1970s,” he says. “But we kept getting laid off.”
Wanting steady employment, Dave turned his attention to restaurant management for five or six years. In 1991, he moved back to his hometown of Beloit, Wis., and joined Hormel Foods as a temporary employee.
Dave was hired by the company in 1993. He worked as a maintenance inventory clerk, and in 2000, was promoted to plant secretary, the first of his administrative assistant positions.
“It can be a hard job,” he says, tipping his hand about the need to be able to juggle and balance everyone’s needs. However, the challenges are outdone by the benefit of “being able to help people.”
“It makes my day,” he says.
Dave is now the administrative professional for the plant’s human resources department and serves as the information technology contact for the entire plant. The latter has been one of his passions since he attended college – and majored in business management and IT. Today he builds and repairs computers on the side.
They really care about every individual here. It’s almost like a family.Dave Long
He also collects SPAM® memorabilia, a hobby that began before he joined Hormel Foods. Dave grew up in a family that didn’t normally eat pork. Yet, his mother allowed him to eat SPAM® products “because it was clean.” He has never tired of it. His sons and grandsons join him in his taste for the beloved product.
Though he shares his love of the SPAM® brand, he won’t let anyone get near his prized possession: a hand-painted cane-back chair with its seat depicting a can of SPAM® classic.
“One of our plant managers gave it to me,” he says. “It’s one of a kind.”
Gifts like that have kept Dave coming back for a quarter century. But there is something even better than his distinctive chair.
“They really care about every individual here. It’s almost like a family,” he says. “What you say matters. It has some weight to it.”
San Francisco Sales Juanita Wyles
Compared to the world of writing, acting and managing a Grammy-nominated musical group, serving as an administrative assistant might seem ordinary, if not ho-hum. For Juanita Wyles, the assistant for foodservice sales in San Francisco, it’s anything but.
“I enjoy being an administrative assistant. I’ve been on the other side as a manager, so I know what the expectations are,” she says.
Juanita was born in Texas. Her parents expected her and her four siblings to go to college. “They were very strict about it,” she says.
Juanita began as an accounting major but soon realized that wasn’t the best fit for her. One of her professors suggested she focus on her writing, though she says it took her a while to “land on what I loved.”
By the time she was in her 30s, she was into the performing arts on a full-time basis. Her day job later on involved working in the regulatory department of a major healthcare institution. She nurtured her artistic tendencies during her off-hours. However, when the company went through a reorganization several years ago, Juanita seized the opportunity to take a severance package and step away.
“I used the money to buy a high-end video camera,” she says, adding that filmmaking is a current passion. Juanita is currently working on a podcast that is an adaptation of a murder mystery she wrote for the stage. She has also produced three videos for Hormel Foods, including one piece for the 125th anniversary celebration in 2016.
A mother and grandmother, Juanita is married to a kindred spirit: a jazz musician and teacher. She even managed his jazz fusion band for a while. To this day, she’s proud of the Grammy nomination it received.
Her position with Hormel Foods is an ideal complement to her theatrical side. “Having that creative spark helps me,” she says. “I find ways to streamline things, so if I’m not here, someone else can step in.”
Plus, there is the draw of her favorite foods.
“SPAM® brand and SKIPPY® peanut butter!” she says.
Phoenix Foodservice Sales Kevin Bennett Shroyer
Kevin Shroyer loves his job, but he would change one thing if he could. The administrative assistant for the company’s foodservice division in Arizona and Las Vegas wishes he had found Hormel Foods years ago.
“This is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I do so many different things. It’s never boring,” he says. “Plus, it’s a great company to work for.”
Kevin joined Hormel Foods three years ago, continuing a nearly 35-year career that began with four years in the U.S. Air Force. There was a shortage of jobs at the time in his hometown of Muncie, Indiana. Enlisting in the Air Force gave Kevin opportunities for education and advancement, though his long hair made some people wonder.
“I did not look the part of a military person,” he laughs.
Kevin served four years, during which time he worked on jets as an electronics expert. Once discharged, he lived in Sacramento, California, and went back to school for television and video production. He and his wife, Michelle, moved to Los Angeles so Kevin could make use of his degree. It was a difficult time in LA. There were fires, floods, earthquakes and the Rodney King incident, which spurred riots and unrest. Kevin and Michelle decided to return to the northern part of the state, where they bought and operated two Mountain Mike’s Pizza restaurants.
This is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I do so many different things. It’s never boring.Kevin Shroyer
In 2001, the couple decided to make a change. Kevin and Michelle sold their house and the restaurants and moved back to the Midwest. Southern Illinois, to be exact. Kevin went to work for a company that provided measuring services to Home Depot’s flooring department. A promotion with the company got the Shroyers to Arizona.
Kevin moved on to customer service, scheduling and operations positions at FedEx and American Express. When he learned of an opportunity with Hormel Foods, he jumped at the chance, though he didn’t realize he was applying for an admin job until he arrived at the interview.
“Just because I had never done the job, I didn’t want to lose out on the opportunity,” he says.
Kevin finished the interview and was hired as a temporary employee. After three months, he became an official member of the Hormel Foods team.
“I really enjoy the job,” he says. “Everything I’ve done up to this point prepared me for it.”
Executive Administration Marilyn Johnson
When Marilyn Johnson retires at the end of 2017, she’ll do so knowing she has risen to the top of her field. And that won’t be the only reason to celebrate. Indeed, the administrative assistant to Hormel Foods Chairman, President and CEO Jim Snee is looking forward to spending her newly found free time in the local animal shelter.
“I absolutely adore dogs. Old, young, big or small,” she says.
Marilyn and her husband, Jerry, are without pets of their own currently, but she hopes that will soon change. In the meantime, she dog-sits for co-workers.
It’s not a stretch for the woman who has spent more than 40 years “trying to make other people’s jobs as easy as possible.” And when Marilyn says people, she means a lot of people.
“I’ve had 42 bosses in 42 years,” she says, explaining there were times when she had four or five managers at once.
Marilyn was promoted to her current position – executive administrative assistant – in 2009. She admits working for the CEO was “scary for the first six months.”
“I didn’t want to be the first one to be fired,” she says, laughing.
She soon became comfortable in her new role, and demonstrated once again her talents and abilities. Especially to be on the same wavelength as her managers.
“I had a boss once who used to call me Radar. After a while, I could finish his sentences,” she says.
When Jim assumed the presidency in 2016, it was a homecoming of sorts. The two had worked together in the foodservice division 20 years earlier.
“It’s been fun working with him again,” she says.
Fun and quite a bit of work, by all accounts. “It is a big job,” Marilyn says. There are countless meetings to set up and complicated travel plans to manage. “Sometimes it’s weekends or evenings,” she says. “You answer the phone and see what you can do.”
Among the many benefits of her position is getting to meet people from different areas of the company. In addition, Marilyn lives three minutes from work.
“I was born in northern Iowa and moved to Austin when I was 4,” she says.
Aside from an early job as a nanny in the Twin Cities, Marilyn never left her hometown. Jerry’s roots are just as deep. Born in St. Paul, he was adopted by a family in Austin. “His father worked for Hormel Foods,” she says.
Jerry is already retired from the U.S. Postal Service, waiting patiently as Marilyn wraps up a long and fulfilling career.
“I’ve been very lucky,” she says.