Where Company Culture Runs in the Family
Ethan Watters | July 15, 2016
To say that MegaMex CEO Jeff Frank was born into the Hormel Foods family is something of an understatement. Two of his great-grandfathers worked for Hormel as did both of his grandfathers, his dad, and his brother. Together, they’ve logged over 200 years working at Hormel Foods. Jeff estimates that if you included his extended relatives, his family has given nearly 500 years – a half a millennium – of service to Hormel Foods.
The meaning Jeff finds in that interlocking web of family connections both to Hormel Foods and to the town of Austin, Minn., is difficult to describe. Even though he now lives in Southern California, when he comes back to Austin he rarely walks more than a block before he sees someone he knows.
“My family connection to Hormel Foods is truly part of my identity. I think this sort of multigenerational connection to a single company will become increasingly rare in America.”Jeff Frank, MegaMex Foods CEO
“Even if I don’t know someone, it wouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes of chatting before we realize we know many people in common,” he said. “My family connection to Hormel Foods is truly part of my identity. I think this sort of multigenerational connection to a single company will become increasingly rare in America.”
Jeff’s career started as a communications intern in 1996 and moved through sales and then brand management and marketing. Three years ago he took over the helm of MegaMex. He particularly likes the idea that both his grandfathers knew George and Jay Hormel personally when the company was just a few decades old. “For myself and my family, these men are not distant historical characters,” he said. “This brings them to life for me.”
The connections run deep, built of loyalty, shared effort and friendship, but they did not form without sacrifice. One of Jeff’s grandfathers died in an industrial accident in a Hormel Foods plant. And although Jeff was just a boy, he remembers clearly the tensions in Austin during the strike years. Jeff’s father started his career working on the plant floor but had been promoted into management at the time of the strike. “My father had lots of friends and family on both sides of the picket line,” he remembers. “I hit pretty close to home.”
One of the things that is remarkable about the Frank family connection is that it is not that unique of a story.
Scott Ramlo, the manager of the Beloit plant, also has a long family history with Hormel. His brother, father and many of his extended family members going back to the 1920s had careers with the company. The smell of the plant, the lunch whistle and the low rumble of boxcars were the sensory landscape of Scott’s childhood. There are fewer trains now but he still enjoys hearing the work whistle, when he comes back to Austin.
Scott has moved eight times in his career at Hormel Foods and describes having a varied and challenging career – all while working at one company. “I’ve never been bored in my working life,” he said. “There has been a new challenge everyday.”
“I’d recommend the company to anyone.”Scott Ramlo, Hormel Foods Beloit Plant Manager
When asked what their long family connection to Hormel Foods means to them, both Scott and Jeff mention the same word: pride. They describe a culture of integrity, honor and fair play, that was shared by their families, the town of Austin and Hormel Foods itself. “I grew up held to high ethical standards,” Jeff said. “There was a right way of doing things and wrong way. At Hormel Foods, that meant keeping our eye on the long term. We’re not looking for the flash in the pan.”
That sense of pride was also bolstered by the company’s deep commitment to supporting veterans, community groups and its work in fighting cancer and supporting patients. Jeff sees those projects and the company’s investment in Employee Resource Groups, as critical ways to pass on his deep generational pride to new and diverse employee populations.
Will the family connections be passed down to a new generation? Jeff’s two girls – the oldest is just five years old – have yet to express their career intentions. Scott’s two children, however, are both young adults and beginning to explore their career options. His son, who is still in college, has shown some interest in possibly following the family tradition. Scott is not going to pressure him but he knows what he’ll say if he wants advice.
“I’d recommend the company to him,” he said. “Honestly, I’d recommend the company to anyone.”
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