Katie Lenway is proof positive that all education and experience serve a purpose. She has degrees from The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and the University of Wisconsin – Stout, where she majored in hotel, restaurant and tourism management. Though she could easily have parlayed either one into a lifelong career as a chef, restaurant manager or hospitality professional, for example, she instead took a road less traveled.
Katie signed on five years ago as a sales rep with the foodservice sales division of Hormel Foods. More recently, she is a recruiter in the company’s human resources department, responsible for bringing in experienced team members. Katie also serves as a member of Hormel Integrating Relevant Experiences (HIRE), an employee resource group designed to help seasoned workers integrate their experience into the Hormel Foods culture to help them further develop and the company benefit from their expertise.
“We hire a lot of recent college grads,” Katie says. “And we have a strong culture and history of promoting from within, so many of our team members have grown with the company. A few years ago, we wanted to ensure that we had all the best tools and resources available for integrating people who are coming to us with industry experience and hadn’t started their careers with Hormel Foods. So, we asked, ‘How do we take their experience and leverage it and also help them assimilate?’”
Moving The Needle
An example of HIRE’s target audience is Hormel Foods Corporate Chef Ken Alston. He was Katie’s co-star in an episode of “Cooking & Culture” designed to pay homage to the work of HIRE. Though Katie didn’t recruit Ken to the company, she remembers his first day. She met him while conducting his company onboarding. The two have been friends and colleagues ever since.
Though she admits it was a bit “nerve-wracking” to be on camera, she loved spending time in the kitchen again and “hearing Ken’s connection with the food.” The double-dipped pork chop is something Katie won’t soon forget.
“It was a fun day, doing something different,” she says. Her CIA training concentrated on pastry arts, and her cooking of late is mostly functional now that she has a busy corporate job. Ken’s recipe selections were a treat for Katie.
“It was great,” she says.
As it turns out, Katie is all about learning from the experts, perhaps the main reason she finds her involvement with HIRE so rewarding. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to hear from people with all this experience. It keeps me connected to the new-hire experience and allows me to speak to candidates about our HIRE efforts,” she says.
In Katie’s estimation, HIRE has moved the needle when it comes to helping people transition to Hormel Foods. Among other things, the ERG matches each new recruit with a “navigator” or mentor of sorts.
At the same time, Hormel Foods offers Inspired Hires, an orientation program for new-hires. Within the past year, Katie’s job responsibilities have expanded to include involvement with the young program.
As much as she enjoys learning new things, tradition plays a part in her life as well. Joining Hormel Foods eventually allowed Katie to return home and rekindle friendships in southern Minnesota, where she was born and raised.
She is also an avid walker and outdoorswoman. Her dog, Pearl, provides all the encouragement she needs to camp, hike or just get outside in general. When that’s not possible, Katie admits to being able to unwind by making good use of her pastry skills.
Yet more evidence that all experience matters.