Several months ago, Jesse Wiste got into his vehicle and took a trip from his home near Austin, Minn., down to Nevada, Iowa. As a senior staff engineer and project manager for the recent $140 million expansion of Burke Corporation, it was a familiar journey for him.
What was not old hat was the reason he was summoned. He believed the call from Mark Morey was for a tour and a project recap. However, the vice president of affiliated in the Refrigerated Foods division was preparing to honor him with a watercolor print of the plant that Jesse helped build and the 2021 Pride of the Jersey, the companywide award that this year is recognizing those who embody the Cultural Beliefs of Hormel Foods and have done extraordinary things to help the enterprise manage through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Jesse made over 100 overnight trips away from his family in his role assisting with the project in Nevada, Iowa, and helping to maintain a safe workplace for 300-plus contractors,” says Mark. “The expansion was completed on time and on budget thanks to his many hours spent with the contractors and team members of Burke Corp.”
Overseeing the 18-month-long project and serving as the lead on the equipment design were going to be major undertakings for Jesse. But doing them in the midst of a pandemic – and while his wife, Tammy, was adjusting to the changes in her teaching job and helping their 9- and 12-year-old children adapt to distance learning – were not in the plan.
The expansion began in April 2019, with “the majority of the construction [in 2020] taking place during the height of COVID,” Jesse says. The first product rolled out in November 2020.
There were some discussions about delaying the project because of the pandemic, but no one ever considered stopping, he says. As a result, Jesse and the team went to work to implement safety measures to KEEP COVID OUT! As luck would have it, most of the building materials had been purchased before the pandemic got to the United States, so the job wasn’t stalled because of supply-chain issues.
That’s what success looks like.
Though he never wished for or even imagined a pandemic, it gave Jesse what he likes best about his job: variety. He appreciates that no two projects are alike and that he’s constantly meeting team members and partners.
“I get to work with people from all areas of the company. Operations, tax accounting, marketing and more,” he says. “I get a broader view of all the different people at Hormel Foods and what part each of them plays to make it a successful company.”
I get a broader view of all the different people at Hormel Foods and what part each of them plays to make it a successful company.Jesse Wiste
Jesse is from Adams, Minn., where he and his brothers grew up on the family’s farm. When he was still in high school, his dad needed to make a decision to expand the family farm or get out of the business. He wanted to know if Jesse and his brothers would like to take it over someday. Jesse considered it but opted instead for engineering school at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, paying his way through college by working for a company that builds cellphone towers. Upon receiving his degree in manufacturing engineering, he continued on as a construction manager for the next eight years. From there, he joined the Hormel Foods team. That was about 11 years ago.
It should come as no surprise that Jesse is as busy at home as he is at work. The kids are in sports; Jesse coaches them at times and enjoys watching them play when he’s not with them on the sidelines. He likes to golf and also to hunt and fish at the family’s place on one of the Minnesota lakes.
At the same time, farming isn’t completely out of his system. Jesse does some hobby farming on the side, and that brings him full circle, in a manner of speaking.
“When I was 8 or 9, I came to Hormel Foods with my dad,” he says.
“I never thought I would be working here someday.”