When it comes to being the center of attention, Brian Hendrickson is not unusual in his tendency to shy away from the spotlight. When it comes to jobs, however, he is front and center.
Brian serves as curemaster for Hormel Foods, a prestigious position that has been held by a mere seven people in 50-plus years. In addition to playing an integral role in the brand, Brian oversees the production of the company’s top-of-the line Cure 81® hams, putting his name – and stamp of approval – on every one that goes to market.
So much for staying behind the scenes.
Brian has been with Hormel Foods 30 years, filling various roles in the operations area. He was named curemaster in 2008. Early in his career, Brian was an early production supervisor – and later, product manufacturing manager – on the Cure 81® bone-in spiral ham line, an accomplishment he believes contributed to his appointment as curemaster.
“It’s quite an honor to hold the title,” he says. “Somewhere in your career you would have had to have a significant impact on the brand.”
Hormel Foods created the position in 1963, the same year Hormel® Cure 81® hams began gracing dinner tables. There is only one curemaster at a time, and most who preceded Brian have simultaneously retired from their duties as curemasters and as Hormel Foods employees. Several are still in the Austin, Minn., area, which affords Brian the opportunity to connect with them as a member of one of the smallest clubs around.
“They were such role models to me,” Brian says, adding that he never dreamed he would one day be tapped to fill their shoes. “It was a surprise when I was chosen.”
Brian knew all but two of his predecessors. To this day, he will pick up the phone and call a couple who came before him, asking a question or running an idea past them.
As curemaster, Brian holds a director-level position that gives him responsibility for all processed hams as well as production of sliced meats, bacon (raw and precooked) and fully cooked ribs. It is the Cure 81® label that bears his name. Despite that fact, he is quick to point out he has no special claim to the high-end ham. “It’s a great team that works on the product and makes it so successful,” he says.
Though Brian insists the role of curemaster carries no perks – save for having one’s name on what Brian calls “the Cadillac of hams” – he admits to a good deal of taste-testing on the job.
“It’s tough duty,” he laughs.
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Brian grew up in Des Moine, Iowa, a “city kid” of parents who were humble and hardworking. He was graduated by the University of Northern Iowa – Cedar Falls and accepted a position with Hormel Foods immediately thereafter. With a degree in operations management under his belt and employment secured, Brian was looking forward to some time to kick back and relax.
“My mom and dad asked me when I was going to start. I said I would probably begin in July or August,” he says. “They said, ‘No. Those people were good enough to offer you a job. You start right away.’”
Brian took his parents’ advice to heart, abandoning his summer plans and instead traveling to Austin for training. From there he moved to Wichita, Kan., the first location in the Hormel Foods family to make bone-in spiral-cut hams. He relocated back to Austin in 1998 as a product manufacturing manager and later, was named director of cured and smoked meats.
Brian, his wife and two stepchildren make their home in Oakland, Minn., a few miles from the Hormel Foods headquarters. He is an avid reader and makes it a point to exercise often.
Brian unapologetically goes for a Cure 81® ham whenever his family is celebrating a holiday or special occasion, which includes Saturday and Sunday as far as he’s concerned.
“Ham is a great source of protein,” he says. “Relatively low in fat and very high in flavor. And it’s very affordable.” He also lauds the product for its versatility, something he learned early on from his mother. “Growing up, if you had leftover ham, you made ham salad.”
As far as Cure 81® goes, there is no question in Brian’s mind that it’s the only ham for him.
“Number one, it has my name on it. Number two, just the flavor and experience.”