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Smithfield's Henry Morris: The early years

by Joel Crews
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In recollecting how he got started in the meat business, Henry Morris, senior corporate vice president of operations and engineering with Smithfield Foods, Smithfield, Va., credits the people who took a chance on him. The recipient of Meat&Poultry’s inaugural Operations Executive of the Year award, Morris discussed how he transitioned from an airplane engineer to accepting a job offer from Robert Langford at Richardson, Texas-based Owens Country Sausage. “He needed a plant engineer. That was my first introduction to the processing floor,” in the early 1970s, he says in a feature story about his career, which will be published later this month. Reflecting on his impression when he walked into the processing plant for the first time, near Dallas, Morris says he was more than a little struck by the sights, sounds, aromas and the complexity of the many moving parts. It was quite a contrast to his previous career.

“I had been working on airplanes that were built to tolerances of one-thousandth-of-an-inch,” he says. “And now I’m going to be designing a conveyor that I can say, ‘well, if it’s about this long, it will be good enough,’” he laughs. “It was a totally different mindset.”

He cherished the opportunity to work at Owens back in the days when CB Owens was still alive; Jerry Owens was working with the company; and a young man named Stewart Owens was working his way up the ranks. In his new career, while perhaps not as precise as building airplanes, Morris was challenged by the prospect of being responsible for the entire operation, from the moment hogs came through the door to the particulars of the wastewater treatment. Back in those days, the Owens plant was processing about 60 hogs per hour, “and you had to get meat to the chub machines; you had to get meat in the box and you had deliveries you had to make and schedules to meet,” he says. The enormity of the responsibility was a career elixir for Morris. “It was really what I had longed for when I thought about being an engineer.”

The family owned mentality was alive and well at Owens and Morris was proud to be a part of the extended family, which often meant rolling up his sleeves and working in the trenches.

“I remember one Christmas we didn’t have enough workers,” he grins, “and I ended up driving hogs. That was the way you ran a family owned business. People did what they had to do to get the job done.”
Read the rest of this cover story in Meat&Poultry’s April issue, available digitally online (at www.meatpoultry) and in print later this month.

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