SNEAK PEEK: C. Larry Pope reflects on the Smithfield years

by Joel Crews
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Larry Pope
This month's cover story features a giant in the meat industry, retired Smithfield CEO Larry Pope.

It comes as little surprise that Larry Pope was an early bloomer who graduated from high school at the age of 17 and earned his undergraduate degree as a 21 year old. He went on to become a CPA and worked as an accountant for several years before joining Smithfield Foods as its controller. Pope never imagined he’d retire from the company 35 years later, at the age of 61. In an exclusive interview with MEAT+POULTRY, Pope took time out from his new life as a retiree to discuss his upbringing and his short career path that led him to Smithfield’s doorstep as a young man always looking to succeed and prosper.

Featured in the cover story of MEAT+POULTRY’s March issue, Pope talks about his first job, working at McDonald’s and how he later found himself hanging ceiling tiles at what was then the new Smithfield Packing plant in Smithfield, Virginia. Below is an excerpt from the story, which will be available in digital format by March 10 at www.meatpoultry.com, prior to publication of the magazine in mid-March:

While his father was serving in the US Air Force, Pope was born at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia. His father was a radar technician in the service and his training in what was then a new technology, propelled him into his first civilian job as a radio and TV appliance technician. Moving the family south, his father opened a TV-appliance business in Daytona Beach, Florida, “because Florida was exploding with population growth and television was just coming into vogue in a big way,” Pope says. The family next moved to Franklin, Virginia, where the elder Pope purchased and successfully operated a Ford dealership. After selling that business the family moved to Newport News, Virginia, where the middle son finished high school ahead of schedule, at the age of 17. He recalls working as a bookkeeper during high school for the retail store his parents operated at the time. The young entrepreneur also earned money doing yard work for neighbors and other odd jobs.

“My father said, ‘you are an early achiever,’” says Pope, admitting the motivation for his industriousness was simple. “I always liked to have a little money in my pocket.”

While working as an accountant, a colleague recommended Pope for a job opening at Smithfield. He didn’t exactly jump at the chance, but wisely kept an open mind.

He recalls thinking: “I’m not really interested in going into the meatpacking business, but I guess I’ll take the phone call if they ever call. And they did.”

When he went to visit the company – mostly out of curiosity - the interviewer said, “I’d like you to meet Joe Luter,” better known as Joseph W. Luter III, who served as president of Smithfield from 1966 to 1969 and served as CEO from 1975 to 2006. Pope, who was then just 26 years old, remembers that first meeting with the man whose father and grandfather had founded Smithfield in 1936.

“We sat down and had a nice conversation,” recalls Pope. “He never mentioned anything about accounting at all.”

Instead the discussion focused on Pope’s family life. Luter wanted to learn more about him as a person, not his financial expertise or educational prowess.

“I was really intrigued by the mere fact that he was interested in my personal life and didn’t really ask any professional questions at all.”

The day after that meeting, Smithfield’s CFO at the time, Aaron Trube, called back and told Pope they were interested in hiring him.

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