Executive experience

by Bernard Shire
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Eddy Packing Co., Yoakum, Texas, is a widely diversified processor of pork, beef and poultry products, with complete lines of fully cooked, marinated, cured, fresh and frozen meat products. The company’s offerings include brisket, smokehouse sausage, chicken breast, fajita meat, ribs, pork chops and loins, pulled pork, beef and chicken. Eddy owns one of the largest branded meat lineups in the region, and also makes private-label products for foodservice distributors and large retailers.

So when the company, a midsize operation with about $150 million in annual sales, was looking for a new chief executive, it’s not surprising they targeted a leader with a wide variety of experience.

The company succeeded in tracking down someone whose experience was broad and whose resume included working with a high-profile processor. After the company was taken over by Mason Wells, a leading private-equity firm based in the Midwest managing more than $800 million of capital through the Mason Wells Buyout Funds, the company got that executive with the widely diversified background in the multi-faceted food industry.

Scott McNair, whose curriculm vitae is interesting, to say the least, is who the company named as its president and CEO in January.

Diversified background

McNair, 48, just happened to be working at Mason Wells at the time. He was previously the group vice president of the multi-billion dollar Consumer Group at Tyson Foods. More recently, he was the president of Schwan’s Home Service, a division of Schwan’s Food Corp., where he helped launch several successful new food lines. McNair was also an executive at Nestle, ConAgra, and Stouffer’s Foods.

But McNair actually grew up in the Philadelphia area, and graduated from nearby Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He went to Chicago and worked for Western Temp- orary Services starting in sales. “But I wanted to get to Philadelphia, so I went there to work for Stouffer’s(before they were acquired by Nestle). I was a sales rep in Philadelphia, Allentown and then got sent to St. Louis. I was with the company for eight years.”

In St. Louis, he built Lean Cuisine’s business, and was then recruited for Healthy Choice, part of ConAgra Foods, where he ran the special areas of the business, including private label. Next, he went to Canada, to Morrison – Lamothe Inc. He then negotiated with Nestle to produce all of Stouffer’s pot pies in the United States.

After these experiences, McNair got the opportunity to go to Tyson, first as vice president of sales of the club division, and eventually as group vice president for consumer products. He was there for about seven years, before moving to Schwan’s. At Schwan’s, he changed the company’s marketing plan and logo, then left the company.

Why? “I was thinking of retiring, even though I was only in my 40s,” he laughs. “I moved back to St. Louis, because I really like it there and wanted my family to be there with me (he and his wife, Carey, have five children).” He got involved briefly in commercial real estate and then started working with a private-equity firm called Mason Wells.

Improving bottom line

After the Mason Wells acquistion of Eddy Packing Co., McNair began thinking Eddy, an established processor, would be a good fit for his leadership style. He was attracted to the South-Texas-based company, he says, “because Eddy sells basically what Tyson does, just on a different scale. I felt it would be a pretty good fit because of my background with Tyson. I’m very glad to be here. There’s been a lot of discussion about what to change, what to keep, the financials. But I think we’re on the right track.”

McNair’s been in the food business since the age of 23. “It looked like a good career. As a salesman, you get a car to travel in, and as my grandmother said, ‘People have to eat.’ And 28 years later, here I am, still in the food business and I really love it.

“What’s really cool about this business is the team-building, and I knew I’d have to do that at Eddy Packing,” he adds. “But I know a lot of people from 25 years ago. I knew I’d need a COO and a CFO, as well. So I knew exactly where to go for them. Through 25 years of business, I’ve met a lot of great people. So I don’t have to train people; I know where they are and what they’ve done. I want people around me I trust, and I can get people who are accomplished in this industry.”

The medium-size company has about 600 employees and makes meat products from a number of species. “I didn’t want to get involved in a company making just one meat. You’re too reliant on the commodity market. At Eddy Packing, we’re involved across all proteins. It gives us more flexibility.”

McNair says his company is uniquely positioned, it’s heavily involved in value-added products, “and we buy our meat from the big guys.”

McNair has a business philosophy he uses to lead the company. “But I’m not a Jerry Jones [the owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys] out on the field telling the coach what to call. I find the best possible players. I have high standards, and if I have any success, it’s because I treat everyone with respect.”

He thrives on the opportunities to make important decisions. “In this business, things are coming at you all of the time. You have to deal with changing circumstances,” he says.

Course to succeed

McNair looks back at his upbringing by his family as setting him on a course to succeed in business. “My father was a tool-and-die maker back in Philadelphia – a very middle-class way to make a living back then. I come from a lower middle class family, which this country used to be full of. At home, if something was broken, we fixed it. We didn’t rush out immediately and buy something new. So, I learned a lot about fixing things and making things work better,” he says. “My family also taught me to treat people right – that really comes from my Mom, who was a school teacher. I’ve always tried to do that as a manager wherever I’ve worked.”

What was the first task McNair tried to accomplish when he arrived at Eddy Packing? “The first week, I was deciding what changes needed to be made in the building here. I was able to use a lot of what I learned in management at Tyson.”

McNair will face many challenges at a midsize packing company involved in making many different kinds of products in both meat and poultry.

“One of our biggest challenges is the continuing rise in commodity costs,” he notes. “Because of that challenge, I want to keep our growth measured – we want to grow, but not too fast. But there’s a lot going for the company, as well. Because of our medium size in the world of meat and poultry processing, we have a lot of operational efficiencies, and I want to take advantage of those. We’re looking at not only how we can produce our products on a broader scale, but also how we can market them on a wider scale. Our advantage is we have a great workforce, located in a great part of the country noted for hardworking people.”

McNair also points out that while at Mason Wells he spent time watching Eddy Packing in action. “I saw them growing, even though we were at the height of the recession,” he says.

And as the US slowly makes its way out of the economic downturn, McNair is putting more building plans into place at the company. He thinks the future for Eddy Packing is nothing short of “tremendous.”

“The company has been doing a great job of growing its foodservice segment, which is an extremely important part of the company’s growth.” he says. “I also think we have great opportunities in branding and retailing. Only a few companies having leads like what we have can go across all proteins, like we do, and succeed.”

He also thinks Eddy Packing is the strongest company of its kind in the South Texas region. He hopes to expand the marketing area for the company’s products further across the US.

McNair says he tries to emulate the good characteristics in the managers he met at all the companies where he worked. He also believes the nature of the meat and poultry industry itself opens up great opportunities for people, whether they are company presidents or workers on the line.

“The meat and poultry industry is a very tight-knit group. When you’re involved in this industry and you work hard, great opportunities open themselves up,” he concludes.

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