Raising the ‘Bar’

by Joel Crews
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Danny Dupree, Bar-S vice president of operations
Danny Dupree, MEAT+POULTRY's 2015 Operations Executive of the Year, has called Bar-S Foods home for 33 years.
(Photos by Pete Barreras)

Danny Dupree feels genuinely at home either at the Bar-S plant in Clinton, Okla., where his career began 33 years ago, or at his picturesque ranch about seven miles from the plant.

“I do two things,” says MEAT+POULTRY’s 2015 Operations Executive of the Year, “Bar-S and my ranch.”

It’s easy to see how his passion for each role overlap and require some of the same attributes. Both endeavors depend on a team committed to working hard and where success depends on productivity, efficiency and an expertise that comes from years of experience. This comes natural to the 55-year-old Dupree, who was raised working on his family’s ranch in western Oklahoma. He left the farm after high school to earn his accounting degree at Southwestern Oklahoma State Univ. at Weatherford. Next, he immediately started working at Bar-S in Clinton, but not in operations. He remembers it well.

“I started working here part-time at Bar-S at this facility in accounting in March of 1982.” At that time he was still a part-time student, just 22 years old, and in the final semesters of earning his degree. He would later continue his education and become a certified public accountant. “But I enjoyed working here so I stayed here,” he says, noting he focused on the financial side of the up-and-coming business.

Dupree has worked tirelessly for decades to become vice president of operations at Bar-S Foods Company, a packaged meat processor of more than 120 products, including hot dogs, sliced meat, bacon and corn dogs. Based in Phoenix, Bar-S has operated as a subsidiary of Mexico’s Sigma Alimentos since 2010. His evolution from bean counter to operations guru is a testament to the passion and loyalty he has to a company and an industry. He has dedicated his career to serving. Dupree has moved across the country for the company and played a significant role in its growth, practically from Day One, following the lead and learning from the company’s founder, Timothy Day. He has been part of the company through good times and bad, as it grew from a regional hopeful to a national powerhouse and ultimately to a coveted acquisition target for one of Mexico’s largest food-company investment companies.

Unassuming in a pair of not-quite faded jeans, well-worn quill ostrich boots and a starched dress shirt, Dupree’s easy-going demeanor is adaptable to his at-work and away-from-work roles nowadays. His dream of becoming a rancher began as an aspiring cowboy, watching in awe of his dad, who raised cattle dating as far back as he can remember, and learning the meaning of an honest day’s work. Likewise at Bar-S, he started learning about the meat processing business from behind the scenes, yearning to play a more hands-on role someday.  

Timoth Day, founder of Bar-S Foods
Timothy Day, founder of 
Bar-S Foods.

“Danny has a background in accounting and quickly grasped the financial elements of a manufacturing operation,” says Day, whose current role is serving on the board of directors. “He was able to use this knowledge to isolate and address arears that were not in control or were excessively expensive.”

To that end, when given the opportunity to transfer from Clinton to a Bar-S ham and bacon-processing plant formerly located in Denver, Dupree jumped at the chance. This chapter began in 1985, when a still green Dupree assumed the role of controller at that facility. Three years later, opportunity knocked again and Dupree moved even further west as his role slowly transitioned away from the ledger, with a new focus on selling products. There, in northern California, he led sales and distribution in a region that also included Hawaii, Reno and the Lake Tahoe, Nev., area. During this stint, he was trusted to oversee the business of an important customer.

“At that time we did Costco’s distribution,” he recalls. “We ran trucks to all the Costco stores and handled almost all of their frozen goods and fresh products.”

At the start of the next decade, Bar-S made the commitment to expand its operations in western Oklahoma as it grew its business.

“They offered me the opportunity to come back and manage the Clinton plant,” an offer he readily accepted and one he wasn’t about to pass up to get back to his roots. After a decade of learning and leading at the Clinton facility, Bar-S began expanding significantly in western Oklahoma over the next 10 years, opening plants in Altus and then in Lawton. Along with this growth came a bigger role for Dupree, who was appointed division vice president for the three plants. In 2010, with the acquisition of Bar-S by Sigma, his role grew even more, adding the operational oversight of Sigma’s then 2-year-old Seminole, Okla.-based processing plant to his responsibility. He also assumed the new position of vice president of operations.

The learning curve

As a young gun with the company, Dupree relied plenty on Day and Bob Uhl, CFO and later president of Bar-S. Day, a former US Marine and Harvard Business School graduate, started with the company in 1981 after working for years with General Host Corp., including six years leading its largest subsidiary, Patrick Cudahy Co., based in Phoenix. He served as president and CEO of Bar-S until the late 1990s and passed the baton to Uhl, who assumed that role until Warren Panico was named CEO in 2012.  

Danny Dupree
Danny Dupree, vp of operations, Bar-S Foods

“Tim and Bob were the mentors in the startup days,” Dupree says. “They are both very hands-on.” They had to be as they were a small company with people like Dupree starting their careers with the new firm right out of college. “It was a struggle,” Dupree admits, “and everyone was hands on.” Day and Uhl knew they were working with an inexperienced staff and their priority was to teach and mentor the future leaders of Bar-S.

“They placed a lot of faith in the younger guys,” adds Dupree, who became plant controller by the age of 25. “They also worked, hands-on, alongside those people. We didn’t know a lot about the business and they were the leaders who showed us the way.”

Day says Dupree’s skill set evolved and his ability to identify areas of improvement has always been one of his gifts.

“Besides being analytical, he is very creative and can envision how to change plant layout or equipment to get more efficient throughput of production,” Day says. “Over the years, he has developed an expertise in equipment design and can readily determine if a new product is mechanically sound and will perform as advertised – so we make very few bad equipment decisions.”

Panico came to Bar-S in 1997 from Cargill, where he worked in operations before overseeing international sales at Bar-S and then moved to head of operations, “and he’s been my boss ever since,” Dupree says.

Panico considers Dupree much more than an employee.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Danny for many years now, first as a colleague and then side-by-side, running the operations for Bar-S Foods,” Panico says. He considers Dupree one of the company’s most well-rounded executives.

“Danny’s strong knowledge of our business and operations has allowed us to continue to be the low-cost producer in our industry by maintaining some of the best-run facilities in the packaged food industry,” he says. “He has not only been a strong and consistent contributor to the company, but also a personal friend.”

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